Common Dog Sayings and Their Origins

We've all heard — and said — the many dog sayings like, "dog days of summer" or "hair of the dog," but do you know what each one means or where it comes from? Dog phrases have seeped into our conversations, and it's time we take a minute to find out if we're all barking up the wrong tree.

Dog Days of Summer

This saying is meant to describe the laziness and lethargy that happens during the hottest months of the year. However, while you may assume this is one of the dog phrases that refers directly to dogs, National Geographic writes that it's actually believed to be referring to the star Sirius, also known as the dog star by the ancient Greeks. This star rises with the sun during the hottest of the summer months, and brings "fire and fever," according to Homer's Iliad.

If you've ever watched a dog drag himself from his spot in the sun only to drop onto a new spot in the shade, you'll know that dogs inherently understand this saying, too.

Hair of the Dog

Here's a saying with a long history. Metro reports that in Medieval times, people who were bitten by rabid dogs were advised to literally put the hair of the dog who bit them on their wound to help it heal. Over time, this advice evolved for more modern scenarios. Now, it is most often used to advise someone who drank too much alcohol the night before to take the "hair of the dog" (the same drink from the prior evening) the next morning for their hangover.

Purebred border collie panting while herding a flock of sheep on a summer day.

Working Like a Dog

Not only are dogs hard workers, but they also labor without getting paid (well, in anything but food and a scratch behind the ears). We're familiar with the very long history of dogs working as herders or spit-turners, but the Smithsonian reports a few other lesser known vocations, such as milk deliverers, truffle hunters and reindeer herders. The American Kennel Club adds jobs to the list such as an art protector, an electronics detective, and even a lobster catcher.

This is one of those dog sayings that can be deciphered in multiple ways. Saying someone is working like a dog may mean they are putting in a lot of effort and working tirelessly toward a project or goal. However, it's also historically been known to reference someone who is doing work for little to no pay.

Dog-Eat-Dog World

The Oxford English Dictionary reports that the earliest origin of this phrase comes from the Latin proverb canis caninam non est, meaning "dog will not eat dog." The OED records the phrase's reemergence in 1794 with the "not" removed, and by the 19th century it was a common way to refer to the harsh, competitive way of the world in business and modern society.

In the Doghouse

The first reference to someone being in a doghouse was made in a classic children's book. The Phrase Finder notes that in J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan, after the Darling children are whisked off to Never-Never Land, their father Mr. Darling forces himself to sit in the family dog's kennel as punishment for allowing his children to be kidnapped. However, the phrase as we know it did not appear in print until more than a decade later. J. J. Finerty's Criminalese, a 1926 glossary on criminal language and behavior, mentioned that being "in the doghouse" was to be "in disfavor." In modern times, it's often used to describe someone in a relationship who has done something to upset their partner.

English is full of fun pup phrases that aren't even related to our pets. However, we still love our dog sayings and will likely keep sharing them.

Contributor Bio

Erin Ollila

Erin Ollila believes in the power of words and how a message can inform—and even transform—its intended audience. Her writing can be found all over the internet and in print, and includes interviews, ghostwriting, blog posts, and creative nonfiction. Erin is a geek for SEO and all things social media. She graduated from Fairfield University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. Reach out to her on Twitter @ReinventingErin or learn more about her at http://erinollila.com.

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