Domestic Dog Totems
In the thousands of years since human and wolf decided to play nice around the campfire and work together for mutual survival, the dog species has exploded into a wide plethora of shapes, sizes, personalities and attributes. When I look at the wide range of books out on the market dedicated to animal totems, most of them focus directly on the wild critters, specifically the ones that seem to be more glamorous or popular. A classic example of this would be the dog’s ancestor, Canis lupus, or wolf. Given that most people these days live and work in environments far removed from the wolf, I find it useful to look to dogs for the wisdom they offer us. Sometimes it takes a dog, not a wolf, to navigate the urban jungles of today’s society.
Although the shape and function of many dogs were specifically the work of human intervention, there are also a large number of dog breeds out there that evolved to adapt to us. We can use either of these types as inspiration and adaptation in the domesticated human world we live in. For example, when I was young, my peers bullied me quite a bit in school. During high school, a girl who identified as a wolf therianthrope confronted me. She used the word “terrier” as an offensive adjective towards me. At first I was offended by this, but then it made me stop and think for a moment about all the negative connotations associated with terriers. They are small, yappy, and hyperactive. However, has anyone stopped to think about the numerous amazing qualities about them? They are good fighting dogs, have amazing endurance, are smart and quick, and they can navigate tight spots that most other dogs cannot reach. I needed those qualities in my life at that very moment.
It was then that Pit Bull Terrier appeared to me, strong and masculine, but patient. He was the inspiration that helped me navigate those halls during the rougher moments of my life. It was hard for me to be a transgendered person in an all-female Catholic environment, but Pit Bull helped give me the strength and courage I needed to weather those rough times. Admittedly, I even called on Pit Bull’s more notorious – as well as misunderstood — attribute, and ended up meeting the therianthrope girl in a deserted hallway to show her just how deep my fangs could bite. (No, I didn’t literally bite her, but I did make it clear that her choice in canine adjectives was a strategic error on her part.)
That said, when working with domestic dog breeds as totems, it is important to keep in mind the positive as well as negative attributes of these creatures, as well as the consequences of working with these energies. For example, though the wolf is unable to adapt to the human environment, the dog is quite suited to the human environment. The dog is the wolf that was able to assimilate into human society and make it its home.
When choosing to work with dog breeds as totems, you should approach it with the same consideration you would use when considering a dog for adoption. What role or function does this dog play amongst humans? Is this breed a working dog such as a Mastiff, a herding dog such as a Border Collie, or a companion dog such as a Pomeranian? Are there any genetic (such as hip dysplasia or deafness) or psychological concerns in this particular breed of dog, and if so, how do you plan to work around that? When questing for your domestic canine totem, do not be dismissive of the little Chihuahua when you were expecting the noble and fearless German Shepherd. Think of the patterns going on in your life right now that would warrant the appearance of this little dog. Hell, when my father was young, his Chihuahua “Honeybee” was the terror of the entire neighborhood. Big German Shepherds would be seen tearing down the road, tail between their legs and yipping madly, little Honeybee at their heels. The saying, “It isn’t the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog,” rings very true in this case. Of course, it doesn’t boil down to fighting or having the fiercest and most glamorous dog. For example, if you are a workaholic and a toy dog such as a Havanese or Yorkshire Terrier comes to you, perhaps you need to lighten up a little and learn how to play more.
A good exercise to help with gaining your dog totem is to visualize yourself visiting a dog pound or kennel. When you arrive in the waiting area, somebody comes out to you with a dog on a leash. This is the dog-archetype that wishes to work with you. The person bringing him out can be a random construct of your mind or the dreaming-space you created in your meditative process, or it could be a spirit guide or someone otherwise important in your life. Take a good look at the dog. What does it look like? How does is behave? Is it bouncing up and down, eager to be acquainted with you? Is it sitting with its tail between its legs, or growling with its ears turned back? The posture of the animal will tell you a lot about your own mental processes and things that perhaps need changing – or enhancing – in your life right now. Also, do not be surprised if the dog turns out to be a mutt. Just because a dog lacks a pedigree or is otherwise not recognized by some kennel club doesn’t mean that it has nothing to offer. Observe the mutt, what it looks like and how it behaves, and maybe wager a guess at what its lineage could be. Those can tell you a lot.
Once you have your dog totem, you might want to consider studying in depth the behavior, habits and function of the dog. You could leave an offering in the form of a donation to a rescue organization specializing in that breed of dog, or donate to the SPCA, or perhaps donate your time volunteering for a local shelter. You might even consider adopting this type of breed, but — and this is a big but — you want to think long and hard about doing this. Ask yourself if your home and lifestyle habits are conducive to owning a dog (especially one of a particular breed), or a pet in general, as this is a huge responsibility. Now, what if you already have a dog, especially if it happens to be one of a differing variety than the one that has appeared to you? No sweat. There is no reason why you cannot work with both types of canine energy in conjunction with each other. Dogs are pack animals and can learn to work cooperatively; keep this in mind when working with canine energies. You may find that both your totem dog and the physical dog you share living space with belong to the same grouping, and even if they might not, the two energies might complement each other or be combined for other workings. How I work with Pit Bull is primarily through meditative sessions and a form of invocation where I would take Pit Bull into myself and try to see things as he would see them. Another method I use is channel-surfing through stations where pet shows are common, such as Animal Planet or Discovery. If I see a show or segment featuring Pit Bulls, I observe what they are doing and how they are being portrayed, and interpret appropriately. Of course, this method also works if you are walking in the park or in your neighborhood where you may see dogs in yards or being walked by their owners.
For further research, I would recommend picking up any books you can find on dogs and dog breeds. Animal Planet’s show Breed All About It is also an amazing resource. Each episode features a specific breed of dog, its purpose, function, and history — all valuable tools in your search. And, above all else, leave your ego at the door. You never know what might pop up and tell you something about yourself that you might not have realized before.
©2007 Edward Cynanthropos. Edited by Naya and Sheta Kaey.