Dogs in the Middle Ages

Dogs in the Middle Ages

A look into the evolving role of dogs in medieval society and their significance as symbols of status and loyalty.

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In the Middle Ages, dogs were more than just pets. They were highly esteemed companions and symbols of status and loyalty. These faithful animals played a vital role in medieval society, serving various functions depending on their breed and the social class they belonged to. From specialized hunting dogs to lapdogs owned by the nobility, dogs were an integral part of daily life in the medieval period.

Valued for their intelligence, loyalty, and unique abilities, dogs held a significant place in the hearts and minds of people during this time. Whether they were aiding in hunting expeditions, guarding properties, or providing companionship, dogs were indispensable to their human counterparts.

This article takes a deep dive into the captivating world of medieval dogs. Through exploring their diverse roles, cultural significance, and the evolving perception of these beloved animals, we gain insight into the medieval mindset and the value placed on the human-animal bond.

One of the key aspects of medieval dogs was their specific functions. Different breeds were bred and trained for various tasks. For example, hunting dogs, such as the swift and agile Greyhounds, were highly prized for their ability to chase down game. These dogs were often owned by nobles and used during hunting expeditions, showcasing both their owner’s wealth and their own skills.

On the other end of the spectrum, smaller lapdogs were favored by the noble class for their ornamental value. These dogs, often depicted in elaborate portraits and tapestries, symbolized wealth and luxury. They were pampered and treated as cherished companions, sometimes even being dressed in fashionable clothing.

However, dogs were not limited to the upper classes. They also played important roles in the lives of commoners. Working dogs, such as herding dogs and guard dogs, were invaluable assets to farmers and merchants. These dogs helped protect livestock, guided sheep, and ensured the safety of their owner’s property.

Beyond their practical functions, dogs held a significant cultural significance in medieval society. They were often associated with loyalty, fidelity, and bravery. Dogs were frequently used as heraldic symbols, appearing on coats of arms and family crests. Their presence signified the noble qualities their owners aspired to embody.

However, the perception of dogs in the Middle Ages was not universally positive. While dogs were cherished by many, they were also associated with negative qualities such as greed, gluttony, and promiscuity. These negative connotations were often linked to stray and feral dogs, which were seen as a menace to society.

As society evolved, so did the role and perception of dogs. The Renaissance period saw a shift towards viewing dogs as loyal companions and faithful protectors, rather than just symbols of status. This change in mindset laid the foundation for the modern-day perception of dogs as beloved pets and family members.

By delving into the fascinating world of medieval dogs, we not only gain a deeper understanding of the past but also recognize the enduring bond between humans and animals. From their varied functions to their cultural significance, medieval dogs left an indelible mark on history, reminding us of the timeless connection between humans and their faithful canine companions.

In conclusion, dogs played significant roles in medieval society, serving as working companions, symbols of aristocracy, and embodiments of loyalty and fidelity. From their specialized hunting skills to their association with the noble classes, dogs were highly valued and appreciated for their contributions to human activities. Despite some negative portrayals in literature and art, dogs were often depicted as loyal and protective companions, reinforcing their association with loyalty and devotion.

Dogs also held symbolic significance, particularly in tomb monuments. Depictions of dogs on tomb monuments symbolized fidelity, representing the faithfulness of a wife to her husband or the faith of the deceased. These symbolic representations further emphasized the special qualities that distinguished dogs from other animals and reinforced their association with loyalty.

Medieval dog owners spared no expense in pampering their companions, outfitting them with luxurious accessories. This material investment aligned with the aristocratic culture of vivre noblement, where the consumption of luxury commodities was a way to demonstrate one’s status. The perception of dog owning and accessorizing also fed into gendered stereotypes, with men tending to own active dogs for protection and women preferring lapdogs that they could cradle and pamper.

Overall, dogs held a significant place in medieval culture and society. Their working abilities, symbolic representations, and gendered associations all contributed to their importance and value. Dogs were not just seen as animals but as companions and partners in various aspects of life. Their roles and representations in medieval society provide us with a glimpse into the deep connections and relationships between humans and animals during that time.


Dogs held a significant place in medieval society, serving as working companions, symbols of status, and loyal companions. From the specialized hunting dogs at the top of the hierarchy to the lapdogs owned by the nobility, these animals were valued for their intelligence, loyalty, and unique abilities.

The roles of dogs evolved as hunting became an aristocratic pastime, and they were welcomed into noble homes. Literature and art of the period celebrated dogs’ loyalty and protective instincts, while tomb monuments symbolized fidelity through their depictions of dogs.

The pampering of dogs with luxurious accessories reflected the aristocratic culture of the time. In the Middle Ages, dogs were not just animals but esteemed members of society, leaving an indelible mark on medieval culture and history.

As we delve into the fascinating world of medieval society, it becomes evident that dogs played a far more significant role than mere companions. They were revered for their intelligence, loyalty, and unique abilities, making them indispensable in various aspects of medieval life.

From the top of the hierarchy, where specialized hunting dogs showcased their skills in the pursuit of game, to the noble lapdogs that adorned the laps of the aristocracy, dogs were not only valued for their practical uses but also as symbols of status and prestige.

However, their significance transcended their roles as working and status symbols. Dogs became deeply ingrained in the cultural fabric of the Middle Ages, finding their place in literature, art, and even in the commemoration of the departed.

Medieval literature and art celebrated the loyalty and protective instincts of dogs, highlighting their unwavering dedication to their human counterparts. These depictions served as a reminder of the unique bond between humans and their canine companions, emphasizing the value placed on trust and fidelity.

Furthermore, tomb monuments adorned with the images of dogs symbolized not only the deceased’s loyalty but also the enduring legacy of these animals in the collective memory of medieval society. Dogs, in their depiction on these monuments, became the embodiment of faithfulness and devotion.

Yet, it is perhaps the indulgence and pampering of dogs with luxurious accessories that truly epitomize the aristocratic culture of the Middle Ages. The opulence with which these animals were treated not only reflected the wealth and excess of the nobility but also the deep emotional connection they shared with their canine companions.

As we reflect on the significance of dogs in medieval society, we are reminded of the profound impact they had on shaping the culture and history of the time. Their presence went beyond their practical uses, leaving an indelible mark on the collective consciousness of medieval society.

So, as we navigate our own modern world, let us not forget the lessons we can learn from the medieval appreciation of dogs. Their loyalty, intelligence, and unique abilities serve as a reminder of the enduring bond between humans and animals, and the profound impact they can have on our lives.

May we cherish and celebrate the dogs in our lives, recognizing the invaluable role they play in our own personal histories and the wider tapestry of human existence.