What are Foo Dogs?
Foo Dogs are Chinese protection symbols of feng shui that typically “guard” the entranceways to buildings and homes. Ironically, they don’t actually depict dogs, but rather lions. They are always presented in pairs and are traditionally carved from granite, marble or some other decorative stone. However, they may also be cast in iron, bronze or ceramic. Due to the high cost of the materials and craftsmanship required to sculpt them, these statues were usually reserved for only the wealthiest and most prestigious families, or imperial palaces, tombs and governmental offices. Consequently, they represented not only sacred protectors against negative energy, but aristocratic status as well.
How did the Fu Dogs mythology develop?
Their mythology has origins that can be traced back to Buddhism in the Chinese Han Dynasty during the second century B.C. According to Buddhist legend, preaching the truth of the Dharma is akin to “roaring like a lion,” which will eventually silence all other voices. Asiatic lions, which were introduced to China through the Silk Road trade route, were often kept by the emperor. These live pets served as inspiration for the imperial guardian lion sculptures. The Chinese refer to them as “shi” which literally translates to “lion.”
Over the centuries, the popularity of these symbolic lions spread from China to Tibet, Thailand, Korea, Japan and across Asia. Japan adopted them from Korea and referred to them as “Korean Dogs.” The Japanese then introduced them to Western cultures, who altered the name to “foo dogs” or “fu dogs.” Although, the words translate to “Buddha” and “prosperity,” the Chinese rarely use these prefixes in conjunction with guardian symbols and never refer to them as “dogs.” Inconsistent references are compounded by the fact that these statues often more closely resemble Chinese breeds of dogs (e.g. Chow Chow and Shih Tzu) than predatory lions.
What do Chinese Lion statues look like?
Foo Dogs are usually depicted as fierce crouching beasts. Their menacing visages serve as deterrents to anyone who might wish to enter with malicious intent. The stylized eyes, teeth and claws of these Chinese totems are intended to capture the power and raw emotion of the animal. In contrast, European depictions of lions are much more lifelike and with rippling muscles.
Each pair of guardian lions includes both female and male versions, which are manifestations of yin and yang. The male lion has an embroidered ball beneath his right front paw that represents the world. The female has a small cub under her left, which represents the cycle of life. Symbolically, he guards the external physical structure, while she protects those living inside.
Their mouths may both be wide open, as if in mid-roar to scare off evil spirits, partially open with large pearls in them, or the female may have her mouth closed. When they are open and closed, it symbolizes the sacred sound “om.” This mantra is prevalent in Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions around the world. Traditionally, when they were placed in front of the homes of high-ranking officials, the number of curls on a lion’s head denoted the rank of the official. The more curls, the higher the rank.
According to feng shui, how should Foo Dogs be arranged?
To balance the energy (good and bad chi) of your home and maximize harmony and good fortune, it’s important that you arrange Foo Dogs properly. They should be placed on either side of a door or entryway looking outward. Facing the entrance, the male should be on the right and the female on the left. If they are small statuettes, bookends or table lamps with foo dog bases, you should keep them in one room on the same table or shelf, and follow the placement recommendation. If they’re the same sex (sometimes it’s easier for manufacturers), be sure that the inside paws are the ones raised.
Does the color of your Lion Dogs (a.k.a. Shishi) matter?
Chinese metaphysical arts are complex observances of appearance, composition, position and time, and their effect on the invisible forces that bind everything together…so, of course color matters. Not only that, but so does the placement of the Foo Dogs based on the outside direction they face or their room position relative to the entry door. And you thought quantum physics was complicated!
Feng Shui Wu Xing Cosmology
In feng shui, the direction in which a doorway faces is associated with different colors and elements. So, you can enhance the impact of your large doorway or gate guarding foo dogs by adhering to these nuanced feng shui directional guidelines derived from Wu Xing.
- Center – Health & Well-Being
- North – Black – Career
- Northeast – Blue – Education & Knowledge
- East – Green – Family & New Beginnings
- Southeast – Purple – Wealth & Prosperity
- South – Red – Fame & Recognition
- Southwest – Brown, Yellow & Pink – Love & Relationships
- West – White, Gold & Silver (metal) – Creativity & Children
- Northwest – White, Gold & Silver (metal) – Mentors & Travel
Feng Shui Bagua Map
Smaller foo dogs that set upon tables, mantels or other surfaces within a room also have ideal color positioning based on the traditional feng shui bagua map.
Concluding thoughts on Foo Dogs
Depending on your commitment to feng shui optimization, you can go as crazy or casual as you like with how and where you display your foo dogs. You might have two males, two females or just one altogether, so take everything with a grain of salt. Treat them with respect and feel free to pat them in thanks for keeping you safe. But, be sure to keep them facing outward from the front door, so they keep evil spirits out of, rather than in your home. The globalization of business has also led to a recognition of the potential value of various cultural rituals in creating a setting of hospitality. Consequently, the adoption of practices such as feng shui and the use of totems like Foo Dogs are becoming more common in the workplace [Ogilvie, Ng, Xiang, Ryan & Yong 2018].
- Ogilvie, M., Ng, D., Xiang, E., Ryan, M. M., & Yong, J. (2018). Using traditional rituals in hospitality to gain value: A study on the impact of Feng Shui. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 72, 1-9.