We humans have dozens of expressions referencing the canine community. We’re tempted to apologize to the dog species for some of the expressions that convey a less-than-positive meaning (i.e., when we refer to a man as “a dog!” we’re not exactly paying a compliment). But then again, for all we know half of our dogs’ barking may reference us, perhaps not in a positive light:
- You can’t teach an old person new tricks.
- Who let the people out?
- Argh! Human breath!
But before our imagination about canine language gets us into the doghouse, let’s examine some human expressions referencing dogs, what they mean and which breeds might best illustrate the phrases.
Dog Sayings and Expressions
Three Dog Night
It’s so cold we need an extra dog for cuddling and warmth. No breed better illustrates this than the Siberian “Bring on the Cold!” Husky.
Showing off. The playful, do-any-trick Havanese has a tendency toward stealing the spotlight and hot doggin’ (and here you thought we would name the Dachshund as the hot dogger?)
Slept Like a Dog
Slept long and hard. So any dog with a guard dog tendency probably doesn’t sleep “like a dog.” For example, a Mastiff may look like he’s sleeping hard, but he probably has one eye open for prowlers. My German Shepherd seems to sleep lightly, perhaps even worrying in her sleep. The French Bulldog, however, is a great example of a breed very capable of sleeping very peacefully.
Double Dog Dare
We really, really dare you. This term seems to stem possibly from “black dogs” as slang for bad shillings (so thus a dare for a bad shilling, we suppose), but regardless, the expression is most appropriately illustrated by the Cane Corso. This serious, devoted breed isn’t overly reactive or threatening, unless his family is threatened. But at that point, the dog’s expression – even without sounding an alarm – seems to double dog dare intruders to mess with his loved ones.
Run with the Big Dogs
Being able to run in the fast lane, with the top performers or competitors. You might guess I’d name a Greyhound to illustrate this term, but the term doesn’t necessarily reference speed. We’re actually going to name the Belgian Malinois as the best example. Few breeds are as hardy, tough, committed to work, and eager to perform a task.
Dog Days of Summer
Taking place from July to August, the dog days are often associated with the hottest days of the summer, but it also refers to when the Dog Star, Sirius, rises and sets with the sun. Although most dogs enjoy a bit of cooler weather, we’ll give this to the water-loving Labrador Retriever. They know how to keep cool in the pool.
Use a teapot to rinse dogs off in the bathtub without getting water and soap in their eyes.
Pretty as a Speckled Pup
We all know how cute a speckled dog is so naturally this means extremely cute or attractive. Although this idiom was never associated with a specific speckled breed, we think the German Pointer is as pretty a representative as any with speckles to spare.
Working Like a Dog
When dogs have a job to do, they don’t mess around. They put in the time, effort and dedication to ensure the job is done and done right. There are many working and herding breeds who showcase this sort of work ethic, but the driven Border Collie really puts their mind to it. The Border Collie excels at any job and is know for having the tenacity to adapt and exceed expectations at work.
You Can’t Keep a Good Dog Down
This expression best captures the Havanese’s personality, for they are 1) good dogs, and 2) certainly don’t stay down (or off your lap for that matter). Havanese were bred in Cuba for companionship so they have upbeat personalities, prioritize cuddling, and also have dancin’ feet. With such entertaining antics, why should they ever keep their four paws on the ground?
His Bark Is Worse Than His Bite
This refers to someone who seems scary but isn’t all that bad. This reminds us of Yorkies, who tend to bark to announce newcomers as well as squirrels passing by. The Terrier genes make them tougher than you’d guess; rodent chasing is not for the faint of heart.They’re vocal, sassy, loyal, clever, and self-opinionated. They pack a heavy punch when it comes to personality, but since they only weigh about 7 pounds, they (especially when they confront new dogs!) occasionally bite off more than they can chew.
Other dog expressions include:
- The Dog Ate My Homework : Not as much of an idiom as an excuse. But if you have a dog with a taste for paper, this might just be the truth!
- Chase One’s Tail : To try and try only to be unsuccessful.
- Raining Cats and Dogs : First found in a collection of poems in 1651. Olor Iscanus in 1651, Henry Vaughan referred to a roof being secure against “dogs and cats rained in shower.”
- There’s Life in that Old Dog Yet : Just because someone’s old, doesn’t mean they don’t have energy to do things.
- My Dogs are Barking : Feet are hurting
- Like a Dog with Two Tails : Extra happy
Other Sayings and the Dog Breeds They Bring to Mind
Now these may not have dogs in the saying, but they sure do make us think of our furry friends.
Busy as a Beaver
First and foremost, a beaver is not busier than a Norwich Terrier. We’ve seen beavers, and yes, they chew, but mainly they sleep. The Norwich were developed to control rodent populations, but they’re also a popular, entertaining companion. Stories abound about their ancestors in sporting events at Cambridge. Apparently humans bet on their ability to catch rodents. Now you’ll notice no one was betting on sports about beaver dams. Just saying…
If there’s a will, there’s a way.
Goldens win hearts with their gentle mouths and disposition, but they aren’t only about beauty and companionship. They’re sporting dogs by nature; they’ll keep an eye out for squirrels and birds that venture into the yard. Some of them have even learned how to (sort of) climb trees to chase squirrels. Their determination plays out in service venues, too. Just as one example: They make superb search and rescue dogs; when it comes to tracking down the missing, they leave no stone unturned.
I’ve heard that hard work never killed anyone, but I say why take the chance?
This wise quote comes from ex-president Ronald Reagan. The French Bulldogs take heat for being “lazy,” but they were bred for easy companionship. No one would call them easy if they nagged our families for constant exercise or activity. Besides, few breeds can compare to their relaxing ability on lazy Saturday afternoons; they’re willing to take a pre-nap, a real nap, and even a post-nap with their families.
Fortune favors the bold.
Bred in France to protect and herd, people say Briards the dog with the heart wrapped in fur. But Briards also served as a sentries in wars. They’re strong, powerful, committed to work, and a loyal guard dog.
Easy come, easy go.
The Bichon Frise was developed in the Mediterranean as a popular companion to nobility. Their ancestors were traded among sailors, performed in fairs and circuses, and kept company with the common folk as well as royalty. Their merry disposition makes them an easy keeper as other animals, people, and children come and go. Keeping their family amused ranks high on their list of priorities today; serious work is a bit over-rated, don’t you think?
Your dog needs his own cozy spot as well, preferably a crate, a comfy bed that’s his alone and a selection of appropriate toys.
Pretty is as pretty does.
Bulldogs don’t have the sweeping, beautiful coat of an Irish Setter, or the floppy soft ears of a Brittany. Instead, Bulldogs have a unique underbite that aficionados view as their trademark. So no, they don’t frequently make the top ten prettiest dog breeds list. But pretty isn’t just skin deep. Their personality is pretty darn affectionate, gentle, loving, and social. They started off guarding bulls and fighting in sporting arenas, but these days they mainly cuddle and socialize.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
The Belgian Malinois was bred from shepherd dogs to function at the highest level of toughness and efficiency. They’re athletic, resilient, capable, and tough as nails (does that count as a second expression? If so, they get extra credit points.)
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
German Wirehaired Pointers don’t tend to leave many birds in the bush. They’re an all-around gun-dog, and they can retrieve in water as well as land. They can excel in any sport, in just about any weather; their special coat is rather weather resistant, and keeps they warm in winter and cool in summer.
I’ll stay peaceful… if you do.
Now first of all, humans seem to call this something like “let sleeping dogs lie,” but Mastiffs have a slightly different take on it. They’re an ancient breed, connected to notable people such as Marco Polo, King Henry VIII, and Elizabeth I. They used to work as guard dogs, fighting beside soldiers. These days they’re rarely on a battlefield, and they tend to nap a lot. But you’ll notice they sleep with one eye open. If you mess with their family, you’ll be rather surprised how quickly they come to attention.
I’m so clever, I sometimes don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.
When we think of clever, Border Collies come to mind. Border Collies can be taught hundreds of words. But yes, sometimes they’re too smart for their own good. But then again, their resourcefulness sure comes in handy when humans ask them to manage livestock; they’ve got a hypnotic stare reserved for stubborn sheep.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Many breeds were developed for one or two purposes, but Airedale Terriers are truly all-around workers. They can swim, track, hunt vermin, score top points in obedience, and watch over the house…all in a day’s work. Their history includes an impressive line of service, including being among the first police and military dogs. They carried messages in the world wars, so they can easily carrying your eggs for you (even if you do put all of them in the same basket).
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What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
American Eskimo Dog are sweet and pretty as roses, but as Shakespeare so aptly explained: names don’t define us. In fact, the name American Eskimo Dog is downright confusing. They weren’t bred by northern Native Americans at all, but rather by Germans. They’re companion dogs, excelling at entertaining and agility, not hauling sleds as their name might suggest.
Silence is golden.
Basenji are an ancient African breed. But forget about all Disney’s Lion King’s singing animals. Their silence, much like a lion’s, improves their ability to hunt. And yet while they’re arguably bark-less, they can whine and make clever sounds. And speaking of clever, their second favorite quote (yes, canines appreciate the classics) focuses on independence, a trait Basenji value: “I’ll walk where my own nature would be leading. It vexes me to choose another guide.” (Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre).
If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing fast.
Afghan Hounds place a high priority on speed. For this dog breed, doing something well generally converts to doing it quickly. They were developed in Afghanistan for hunting large game in mountains and deserts. Their outstanding eyesight and speed contribute to their A-plus hunting reputation. Today, you can see their speed in lure coursing, tracking, and how quickly they chase rabbits off your property.
Happy as a clam in mud.
Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers are Irish-bred all-around farm dogs, sporting the happiest of dispositions. Now why clams love mud is a mystery to us, but Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers don’t mind getting their paws dirty, that’s for sure. They’re lively, devoted, eager to chase, and (although we think they’re way prettier than swine) happy as pigs in slop.
Many dogs have a condition nicknamed “Frito Feet,” in which their feet smell little bit like corn chips. As Matt Soniak wrote in a Big Question on this site, this has to do with the kind of bacteria found on a pup’s feet, and “could be due to yeast or Proteus bacteria. Both are known for their sweet, corn tortilla–like smell. Or it could be Pseudomonas bacteria, which smell a little fruitier—but pretty close to popcorn to most noses.”
The buck stops here.
Few breeds can claim the independent work ethic Anatolian Shepherds show. They were developed in Turkey many centuries ago to guard livestock from predators. Now other breeds may have been guardians, but they often worked alone, in remote areas, and without supervision. Because of their independence, they make their own decisions about issues such as walking guard duty at night. But when it comes to guarding their family, they take full responsibility: yes, the buck stops here.
So chatty, we could talk a coon right out of a tree.
Renowned for their sensitive noses, Basset Hounds were developed to trail small game slowly. If they hurried ahead, their humans couldn’t keep up. They’re approachable, friendly, and calm, but they bark, bay, and howl with enthusiasm. After all that barking, they’re probably ready for a nap.
Actions speak louder than words.
Akitas were developed in Japan as hunting and guard dogs. They’re famous for being strong and relatively silent, but their protection drive runs deep. They’re devoted to their owners and offer legendary loyalty. One of their famous brothers, Hachiko, loyally waited for his master at the train station for almost a decade after his master passed away. Along with such dedication to family, they’re also ready to protect them. People attempting to harm their family will be met with actions that speak louder than words.
I don’t care what you call me as long as you don’t call me late to supper.
Labrador Retrievers are rather laid back, but not when it comes to food. In fact, their high food drive combines with their innate intelligence and biddability to make them one of the most trainable dog breeds. They shine in sports, search and rescue, explosive detection, and service work. Now we should add some of them love dog food a little too much and pack on the pounds. And that’s why we almost chose the proverb “the belly rules the mind,” but we didn’t want to throw the breed under the bus.
Graceful as a pig on ice.
Great Danes have a big sense of humor about their size and occasional clumsiness. But Scooby Do, Astro, and Marmaduke reflect only a few of their traits. They’re more serious than media and Hollywood suggests. German-bred, early Great Danes hunted boar and guarded estates. They also weren’t, by the way, bred in Denmark. But that’s another story.
Fast as small-town gossip.
Developed in England, Whippets are sight hounds, bred down from Greyhounds and other breeds by the working class. Are they fast? You bet. They score kudos in lure coursing, agility, and backyard sprints. If they were any faster, they’d catch up to yesterday.
If you get to thinking you’re a person of some influence, try ordering somebody else’s dog around.
German Shepherds are especially reluctant to take direction from anyone but their owners. What kind of renowned military or police dogs would they be, anyway, if they took commands from strangers?
No day is so bad it can’t be fixed with a nap.
So the comedienne Carrie Snow penned this phrase, but Pugs adopted it as their own. For Pugs, bred especially for companionship, know that the secret to a happy life is an abundance of cuddle time and naps. But don’t think a good night’s sleep will iron out their wrinkled brow; the furrows are their trademark and they wouldn’t dream of sleeping them off.
There’s no place like home.
The Pembroke Welsh Corgis’ focus is the home. They were, after all, bred to take care of an entire barnyard. They guarded the property, cleared the barns of mice, and worked as heelers and drovers. But instead of working with large groups of livestock, they mainly cared for animals they knew on their small farms. Many breeds show a sense of wander-lust, but their passion is for their family. In fact, they’ll stay devoted to their owners until the cows come home.
If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
So perhaps you haven’t heard of them, but the Caucasian Ovcharka have worked for centuries to protect sheep in Russia. They’re tough, strong, robust, powerful, and far from sissies. Odds are they won’t turn tail and run when challenged. And as a side note, despite the expressions above, they generally prefer snow to heat.
Featured Image: Via Shutterstock/Kalamurzing