Why Dog (and Horse) Is So Special

My most profound apologies to those I offended by the recent post “Why Dog Does Stupid Things,” who felt I did not respect the nobility of Dog.  In fact, it was suggested American Indians did not appreciate dogs to the extent non-Natives do.  I think it would be better understood the story I shared earlier is reflective of how some American Indians try to make sense of why, when Dog, who normally is so loving and caring….well, sometimes does stupid things.  When an Elder laughingly says, “Oh, why did you have to choose Dukwaps,” it’s an expression of affection in the same way when a mother has an extra cocktail (or two) at her daughter’s wedding and gets a bit silly; the response is not of condemnation, but affection.  I think one of the things it teaches is how one balances love with reality.  Those you love don’t always behave as you’d prefer…but you still love them.  When I was much younger, there was an American Indian man who was very much respected for the work and achievements he had accomplished in Native Journalism.  Unfortunately he had a problem with alcoholism.  He once told me, when he went home to his family on the reservation, “Even if you fart in their faces, they still have to take you in, because you’re family.”  There’s never a question about the love one has for Dog.  No matter what Dog does—you still love Dog.

One of the suggestions was that I tell an additional legend that’s also part of our tradition—that explains why there is so much fondness as well as respect  for Dog.  I should also mention that some of the coastal traditions report a nobility connection with Dog.  A High-Class woman had a secret lover who would only come to her at night.  When she shared with her closest friends she wondered who he was, they suggested she cover her hands with red ochre (paint) and smear his back when she next had relations with him.  They told her, “Look at the back of those you see in the village the next day.”  To her surprise, the next day, she saw Dog with smears of red paint on his back.

Now, depending on which Native Nation’s legend you know, when her father, the Chief, found out she had been having sex with Dog, some say Dog was killed (others say Dog later took on a human shape and went with her), and she was set adrift in a canoe.  Some say her brother went after her to protect her.  When she gave birth, her babies were puppies.  She and her brother watched over them.  But when her brother went hunting to provide for them, she discovered the puppy children would wait until they weren’t watched, and they would take off their puppy skins and turn into human shaped children.  Eventually, the mother and brother hid and when the children took off their puppy “robes,” the brother ran out and gathered their puppy robes and threw them into the fire.   Some say one of the puppy children was able to snatch his skin out of the fire and remained in that form.   The destruction of their puppy skins forced them to retain their human shape.  Various Native (American and Canadian) Nations trace their lineage from these children.  Of interest to Twilight-Eclipse  novel/movie fans, at least as many Native Nations claim their heritage is from the Wolf.


Long and long ago, Human Beings were created after the Animal People.  The Creator called the Animal People together and asked them to help the new Humans.  “They are weak and soft.  They will not be able to survive without your help.”  The Creator asked the Animal People to instruct the Human People how to gather and prepare food, the way Wolf and Bear and the others did so well.  The Creator asked others to teach them how to run and move; how to do weavings and how to build things with the skill of Beaver and others.


But to the surprise of the Animal People, the Human Beings not only learned quickly, but adapted their teachings to their own advantage.

The Animal People gathered together.  Many called out: “Human Beings will soon surpass us with the knowledge we have so generously provided them.  Soon they will overtake us and treat us badly.  We must kill them now so they do not dominate us!”

Only Dog and Horse argued on behalf of the Human Beings.  They asked the other Animal People not to kill them.  But the Animal People fought with one another, and Dog and Horse realized they could not win.  With great bravery—knowing the other Animal People might indeed kill them as traitors—Dog and Horse went to the Human village and warned them of the danger.  The Human beings fled and hid.

When the Animal People attacked the Human village, they found the Creator waiting for them.

“I asked you to help the Human Beings, and you responded by choosing to kill them.  To punish you, I will take away the power of universal language from you.  No longer will you be able to speak to one another as you have.  Because Dog and Horse sought to protect the Human beings, I will let them retain their Power of Communication.”

  Just so, even now, Dog and Horse are able to “speak” with Human beings in a way no other Animal People can.

A Sahaptin legend retold by CoyoteCooks

In the Sahaptin language, the name for Horse is “kusi” and the name for Dog is “kusi kusi.” Depending on how you think of things, this means a dog is a small horse, or a horse is a large dog.  As a child, I was always told in school we weren’t “really” aboriginal—that we just “beat” Europeans to North America by a few generations (if 50,000 years or more are considered a “few” generations) via an ice bridge from Siberia.  But the same science that tells us this also states Horse is originally from the so-called “New World” and crossed over exactly the same land bridges from North America to Siberia.  It seems to me bridges work both ways.  I don’t see why it isn’t just as possible American Indians crossed over the land bridges to start up communities in Siberia and elsewhere, following the hoof prints of Horse.

  According to current science, Hippidion, an early form of Horse, persisted in the so-called New World, until historic times.  A Cherokee elder told me it was her tradition Native people had Horses long before non-Native people arrived, although they were smaller and hairier than contemporary horses.  Many non-Native historians claim American Indians were only exposed to horses when the Spanish got careless and their horses ran away to become “feral.”  Looks like paleontologists give more accurate information than historians. http://dinosaurs.about.com/od/otherprehistoriclife/a/horses.htm

  American Indians had dogs long before non-Natives arrived.  Most of these Native dogs are “lost,” having interbred with the newcomers non-Natives brought with them (just as it’s been suggested the surviving Native Horses interbred with the newly arrived European horses).  For example, Elders in the Pacific Northwest talk about small wooly dogs—their fur was used to weave blankets.  “Finally, there’s the question of what makes people and dogs such inseparable friends. Using a number of behavioral experiments–most of them involving finding food hidden in scent-camouflaged boxes–a team headed by anthropologist Brian Hare of Harvard compared the ability of wolves, adult dogs and puppies to pick up subtle cues in human behavior. Both puppies and dogs showed a talent for finding the food using nonverbal signals from the researchers–even something as subtle as gazing toward the hiding place. That doesn’t surprise Nicholas Dodman, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. Dodman says dogs can read “a look, a facial expression, a tone in your muscles.” Wolves, by contrast, are dolts when it comes to reading such signs–suggesting that the trait arose during domestication.” http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1003802-2,00.html#ixzz0u7UTkdL5

Explore posts in the same categories: American Indian, American Indian Legends, Storyteller

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