If there are two things that have preoccupied humans since our earliest days, they are dogs and dreams. People have earned livings trying to parse the most appropriate ways to read both their dreams and their dogs long before there were written records to chronicle either pursuit. A while back, I researched and wrote about what contemporary science has to tell us about whether dogs dream, and offered conjectures as to what the contents of those dreams might be.
Once forms of writing developed, it’s not hard to believe that both of these perennial fascinations were among the topics covered. Some of the earliest surviving writings, shapes pressed into clay tablets, illustrate that these obsessions have persisted through thousands of years and across diverse cultures. The Epic of Gilgamesh (ca 2100 BCE) contains the first known literary attempts to discern the meaning of dreams, while the Laws of Eshunna (ca 1930 BCE) detail what punishments should be meted out when rabid dogs attacked people.
It seems likely that dreams about dogs have puzzled us as long as dogs have served us as working companions, and perhaps more so since they became domestic friends and pets. Let’s take a look at our own dream lives, particularly where dogs are concerned. How might context, activity, or even the age and color of a dream dog influence how we read the scribbles we put in our dream journals?
Some of the themes we’ll explore include:
Generally speaking, dogs in dreams may focus a lens on any of these temporal views of our lives — past, present, or future. What is most on your mind? Is it community, money, relationships, or a project you’re working on at work or school? What does the dog look like? What is the dog’s temperament or mood, and how are they behaving?
Is the dog sitting still or in motion? Is it engaging with you or your dream avatar personally, or doing something off in the distance? All of these factors, alone and in combination, influence how we read their range of prospective meanings.
How you regard or think about dogs, or certain dog breeds, can also lead to varying interpretations when they feature in your dreams. For instance, if you are a dog lover, and have a dream of a friendly, well-trained dog who brings you his favorite toy, this could mean:
Now imagine that the dog is dirty or diseased; imagine they are going to attack you. It might be a breed or mix you find irrationally revolting or disturbing. The dream dog does not come when you call, ignores you, bites you, or runs away when you get close. Given the very simple list of interpretations above, it should be easy to see their darker reflections or negative outcomes to the same scenarios.
Everyone loves a cute baby puppy, but what does it mean when puppies become characters in our dream lives? We spoke above of seeing a well-trained dog in a dream. Puppies are brash, wild, and curious creatures. They are also approachable, but undisciplined. Think of all the mental associations you make with your own youth or times when you were inexperienced. Any and all of these can be applied to interpreting the manifestation of an infant canine in your dreams.
A dream that features puppies being born may not be about the puppies at all, but about parental or protective instincts. Dream puppies in this context might signal that you’re worried about taking on new responsibilities at work or that you need to nurture a new relationship. Are you starting a new job or moving to a new town and dream of a puppy getting into mischief or tumbling over their own legs? You can read this in various ways as suggesting a need for patience as you get settled, and that you will eventually learn the ropes and find your metaphorical feet with time, effort, and self-discipline.
It is far too simplistic to reduce anything to black and white, even our dreams. However, even dream worlds occasionally offer us strange and stark images. What does it mean to see a black dog or a white dog in a dream? As we’ve discussed, context and habitual associations matter when it comes to how we read our dreams. If you are superstitious and mentally link a black dog — as Samuel Johnson and Winston Churchill did — with times of extreme sadness or depressions, then perhaps your dreams are an effort to work through past or present difficulties, or presage troubles yet to come.
Beyond themes of depression or perceived faults or failings, black dogs can have as many possible interpretations as any other. They might signal an abrupt ending or a new beginning, the need to forgive yourself or others, or secrets that you are keeping or that you worry someone is keeping from you. What about white dogs? With apologies for oversimplifying, if we view black and white as opposites of a dyad — a yin and yang, if you will — then we can interpret white dogs as the counterpoints to black dog dreams. They might foretell easy transitions, good fortune to come, or the kindness of strangers.
Alternately, we can read black and white, not as colors in themselves, but as the absence of color. White or black dogs, then, can alert us to cloudy, indistinct, or impenetrable facets of our lives, work, or relationships. Depending on the dog’s actions or demeanor in a given dream, either may be warning us of difficult, or impossible decisions, or of ambivalent outcomes.
While we’ve attempted to decode and decipher our dreams for thousands of years, the only thing that’s obvious here is that fixed or immutable answers are nearly impossible to come by. Even the seemingly simplest images we encounter in our nocturnal reveries, such as dogs, can mean anything at all. The range of meanings and interpretations we’ve suggested here are based on research, tradition, and our own conjectures. Much depends on the context of the dream, and whether you prefer to view dreams as ways of working through unresolved elements in your past, current events, or things yet to come.
The appearance of a dream dog could just be reliving memories of a childhood pet, or bring a recent happy time with your current dog back into focus. We haven’t the time or space here, but even the breed or mix of a dog in a dream can influence how it is interpreted, just as other canid species will. A red fox or a grey wolf might mean something completely different, say, than a black Pug or a white Poodle. Do you frequently encounter dogs in your own dreams? What do they mean to you?