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"What gentler eye,
What nobler heart,
Doth warm the winter's day;
Than the true-blue orb
And the oaken core
Of beloved Old Dog Tray?"

— Walt Kelly

Basic Information

The Dog (Canis lupus familiaris) is believed to be the earliest animal domesticated by man. They are are classed as a subspecies of the Grey Wolf and are believed to have been domesticated roughly 15,000 years ago. They are loyal and intelligent and easily trainable. Whether or not they are more intelligent than Cats is a matter of deep theological debate.

They have always been working animals. The Inuit and early North American Indians used them to pull sleds, and they have long been used as hunting and herding animals. More recently, they have proved useful as guide and service animals for the blind and other handicapped people.

Although originally descending from the wolf, over the millenia dogs have been bred into an insane variety of sub-breeds, ranging from the tiny Chihuahua to the massive St. Bernard. Some qualities have been bred into types of dogs for practical reasons, such as the Dachshund, whose long body and stubby legs make them well-suited for hunting badgers; or the Poodle, originally a hunting dog whose dense curly fur protected it's joints when swimming in cold water. Other types were bred for aesthetic reasons, such as the toy breeds, intended to be little and cute.

The assorted breeds are generally divided as follows:

1. Earth Dogs (or terriers): Small, powerfully built breeds designed for killing vermin in close confines such as buildings, burrows or thick brush. Generally good diggers. Examples would include the Dachshund and pretty much any breed called a terrier.
2. Water dogs: Usually called setters, pointers, retrievers or spaniels these breeds were developed to flush game to the guns from bodies of water and to retrieve kills. They are usually soft-mouthed (having less well developed teeth than other breeds) and good, enthusiastic swimmers. Other swimming and retrieving breeds tend to be put into this class, even if they don't combine the two roles.
3. Hounds: Running breeds, developed for hunting and bringing down large game - guard and herding breeds tend to belong to this class as well, as do most trackers and all sledge dogs. Usually big dogs - although the class covers a range from mastiffs to whippets. This is probably the oldest class of dog and requires least divergence from the wolf.
4. Toy breeds: bred solely as pets, generally for small size and a short jawed, wide eyed face that is more 'human like' than most dogs. Frequently poorly regarded by breeders of other classes.
5. Edible breeds: mostly a historical artifact in the current age, but at one time an important part of the diet for the Pacific Rim and Mesoamerica.

These classes divide further before they are sorted into individual breeds, and the whole concept of a pedigree breed is not much more than a century old. This, coupled with the fact that dogs neither know nor care which breed they belong to means that it is very easy to find an animal that either blurs the boundaries or clearly belongs to no established group.

Dogs have a very keen sense of smell, and are often used as tracking animals, by hunters and also by law enforcement. Bloodhounds are proverbial for their dogged pursuit once on the sent of quarry. They also have a greater range of hearing than humans. Some trainers use "dog whistles" designed to make sounds that dogs can hear buy humans can't. Their vision is less acute. The dog's eyes cannot see a full range of color the way humans can, although like cats, they can see better in dim light. Some breeds of dog, depending on the shape of their head, also has a wider field of vision than a human.

Dogs cannot sweat the way humans can, and therefore regulate their body heat on hot days by panting.

Like the wolves they descended from, dogs are pack animals. They can be highly aggressive and territorial towards strangers, but also friendly and gregarious to those they accept as members of their "pack".

Some dogs, and even dog breeds, are trained to be attack animals. Their territorial instincts make them good guard animals, (if occasionally a bane to mailmen). Historically, dog-fights have been popular entertainments, although in modern times the practice has in most places been banned.

One of the ruins of Pompeii contains a mosaic of a watchdog with the inscription "cave canem" ("beware of the dog").

As a general rule of thumb, dogs wag their tails when they're happy and growl when they're angry.

See Also



Game and Story Use

  • A PC or a PC group might have a dog as a pet or mascot.
    • In the Hanna-Barbara cartoons of the '70s and '80s, the heroes always had a dog, or some kind of pet. It was a rule.
      • No, really. It was. In the '80s the president of NBC insisted that even Spider-Man get a dog.
  • I've been in campaigns where one of the PCs was a dog.
    • In one case he was a robot with a canine shape
    • In another the PC was an involuntary shape-shifter, ala The Shaggy Dog. It was a silly campaign.
    • Then there was Rex the Wonder Dog, but he was an NPC.
  • In a Transhuman campaign, the dog's intelligence might make them good candidates for uplifting, so that you might actually have sentient canines.
  • How an NPC treats his dog provides an insight into his character.
    • If he treats his dog better than he treats his human servants, that tells you something about him too.
  • Vicious guard dogs might be an obstacle PCs have to face when breaking into an enemy's territory.
    • See Lethal Weapon 2 for an example of how this can backfire.
  • You can establish the tone of a tough neighborhood by having a dog fight taking place nearby.
    • As in a staged pit fight, or just two stray mongrels mixing it up? Either really.
  • It was not unknown for some of our ancestors to bury a dead dog under the threshold of a house … much as a live dog could be chained at the door. Introduce this into your campaign as a barrier against astral/ethereal intrusion - a relatively cheap undead guardian.
  • Dog breeding is a good hobby for an NPC (or even a suitably settled PC) - unlike horse breeding this can a hobby for any social class, ranging from an underclass slum dweller trying to breed the perfect pit fighting dog to an aristocratic lady raising delicate lapdogs, and inbetween, all manner of men building bloodlines of working breeds. In the right culture and era, they can even breed for flavour…
  • In the UK (and perhaps in other places) dog racing is a common spectator sport - generally for those that can't afford the price of horse racing, but not always.
  • Other sports involving dogs include dog fighting, baiting (setting dogs on something else like a bull or a bear), pit ratting (where terriers kill as many rats as possible against the clock), Cani-cross (aka. CaniX) (cross country races run by human-dog pairs), competition dog sledging and human vs. dog pit fighting.
  • Dogs are very often trained to assist their owners in combat - best seen these days amongst inner city gangs and in police use, but historically quite common as well. A common application was for horsemen to use their dogs to unsettle their opponent's horse and thus reduce his ability to defend himself. There is also limited evidence of fighting dogs being used to help break shield wall formations by attacking under the defender's shields whilst their handlers continued to threaten the enemy line with spears, thus forcing the defenders to expose themselves to attack from either the dog or its master.
  • Many places - albeit those at a lower rent bracket - develop packs of feral dogs that can become a significant nuisance, or even an outright menace, to the human population. For some of the adventures that can be had with these animals, see the new story above about the stray dog cull in Iraq and the "adventure hints" thereunder. More generally such dogs can also work like the traditional circling vultures for pointing out the presence of something dead or dying that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. As T.S. Elliot pointed out, dogs can also dig up shallow graves, be found wandering with carelessly discarded body parts in their mouths and the like.
    • Feral dogs will generally hesitate to attack a heathy adult human - and are quite capable of recognising the "bending down to pick up a stone" gesture (which generally makes them back off from experience) but faced with a wounded or otherwise incapacitated prey (including a bound prisoner) or someone silly enough to run from them (especially to the point of exhaustion), small children or the sick, elderly or otherwise infirm, they may decide to try their luck.
    • Most of the world's feral dog communities eventually seem to gravitate to a rangy, yellowish-brown look … this probably says a lot about their common ancestor and baseline shared DNA.
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