Dog Idioms and Sayings

Dogs have found their way into our hearts and our language! Find out what these common dog sayings are all about.

We humans have dozens of expressions referencing the canine community. I’m tempted to apologize to the dog species for some of our 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 my imagination about canine language gets me into the doghouse, let’s examine some human expressions referencing dogs, and see which breeds best illustrate the phrases:

    Three Dog Night: It’s so cold we need an extra dog for cuddling and warmth. No breed better illustrates this than the Bring on the Cold! Siberian Husky.


    Hot Doggin’: Showing off. The playful, do-any-trick Havanese has a tendency toward stealing the spotlight and hot doggin’ (and here you thought I 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: I 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 I 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.

    Cane Corso 

    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. I’m 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. And besides, they asked me to name them, and I’m not about to say No to a Belgian Malinois with an agenda.

    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. 


    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 he 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 our personalities, for we, the Havanese, are 1) good dogs, and 2) certainly don’t stay down (or off your lap for that matter). We were bred in Cuba for companionship so we have upbeat personalities, we prioritize cuddling, and we also have dancin’ feet. I myself can twirl, run scatty, and even do somersaults. With such entertaining antics, why should I ever keep my four paws on the ground? 


    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. I’ve seen beavers and yes they chew, but mainly they sleep. We Norwich were developed to control rodent populations, but we’re also a popular, entertaining companion. Stories abound about my ancestors in sporting events at Cambridge. Apparently humans bet on our 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: We Goldens win hearts with our gentle mouths and disposition, but we aren’t only about beauty and companionship. We’re sporting dogs by nature; we’ll keep an eye out for squirrels and birds that venture into the yard. Some of us (Tanq is featured in the photo above) have even learned how to (sort of) climb tress to chase squirrels. Our determination plays out in service venues too. Just as one example: we make superb search and rescue dogs; when it comes to tracking down the missing, we leave no stone unturned.

    I’ve heard that hard work never killed anyone, but I say why take the chance?: Because this wise quotation comes from ex-president, Ronald Reagan, it’s good enough for me. We French Bulldogs take heat for being “lazy,” but we were bred for easy companionship. No one would call us easy if we nagged our families for constant exercise or activity. Besides, few breeds can compare to our relaxing ability on lazy Saturday afternoons; we’re willing to take a pre-nap, a real nap, and even a post-nap with our families.

    Fortune favors the bold: Bred in France to protect and herd, we Briards also served as a sentries in wars. People say we’re the dog with the heart wrapped in fur. Now that may be true, but it sounds a tad mushy, so I picked an expression that emphasizes our boldness. We’re strong, powerful, committed to work, and a loyal guard dog. While some may call us standoffish with strangers, we tend to label ourselves as serious about watching out for our families. 

    Easy come, easy go: We Bichon Frise were developed in the Mediterranean as a popular companion to nobility. Our ancestors were traded among sailors, performed in fairs and circuses, and kept company with the common folk as well as royalty. Our merry disposition makes us an easy keeper as other animals, people, and children come and go. Keeping our family amused ranks high on our list of priorities today; serious work is a bit over-rated, don’t you think?

    Pretty is as pretty does: So no, we Bulldogs don’t have the sweeping beautiful coat of an Irish Setter, or the floppy soft ears of a Brittany. Instead, we Bulldogs have a unique under bite that aficionados view as our trademark. So no, we don’t frequently make the top ten prettiest breeds list. But pretty isn’t just skin deep. Our personality is pretty darn affectionate, gentle, loving, and social. We started off guarding bulls and fighting in sporting arenas, but these days we mainly cuddle and socialize. 

    When the going gets tough, the tough get going: Now I claimed this expression quickly, for in my not-so-humble opinion, we’re the breed best entitled to it. We Belgian Malinois were bred from shepherd dogs to function at the highest level of toughness and efficiency. We’re athletic, resilient, capable, and tough as nails (does that count as a second expression? If so, I want extra credit points.)

    A bird in the mouth is worth two in the bush: We German Wirehaired Pointers don’t tend to leave many birds in the bush; they fit so nicely in our mouths. We’re an all-around gun-dog, and we can retrieve in water as well as land. I can excel in any sport, in just about any weather; my special coat is rather weather resistant, and keeps me warm in winter and cool in summer. Now if you’ll excuse me, I see some birds in the bush I need to address.

    I’ll stay peaceful… if you do: Now first of all, humans seem to call this something like “let sleeping dogs lie,” but we Mastiffs have a slightly different take on it.We’re an ancient breed, connected to important people such as Marco Polo, King Henry VIII, and Elizabeth I. We used to work as guard dogs, fighting beside soldiers. These days we’re rarely on a battlefield, and we tend to nap a lot. But you’ll notice I sleep with one eye open. If you mess with my family, you’ll be rather surprised how quickly I come to attention.

    I’m so clever, I sometimes don’t understand a single word of what I am saying: Now one could argue this adage applies because I don’t understand English, but that’s not true. Border Collies such as me can be taught hundreds of words. But yes, sometimes I admit we’re too smart for our own good. For example, when I opened the family’s bird cage with my teeth, my owner seemed unexpectedly annoyed. But then again, our resourcefulness sure comes in handy when humans ask us to manage livestock; I’ve got a hypnotic stare reserved for stubborn sheep. Oh, and in my defense with the loose-bird story, I did try to stare him back into the cage. When he proved un-herd-able, I escorted him to aviary heaven. Seemed like a logical consequence to me.

    Don’t put all your eggs in one basket: Many breeds were developed for one or two purposes, but we Airedale Terriers are truly all-around workers. We can swim, track, hunt vermin, score top points in obedience, and watch over the house…all in a day’s work. Our history includes an impressive line of service, including being among the first police and military dogs. I carried messages in the world wars, so I can easily carrying your eggs for you (even if you do put all of them in the same basket)

    What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet: So yes we’re sweet and pretty as roses, but as Shakespeare so aptly explained: names don’t define us. In fact, the name (American Eskimo Dog) the humans gave us is downright confusing. We weren’t bred by northern Native Americans at all, but rather by Germans. We’re companion dogs, excelling at entertaining and agility, not hauling sleds as our name might suggest.

    Silence is golden. We Basenji are an ancient African breed. But forget about all Disney’s Lion King’s singing animals. Our silence, much like a lion’s, improves our ability to hunt. And yet while I’m arguably bark-less, I can whine and make clever sounds. And speaking of clever, my second favorite quote (yes we canines appreciate the classics) focuses on independence, a trait we 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 us, doing something well generally converts to doing it quickly. We were developed in Afghanistan for hunting large game in mountains and deserts.  Our outstanding eyesight and speed contribute to our A-plus hunting reputation. Today you can see our speed in lure coursing, tracking, and how quickly we chase rabbits off your property.

    Happy as a clam in mud. We 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 we don’t mind getting our paws dirty, that’s for sure. We’re lively, devoted, eager to chase, and (although we think we’re way prettier than swine) happy as pigs in slop. 

    The buck stops here. Few breeds can claim the independent work ethic we Anatolian Shepherds show. We were developed in Turkey many centuries ago to guard livestock from predators. Now other breeds may have been guardians, but we often worked alone, in remote areas, and without supervision. Because of our independence, we make our own decisions about issues such as walking guard duty at night (what do you mean you don’t like to hear us pacing on patrol?). But when it comes to guarding our family, we take full responsibility: yes, the buck stops here.

    So chatty, we could talk a coon right out of a tree. Renowned for our sensitive noses, we Basset Hounds were developed to trail small game slowly. If we hurried ahead, our humans couldn’t   keep up. We’re approachable, friendly, and calm, but we bark, bay, and howl with enthusiasm. And lastly, what you humans do with the coon once we talk him out of the tree is your business. We’re probably ready for a nap right by then.

    Actions speak louder than words. We Akitas were developed in Japan as hunting and guard dogs. We’re famous for being strong and relatively silent, but our protection drive runs deep. We’re devoted to our owners and offer legendary loyalty. One of my 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, we’re also ready to protect them. People attempting to harm our family will be met with actions that speak louder than words.

    I don’t care what you call me as long as you call me to supper. We Labrador Retrievers are rather laid back, but not when it comes to food. In fact, our high food drive combines with our innate intelligence and biddability to make us one of the most trainable dog breeds. We shine in sports, search and rescue, explosive detection, and service work. Now I should add some of us love food a little too much and pack on the pounds. And that’s why I almost chose the proverb “the belly rules the mind,” but I didn’t want to throw my breed under the bus.

    Graceful as a pig on ice. I bet you’re surprised I picked this one, but we Great Danes have a big sense of humor about our size and occasional clumsiness. But Scooby Do, Astro, and Marmaduke reflect only a few of our traits. We’re more serious than media and Hollywood suggests. German-bred, early Great Danes hunted boar and guarded estates. We also weren’t, by the way, bred in Denmark. But that’s another story.  

    Fast as small-town gossip. Developed in England, we Whippets are sight hounds, bred down from Greyhounds and other breeds by the working class. Are we fast? You bet. We score kudos in lure coursing, agility, and backyard sprints. If we were any faster, we’d catch up to yesterday.

    If you get to thinking you’re a person of some influence, try ordering somebody else’s dog around. First of all, we German Shepherds picked this Will Rogers famous saying in part because it’s smart and funny. But we also chose it because we’re especially reluctant to take direction from anyone but our owners. What kind of renowned military or police dogs would we be, anyway, if we 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 we adopt it as our own. For we 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 our wrinkled brow; the furrows are our trademark and we wouldn’t dream of sleeping them off. 

    There’s no place like home. So yes, our focus is the home. We Pembroke Welsh Corgis were, after all, bred to take care of an entire barnyard. We guarded the property, cleared the barns of mice, and worked as heelers and drovers. But instead of working with large groups of livestock, we mainly cared for animals we knew on our small farms. Many breeds show a sense of wander-lust, but our passion is for our family. In fact, we’ll stay devoted to our owners until the cows come home (does that expression count?).

    If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. So perhaps you haven’t heard of us, but we, the Caucasian Ovcharka, have worked for centuries to protect sheep in Russia. We’re tough, strong, robust, powerful, and far from sissies. Odds are we won’t turn tail and run when challenged. And as a side note, despite our choice of expressions above, we generally prefer snow to heat. 

    Our bark is worse than our bite. Now we Yorkshire Terriers arrived last to choose an expression, so we got stuck with this one. But yes, we Yorkies tend to bark to announce newcomers as well as squirrels passing by. Our Terrier genes make us tougher than you’d guess; rodent chasing is not for the faint of heart. We’re vocal, sassy, loyal, clever, and self-opinionated. We pack a heavy punch when it comes to personality, but since we only weigh about 7 pounds, we (especially when we confront new dogs!) occasionally bite off more than we 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 like mine, 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

      More Dog Fun


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