By Teri Olcott
If you’ve ever eaten at a Chinese restaurant, chances are you saw a pair of dog-like statues “guarding” the entrance. These “dogs” are actually lions, but their resemblance to Chow dogs caused them to be dubbed “Foo Dogs” or “Fu Dogs.” The name may have come from the Chinese word “Fó” which refers to Buddha, or “Fu” which can mean “prosperity.” The Chinese call the animal statues “shí” (meaning “lion”) or “shíshī” (meaning "stone lion”). Regardless of what you call them, Foo Dogs are popular statues that symbolically protect homes all over the world.
Photos by shutterstock
The History of Foo Dogs
The use of carved stone lions to guard an entrance to a home or sacred space goes back to the year 206 BC. These imposing beasts were said to have magical protective powers that would protect the inhabitants from harm. The presence of the roaring lions, real or not, was said to keep thieves and negative energy from entering the property. The animals also conveyed the wealth and power of the owners.
Chinese Foo Dogs started as similar massive lion statues that were placed at the entrance to Chinese temples as a symbol of wealth and protection. The lions were traditionally carved from marble and granite, or cast in iron or bronze. Foo Dogs differ from traditional lions in that the face of the animal has a mischievous or devilish look. The eyes are usually large and wide open with a tiny hole in the middle. The bodies are ornately carved with flowing manes and often draped with jewels. This menacing appearance is what conveys the idea that these statues have the power to keep evil at bay. Because of the high cost of making the statues, the presence of these lions was also associated with wealth. Today, lions and Foo Dog statues are mass-produced from concrete and resin products and can be purchased by anyone regardless of their financial or social standing.
The Dynamics of Foo Dogs
Foo Dogs always come in pairs — a male and female. You shouldn’t ever have a single Foo Dog. The female represents yin (the Chinese philosophy of how opposing forces may actually be complementary), and the male represents yang. The female Foo Dog is said to protect the inhabitants of the home or building while the male watches over the property and structures. You can identify the gender of the Foo Dog by what is placed under its paw. The male holds a small ball which represents the world. The female keeps watch over a cub or puppy, and is said to represent life and nature. Authentic Foo Dogs are designed with one having an open mouth and the other closed. This is to represent the in-and-out breathing of life and the sound of “om.” Anyone who meditates or practices yoga is familiar with "om" being the seed of life and all of creation.
The Correct Placement of Foo Dogs
If you’re thinking of buying a pair of Foo Dogs to guard your property, you may be surprised to find out that there are rules for their placement. When viewed from the front, the female should be on the left and the male on the right. They should never be placed in separate rooms or facing each other. The ideal placement is just before the entrance to a home or building. They should be elevated and not sit directly on the ground. Many statues come mounted on pedestals. They should also be at the same height. You don’t want one Foo Dog higher than the other. Failure to follow correct placement guidelines may result in evil spirits invading your home, according to the tradition.
Although no longer purchased for their magical, protective properties, Foo Dogs are still popular as collectibles and decorative pieces. They come in all sizes from massive front yard guardians to tiny bookends and will symbolically protect and adorn your home for as long as you let them. And who is to say they don’t keep negative energy away? If you are looking to increase the security of your home, consider a pair of Foo Dogs.