The Milky Way is explained by the Cherokee. They say that a southern people pounded white corn every night. One morning, they found that some meal was missing. They watched the next night and saw a little dog approach from the north and begin to eat the meal. The people chased the dog and he ran back into the north and up into the sky, leaving a white trail called 'where the dog ran:
The Iroquois tell of three brothers and the dog owned by the middle brother. They were having no luck in the hunt because a huge bear was devouring all the game. So they began following the bear. Finally, they came to the edge of the world and saw the bear running up the northern sky. The brothers climbed up after him. The bear crawled into a little cave, and the brothers and the dog Jiyeh closed in, thinking they had him trapped. But the bear heard them coming and threw an invisible net around them. With a mighty effort he flung them all into the sky, but he forgot to let go and was carried along with them. The bear became the four stars of the Great Dipper's bowl, and the brothers became the three stars in the handle, with a double star in the middle because the middle brother was accompanied by his dog.
tribes of northeastern California share the belief that bitches must
howl during the eclipse to save the sun or moon from destruction. The Nootka of Vancouver Island tell of a mangy Sky Dog who
itches and has to scratch. When
he does, he sheds mangy white scales, which fall to earth as snow.
A legend of the Achomawi tells of a great flood that put out all the fires, leaving the people with no way to cook. From the top of Mt. Shasta, they saw a wisp of smoke rising in the west, so they set out toward it, carrying torches of cedar bark. Dog hid a plug of punk in his ear.
By evening, they reached the camp where fire was still burning. They asked if they could warm their hands and gathered around the fire. Dog lay down with his ear next to the blaze. Suddenly, the people thrust their torches into the fire, and then ran with their treasure. The fire owners were angry and knocked the torches out of the people's hands. They then caused a magic rain to fall and put out the torches.
So the people were forced to return home with no fire. When they arrived, Dog complained that he was hot. The people were angry and were about to throw him out when Dog told them to look in his ear. They found the smoldering punk and used it to rekindle their fires.
The Apache apparently had dogs with curving tails because they have a story to explain how this came about. Hoop-and -pole was a favorite gambling game of the Apache, in which a hoop was rolled along the ground and poles were thrown after it. Dog loved to play, but his hoop was his only possession, and he was always betting and losing it. So the people decided to give him a permanent hoop and curled his tail up over his back. This is why some dogs today carry their tails over his backs.
Dogs are also honored in a variety of dances. The Menominee performed their Dog Dance each spring in maple sugar camps. Each dancer had his own dish, just as each dog should have its own bowl, and went about miming a dog begging for syrup. The dancers were never refused because they would take the syrup anyway, just as a hungry dog will snatch food. The dance was performed to remind people of the powers possessed by dogs and of the dogs' traditional right to snatch food from men.
The Shaggy Dog Dance of the Gros Ventre of Montana is quite a different story. The legend goes that the people were traveling and left a shaggy dog behind (an unusual event, because dogs were valued possessions). The dog followed, and an old man of the tribe took pity on it. He waited for the dog to catch up, and he slept with it. In gratitude, the dog spoke to the man in a dream and gave him a dance, explaining how to perform it and giving the man the whistle, rattle and owl feather headdress worn during the dance. The old man performed the dance and received much honor.
In many Indian tribes, societies were formed based on dogs' admirable traits. The Braves Society of the Blackfoot began when a member of the tribe had a vivid dream in which he saw a band of fierce, loyal dogs. Like the dogs, the Braves watched over the camps and kept order. Whenever the camp was to move, the Braves spent the night curled up on the ground at the center of the camp. The next day, the tribe moved on and the society members stayed behind and ate any food that remained. Then, again like dogs, they followed slowly after the others, arriving after all the lodges had been pitched and fires were going.
The Crow had the Big Dogs Society. In a tribal hunt, if anyone moved prematurely and risked frightening the game, the Big dogs would advance menacingly and yell at him as if he were a dog. If the transgressor showed a willingness to obey, that was the end of it; otherwise, the Big Dogs might whip him severely. In battle, the Big Dogs were to take the initiative in an emergency. If enemies were entrenched, it was the Big dogs' duty to charge straight at them.
By far the largest society was that of the Dog Men of the Cheyenne. The four bravest men in each tribe were chosen to defend the tribe for one year. Each wore a sash of hide eight to ten feet long, called a dog rope. A wooden picket pin was attached to the bottom of the sash. Whenever a battle was going badly, the men wearing the dog ropes drove the pickets into the ground, attaching themselves in the midst of the battle, and fought desperately to cover the retreat of the rest of the tribe. They were expected to die rather than pull up the pins and retreat. But if a comrade ordered them away sharply, as if speaking to a dog, they could retreat with the others. Not surprisingly, the Dog Men regarded the dog as sacred.
Dogs were accorded a variety of powers. Navajo diviners would put earwax from a dog into their own ears to strengthen their powers of divining and listening. Dogs of the Kwakiutl were expected not only to hunt and guard but also to see that no sickness or invisible spirits entered the village. A Seneca chief is quoted as saying, "It is most true that whenever a person loves a dog, he derives great power from it. But if you do not love a dog, he has the power to injure you by his orenda" (the holy, mysterious, unknown and unknowable forces of the universe).
On the subject of dogs speaking, many tribes tell variations of the "Tattler" tale, in which Dog spies on members of the tribe and runs about telling tales. Consequently, it is denied the power of speech.
The Tlingit say that at the first Dog was like a human being, but he was too smart, and culture-hero Raven took him by the neck and pushed him down, saying "Have four legs and bark; you are nothing but a dog."
Other tribes believe that dogs still possess the power of speech. The Hupa and Yurok never converse with their dogs because the dogs might answer, which would be an omen of death or great calamity. The Papgo have an ever-greater fear, saying that if the dog were to answer, we would all turn to stone. Certainly something to think about the next time you're having a one-sided conversation with your own dog.
From Dog Fancy 1990
Rogue Showing Herding Instinct