Rare Breed Spotlight: Lion Spirit

Like its mythical counterpart, the majestic Chinese Foo Dog protects home and hearth.

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If you’ve ever noticed the formidable statues outside Chinese restaurants or in museums or art galleries you probably wondered if they were supposed to be lions, dogs or mythical creatures. The correct answer is: all of the above.

The statues, known as Foo Dogs (also called Fu or Fo Dogs), are supposed to resemble lions (animals sacred in Buddhism), as well as guard dogs. However, there were no lions in China, so artists used their imagination when they depicted them, and no one would criticize their accuracy. Adding a touch of canine features to their imaginary lions and a few creative curlicues, they created Foo Dog sculptures.

Generally portrayed in a protective posture, the Foo Dog was believed to ward off demons and evil spirits. Foo Dogs were often presented in pairs, with the male’s paw on a globe representing the world and the female protecting a puppy.

The real thing
Is there really such a thing as a living, breathing Chinese Foo Dog that shares its name with the mythical creature? Definitely. Some historians believe hunting dogs from Scandinavia and northern Asia were brought to China by nomads and crossed with the Chow Chow. Others attribute their beginnings to breedings between the Mongolian wolf and the Chow Chow. In either instance, the Chow was one of the progenitors, as evidenced in the Foo Dog’s appearance.

A dog of the working classes, the Foo Dog earned its keep by hunting. In time, their peasant owners discovered the versatile nature of the breed and also used them as herders, sled dogs and guardians.

 


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