It is a deciduous shrub normally ranging in height from 1-5 m, though sometimes it can scramble higher into the crowns of taller trees. Its stems are covered with small, sharp, hooked spines, which aid it in climbing. The leaves are pinnate, with 5-7 leaflets. The flowers are usually pale pink, but can vary between a deep pink and white. They are 4-6 cm diameter with five petals, and mature into an oval 1.5-2 cm red-orange fruit, or hip.
During the Vietnam War, for soldiers fighting with the North, Rosa canina was dried and then smoked with tobacco to produce mild hallucinogenic effects and abnormal dreams.
Forms of this plant are sometimes used as stocks for the grafting or budding of cultivated varieties.
The wild plant is planted as a nurse or cover crop, or stabilising plant in land reclamation and specialised landscaping schemes.
Numerous cultivars have been named, though few are common in cultivation. The cultivar Rosa canina 'Assisiensis' is the only dog rose without thorns.
The hips are used as a flavouring in the Slovenian soft drink Cockta.
The dog rose was the stylized rose of Medieval European heraldry, and is still used today.
The dog rose is the flower of Hampshire.
Howard (1987) states that it was used in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to treat the bite of rabid dogs, hence the name "dog rose" arose.
(It is also possible that the name derives from "dag," a shortening of "dagger," in reference to the long thorns of the plant.)
Other old folk names include rose briar (also spelt brier), briar rose, dogberry, herb patience, sweet briar, wild briar, witches' briar, and briar hip.
In Turkish, its name is kuşburnu, which translates as "bird nose."
In Swedish, its name is stenros, which translates to "stone rose."
In Danish, , its name is hunderose, which translates as "dog rose."
In Azeri, its name is itburunu, which translates as "dog nose."