Frequently depicted in dog art, war dogs and guard dogs encapsulate the heroic role of the specialised dog breeds bred specifically for these kinds of pursuits. Originally these dogs as defined in dog art were not dissimilar to modern-day Mastiffs and were seen marching into conflict with the armies of Hammurabi, the King of Babylon, getting on for 4000 years ago. The dog art tablets and bas-reliefs of this time heavily feature these incredible and heroic dogs.
Dog art from the palace of Assurbanipal from about 650 years B.C., and the time of pre-Christian history, represented these war dogs as part of hunting scenes. Forming the ancestry of the modern-day St.Bernards, Bernese mountain dogs and the Tibetan Mastiff, these great dogs descended most likely from the Simocyon dog of the Miocene age. Throughout the dog art of the Babylon, Egyptian, Persian and Greek civilizations the representations of these mastiff-like dogs during battle and guarding pursuits reigns as a premier art subject, Babylon a well-known place of dog lovers. Testiment to this are the terracota decorations found buried under the homes of the city dwellers as good luck charms and the beautiful mosaics of Naples.
Mastiff kinds are featured in the Forest Laws of King Canute in 1016, to prevent them catching deer, a breed much attributed the characterization of brave and fearless, as frequently portrayed in dog art of this era. The Battle of Agincourt in 1415 saw Sir Piers Leigh of Lyme Park, Cheshire, guarded faithfully by his Mastiff dog, while he lay dying, centuries of breeding at Lyme Park creating a line of descent to the Old English Mastiffs of nowadays. The great painting by Velasquez, Las Meninas, depicts a Mastiff-like dog who could be a descendant of these Lyme Park dogs, James the first having given some of these dogs to Phillip the 3rd of Spain.
King Henry VIII sent his war dogs to war with Charles V against Francis the first of France, dogs on which he placed enourmous distinction. Invaluable for in battle and guarding against enemy approach their image in dog art is normally captured as incredibly fierce and aggresive and most definately uncontrollable. The Mastiff and Bulldog were merged to create the Bullmastiff, pictured in dog art as “The Night Dog”, a friend of nightwatchmen in the nineteenth century, these dogs in dog art depictions demonstrate how they were excellent guard dogs and faithful companions of the vulnerable nightwatchmen.
The guarding abilities of these dog breeds characterized in dog art through the ages still sees a place in the dog art of the present time.The Doberman, Rottweiler and Alsatian are among the most well-known of these breeds of dogs and are often pictured in their valiant job of nightwatching and protecting of their owners, their fantastic intelligence and loyallty forever immortalised in dog art paintings, photograghy or film. These attributes align the modern-day dog breeds with the old Mastiffs of times gone by and make them fantastic creatures for both the police and in all important security work for the army.