The Symbolism of Foo Dog Tattoos

An artist tattooing a foo dog
Jason Lander / Flickr / Creative Commons

Always depicted in pairs to represent both yin and yang, Foo Dogs, also known as protective lions, symbolize both prosperity and success as well as guardianship. If you want a unique tattoo design that is rich in both Asian history and symbolism, a Foo Dog may be for you.

Is It a Lion or a Dog?

Purely mythical, a Foo Dog is often called a protective lion which can be confusing. Is the design a canine or a feline and what is the origin of this mysterious creature?

The word "Fo" originates from China and it means Buddha. In addition to Foo, these Asian dogs have also been named the "Lion of Korea." Depending on the culture, there are many different stories about the guardianship of these mythical animals and of course their purpose. The legend behind the Foo Dog is that their sole mission was to keep watch over Buddhist temples. Because of their protective association, many people bear the Foo for personal safety, whereas others may even place the Foo around their homes for an added sense of security.

In addition to the more modern approach of a Foo tattoo, the dogs have been depicted in statues and paintings since 208 BC until around 221 AD. Because the Foo's appearance resembles that of a lion, their name is sometimes freely interchanged. Today, an authentic dog breed that looks like a lion may include the ever protective and loyal Chow Chow breed.

In the Buddhist religion, the lion is considered sacred and is often sacrificed in an offering to the Buddha. They represent both peace and calm and can offer a sense of this to anyone who bears their mark.

Although the primary symbolism of the Food Dog is protection, they can also represent happiness and energy and value.

When paired together the mischievous appearance of these dogs creates a playful design that can also be tranquil. Although originating in China, Foo Dogs are appreciated and loved all over the world. Today the Foo Dog can be found on artwork, statues and other goods that may benefit from the protection of such an honorable and noble beast.

Other Symbols of Luck and Protection

If you want a tattoo design with similar representation, there are many other symbols in addition to a Foo Dog tattoo that can be worn to bring about both protection and good fortune. Luck and protection talismans make wonderful tattoos since you can wear them for eternity and always feel their presence. If you want to keep with the Japanese theme, why not consider a Koi fish tattoo? Symbolizing strength, a Koi travels up the Yellow River in hopes to transform into a mighty dragon.

Some people opt for cross or Pagan tattoos for protection, but there is also dream catcher tattoos, the numbers seven and thirteen, and dandelion tattoos that may symbolize both hope and wishes.

Where Should I Place My Foo Dog Tattoo?

If you're ready to ink the noble symbol of good luck and fortune, make sure you place it where you can enjoy it.

Remember that Foo Dogs must travel in pairs. Because the Foo Dogs are very detailed, you'll also need to ensure your tattoo is of the right size so that the design can be appreciated.

For tattoo placement, consider placing a Foo Dog on the arms, legs or outer thigh. Some people even place one Foo Dog tattoo on each side of their chest. There are many other scenes that can be created with the dogs. Adding bamboo in the background of your design is sure to add even more luck.

Tattoo artist selection is always important, but especially so with such a prominent and detailed piece. The tattoo pictured above was created by tattoo artist James Vaughn, a contestant on SPIKE TV's Season One of Ink Master. Beautiful and colorful and filled with promise, may the wearer of these honorable and majestic dogs have a lifetime of blessed fortune and happiness!