Animal companions are a vital part of my campaign world. Much of the reason the World of the Everflow and the Land of Six Kingdoms exists is because I want to explore the connection between humans and dogs. Since this is Dungeons & Dragons that also means exploring the connection between halflings and riding dogs, kobolds and ratters, elves and sighting dogs, goliaths and huskies.
D&D only has one natural dog. There’s also blink dogs, wolves, dire wolves, and a few other mystical beasts. But the real world has dogs that range from one pound to a couple hundred, dogs that are able to swim forever, dogs that are able to detect scent so well they detect cancer, dogs that pull sleds for hundreds of miles.
Fifth edition is simpler than reality, and every other version of the “editions” of D&D, only various basic editions could be classified as simple. It doesn’t need 150 breeds of dogs. It does need more than the mastiff. Here are nine other types of dogs to help expand your D&D game.
Mastiffs or War Dogs
Part of the 5th edition D&D SRD, the mastiff can be summoned by various spells and magic items and ridden by small humanoids. Though described as a hound, the art for mastiffs tends towards bulky. They are war dogs, clearly. Maybe they also represent breeds that guard through violence and intimidation rather than as an early warning system.
Mastiffs and war dogs should always be medium.
These dogs herd animals, you already figured that out. Whether they are shepherds or certain terriers or heelers, they enjoy large groups.
Herding dogs are usually medium, but small is appropriate.
There are a few types of guardian dogs. Where in D&D the mastiff represents the guard dog that is violent and intimidating a guardian dog represents those breeds that act as an early warning system. They observe a space and warn their companions that danger is coming.
Rather than stat this out, the two guardian dogs in my current game are simple. They do 1 HP of damage on attacks, have half hit points of a mastiff, and are small. These represent the terrier breeds that aren’t eliminating vermin but are barking a lot (there’s some crossover in the real world). What makes them special is the ability, once per long rest, to “cast” Alarm as a ritual without any use of spell components. Rather than invent a new ability, creating a small area that the dogs can sense entry into and then bark a lot makes things simple.
Guardian dogs can be small and sometimes medium.
Where the mastiff represents breeds that are violent, working dogs have two main roles in our world of fantasy — the mount and the cart/sled puller. These are big doggos. They never tire. They love you so much they want to work harder. Give them the mastiff stats, but with max HP and a boost of 2 to Constitution. They have disadvantage on attack rolls.
Give a working dog Beast of Burden, you can find that on the Mule. They are tireless, and have advantage on strength or constitution checks that would impose exhaustion.
Working dogs are medium, maybe even large — this is a fantasy world.
Aslan is a red lab and Amira was a golden/yellow mix. These are the dogs that taught me what dogs are. Retrievers haven’t appeared in my game yet. The rules are simple. A retriever fetches. At the end of a combat 100% of ammunition can be found within ten minutes, unless magically hidden or a critical fail was rolled. Additionally, when they are within 30′ of their companion and that companion’s target their companion always has at least 1 piece of ammunition. They do not provoke attacks of opportunity, ever. They use the mastiff stats.
Retrieving dogs are usually medium, but small works.
Labs are funny because they are both retriever and water dogs, but that’s complicated. 5e isn’t supposed to be complicated. So your lab needs to be one or the other. Or get a spaniel. They’re cool too, all dogs are cool. There’s lots of water dogs that basically forget that they are supposed to run on land, not jump in every pond, crick, or ocean they find. And yet. Water dogs do just that.
Mechanically? Use the mastiff, because simple. Drop Keen Hearing & Smell and drop the bite to a d4+1. Add on a swimming speed of 40 and resistance to cold damage.
Water dogs can be medium or small.
Hound or sighting dogs
The dog that helps hunters and trackers is a capable tracker who can sight prey from great distances. These hounds are frequent companions of rangers and other outdoorsy types.
Mastiffs, the base D&D dog, already have Keen Sight & Hearing, so what does a dog that’s even better have? Let’s lean on Elven Accuracy. Whenever tracking, hounds and sighting dogs are able to reroll one of their advantage dice. When their companion is tracking the help of a hound or sighter means that companion has the same. A sighting dog or smell-hound can use the Help action as a Bonus Action for a ranged or melee attack respectfully. Other changes from the mastiff are a drop of strength and constitution by 2 points, reducing their damage, attack bonus, and hit points.
Hounds and sighting dogs are evenly split between medium and small.
Vermin hunting dogs
Certain breeds were meant to get rid of rats, badgers, foxes etc. They are nimble (Dex 16, AC 14) pack animals (Pack Tactics) who are brave (advantage against fear). They will chase a small animal into its home, enjoying that chase through darkness (darkvision 10′). They aren’t strong (Str 9) or tough (HP 2). They’re just fierce. Their bite does 1d4-1 hit points of damage, minimum one. On a successful bite the victim must make a DC: 10 strength check or be grappled.
Many tunneling societies will partner up with vermin hunters, to include, but not limited to, kobolds, gnomes, dwarves, goblins, drow. Sure these dogs may bring rats back to their companions. This is both good and bad and good and bad.
Vermin hunters are small, with some being tiny and a few being medium.
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Messenger or racing dogs
These dogs are fast. Whippets, greyhounds and others are real world breeds who are racers. In the World of the Everflow messenger dogs are used to send letters between places. These dogs just have to move, except when they don’t. They sleep hard and eat as much as a working dog.
They have a movement of 60′ and are able to use the Dash Action as a Bonus Action. Additionally their dexterity is 16, giving them an AC of 13. They do not provoke attacks of opportunity. They only do 1 HP of damage on attacks. Otherwise they have the stats of a mastiff.
Most messenger dogs are small. Some could be medium.
Toy or companion dogs
Some dogs are beloved by their companions, but not by everyone else. That’s fine. Everyone deserves dog love. Maybe an eccentric wizard carries one in their pouch, or a bard has one in their pocket, or the king has a medium sized one on its lap constantly. These aren’t dogs for adventuring. These are dogs for socializing.
A toy dog can cast Friends once per long rest. They have 1 HP and an 8 constitution. Their bite does no damage, but causes disadvantage on the next attack roll for the victim. If they are targeted by an attack the attacker may suffer from Hellish Rebuke originating from the toy dog causing psychic damage.
Toy dogs are usually small, maybe tiny, but some medium flooffs think that they are toys and will crawl up in your lap no matter what you want.
What’s the first type of dog you’re adding to your game?