Skip to main content

50+ Dog Idioms and Phrases in the English Language

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

Ben has a life-long interest in language and is particularly interested in the expressions, phrases, and idioms that contribute to it.

"Done up like a dog's dinner."

"Done up like a dog's dinner."

It is little wonder that the English language contains such an abundance of expressions and phrases featuring dogs. Canines have been constant partners with people for thousands of years. First as working animals, and then as family protector and friend.

With such distinctive behaviors and traits, dogs have made an indelible impression. Hardly surprising, then, that these deep-seated interactions and observations of canine behaviors have led to incorporating their unique characteristics into our language.

1. Done Up Like a Dog's Dinner

Meaning: An idiom that describes a person seemingly overdressed. The clothing usually being too fussy or silly for the occasion.

Example: "I hope you do not intend to go to the party dressed like that? For goodness sake—you look like a dog's dinner!"

2. Be Like a Dog With a Bone

We all know what a dog is like when it has a bone, right? They are relentless. They never stop.

Meaning: That a person is fixating on a topic.

Example: "Can't you stop going on about wanting that new car? You are like a dog with a bone."

3. As Sick as a Dog

Have you ever seen a dog being sick? It's never a pretty sight!

Meaning: An expression used to say that someone is very sick. It usually refers to someone who is being physically ill. However, it can also mean that you feel fed up with a situation.

Example: "It's been a horrible week—work has been relentless, I pranged my car, and now I've come down with a cold—I'm as sick as a dog."

4. Love Me, Love My Dog

We all love our dogs—no matter what mischief they create. We forgive them and often enjoy them all the more for it.

Meaning: This idiom is a way of saying that you should love everything and accept everything about the person you love. The English Oxford Dictionary defines this as: "If you love someone, you must accept everything about them, even their faults or weaknesses."

Example: "It's good that you want to move in me, but please remember, I'm far from perfect, and you will need to be able to love me, love my dog."

The love and friendship between a person and their dog is unshakeable

The love and friendship between a person and their dog is unshakeable

5. Tail Wagging the Dog

We all recognize an excited, happy dog by the wagging of its tail. Sometimes, the dog becomes so enthusiastic that it's as if the dog's back end has a life of its own.

Meaning: A phrase used to say that a small part controls the whole of something.

It can describe a situation where a recently employed person suddenly runs the business as if he owned it.

Example: "Allowing Paul to dictate the terms of the contract is like letting the tail wag the dog. He's only been here for three months, and it's like he is running the show."

6. In the Dog House

Meaning: To say that you are in trouble or not in favor. Reminiscent of a naughty dog instructed to go to the kennel as punishment for a misdemeanor.

Often said to a husband who cannot behave himself and is therefore in trouble for his disgraceful conduct. We've all been there—I know I have!

Example: "I'm in the dog house again! I should never have forgotten our anniversary."

7. Every Dog Has Its Day

Meaning: that everyone will inevitably have at least one moment of glory in their lifetime.

Example: "Would you believe it! Andrew has only gone and won that promotion. I guess every dog has its day after all."

8. As Mean as a Junkyard Dog

Why is it that junkyard dogs always look incredibly mean and downright vicious? You could say that it's why they are there—to deter anyone from approaching. They often don't even need to bark. Just the stare and the grimace from some of these dogs is enough to make me think twice about going anywhere near them.

Meaning: An idiom that suggests a person is very mean. It can also describe someone as cruel or eager to fight.

Example: The context can also change in a slightly different way, for example: "They say that he is meaner than a junkyard dog, but he is quite sweet when you get to know him."

As mean as a junkyard dog

As mean as a junkyard dog

9. Dog Does Not Eat Dog

Meaning: not to turn on your kind. It is usually associated with someone disreputable. Often refers to one person of low repute, not turning on another person of similar low reputation.

Example: "He's been selling those fake watches again, but as long as he stays away from my pitch, it's okay—after all, a dog does not eat dog."

10. Better the Head of a Dog Than the Tail of a Lion

Meaning: It is better to be a small or low ranking group leader than be a subordinate in a higher or more prestigious group.

11. A Dog's Breakfast

A reference to a dog's meal often being a jumble of scraps.

Meaning: To indicate that a task has been performed to an appalling standard. To tell a person that they are poorly dressed. A phrase that suggests that someone is very messy.

Example: "I hope you aren't going out dressed like that! You look like a proper dog's breakfast."

12. Underdog

Meaning: To say that someone is at a disadvantage and likely to lose a contest. Said of a team that is forecast to lose against better opponents.

Example: "The odds on the home team are ridiculously short considering the form of their opponents; they should be the underdogs and a much higher price."

13. A Shaggy Dog Story

Meaning: An idiom that refers to a story that can be funny but usually ends up being ridiculously lengthy. Often utilized in the context of someone telling a joke that has a meaningless or sudden ending.

Example: "Danny is forever reciting his shaggy dog stories. They drone on for what seems like forever without hardly ever getting to the point."

Now that's what I call a shaggy dog story.

Now that's what I call a shaggy dog story.

14. Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Meaning: To be pursuing an incorrect course of action or making the wrong choice. Describes a situation where someone is wrong about the way of doing something.

Example: "I thought that I had an easy solution, but it didn't work out that way. I guess I was barking up the wrong tree."

15. Hot Doggin'

Meaning: To grandstand in front of an audience, show off and revel in front of others.

Example: "He's a proper show-off, always hot-doggin' about on that blasted motorbike in front of his friends."

16. Slept Like a Dog

A phrase that hardly needs any explanation, all dog owners know that a dog is capable of sleeping at a moment's notice and that canines can be difficult to rouse from their slumber.

Meaning: To say a person slept soundly.

Example: "I had a wonderfully restful night—I slept like a dog."

To sleep like a dog. An idiom meaning that you have had a good nights sleep.

To sleep like a dog. An idiom meaning that you have had a good nights sleep.

17. Dog Days

Meaning: An expression that refers to a period of hot sultry weather in which we feel lazy and unwilling or unable to exert ourselves. Occasionally this is also referred to as a "dog day afternoon."

18. To See a Man About a Dog

Meaning: To say that you do not want to reveal to someone where you are going is often used to excuse yourself to go to the bathroom.

Example: "It's none of your business where I am going. Let's say that I am going to see a man about a dog and leave it at that, shall we."

19. A Dog and Pony Show

Meaning: To lay on an elaborate presentation with the hope of gaining approval for something such as a product. The Cambridge Dictionary defines this idiom as: "an event that is designed to impress people in order to make them buy something or invest money."

A dog and pony show - idiom

A dog and pony show - idiom

20. If You Lie Down With Dogs, You Get Up With Fleas

Meaning: A way of issuing a warning to someone—to say that they will have to suffer the consequence if they do dangerous things.

21. A Barking Dog Never Bites

Meaning: A way of saying that a person who makes constant threats will rarely carry them out.

Example: "Pay no heed to his protestations—he's a barking dog that never bites."

22. Be Like a Dog With Two Tails

Meaning: To be very happy or to show great pleasure. It originates from the wagging of a dog's tail as a sign of happiness.

Example: "He been like a dog with two tails ever since he had that big win at the races."

23. Three Dog Night

Meaning: To say that it is so cold that we need an extra dog for cuddling and warmth.

24. Throw to the Dogs

Meaning: An expression telling someone they have allowed a person to be criticized or attacked, usually, in an attempt to protect themselves.

Example: "They offered me no support or advice; instead, I had to fend for myself—they threw me to the dogs."

Variation: "Thrown to the dogs." To discard a person who has been deemed worthless.

25. Double Dog Dare

Meaning: A phrase used to say: "I absolutely dare you."

26. Run With the Big Dogs

Meaning: To say that you are capable of running alongside the top performers. You are at the top of your game.

Example: "Joey stepped up his game this year. He is now up there running with the big dogs."

27. Bite the Hand That Feeds You

Meaning: An ungrateful person who turned against you.

28. Lazy as a Dog

Dogs enjoy lounging around, at least the typical family hound does. But does that make them lazy, or is it that they have learned how to take advantage of their owner's goodwill?

Meaning: To express the view that someone is very lazy.

Example: "I wish you would motivate yourself a bit more. Stop being so idle. I swear that you're as lazy as a dog."

29. Dog Eat Dog World

As we all know, the world can be a very competitive and cruel place.

Meaning: This idiom describes a situation of fierce competition. One in which people may be willing to be the cause of harm towards others to succeed themselves.

30. Give a Dog a Bad Name

Once a person has acquired a bad reputation, it will be difficult to restore.

Meaning: This idiom describes a situation where an innocent action is inappropriately cited as proof of their ill intent—their efforts are permanently colored or undermined by their poor reputation.

Example: "Talk about giving a dog a bad name—he tried to hand in a purse he found on the office floor to the receptionist, and he was immediately viewed with great suspicion by other colleagues."

31. Puppy Love

Meaning: This expression describes an infatuation or young adolescent love.

Example: "You will have to forgive her; she's young and infatuated with her first boyfriend. I think it's a case of puppy love."

Puppy love

Puppy love

32. Puppy Dog Eyes

Meaning: A way of describing someone who uses their eyes or an appealing cute expression to try and appeal to your better nature.

Example: "Don't you give me those puppy dog eyes—you are not getting any more ice cream. You've had enough already."

33. Bought a Pup

Meaning: A way of describing someone deceived. For example, they thought they were buying something much better than they got.

Example: "The previous owner told me that this was a genuine designer bag, but it turned out to be a cheap imitation. It looks like I bought a pup."

34. Pretty as a Speckled Pup

Meaning: To express the view that that something is cute.

35. That Dog Won't Hunt

Meaning: That won't work; forget it.

Example: "I know you think that we can cross that swollen river by wading across—but it's a strong current, and I can't swim. That dog won't hunt; I'm afraid we need another plan."

36. My Dogs Are Barking

Meaning: My feet hurt.

Example: "I've been on my feet all day, I'm weary, and to make matters worse, my dogs are barking."

37. Dog-Eared

Meaning: To say that something is a bit worn or well used. Often said when referring to an old book cover or magazine that has seen well thumbed through and has seen better days."

Example: "The book is a first edition copy and could be worth a lot of money. The only issue is that it's a well-read copy, and the dust-jacket is worn and a little dog-eared."

38. A Barking Dog Never Bites

Meaning: It is a method of saying that someone may be making lots of threats, but they are unlikely to carry them out.

Example: "He makes a lot of noise and kerfuffle when he fails to get his way—but don't worry, he's like a barking dog; he never bites."

39. Dogsbody

Meaning: Someone who does all the work.

Origin: This term originated in the Royal Navy during the 19th century. At that time, a regular meal was a mixture of dried peas and eggs boiled in a bag, which was commonly known as a 'dog's body.'

40. If You Want a Friend in Washington, Get a Dog

Meaning: friends are few and far between—if it's a friend you need here, then you had better acquire a dog.

41. Dogs of War

This phrase is an extract taken from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: "Let slip the dogs of war!" It is a cry to war and havoc.

Meaning: "Dogs of war" conjures the image of a pack of hunting dogs relentlessly chasing down their prey.

42. Doggy Bag

Meaning: A phrase often used in restaurants when asking for a bag to take home the remains of your food. Supposedly, to enable you to give your dog a treat when you get back home.

43. Dog and Bone

Meaning: Originated as English Cockney rhyming slang that describes a telephone. So well used that this phrase has become used in everyday language.

44. Call Your Dogs Off

Meaning: To say that someone should tell their friends or associates to "back off" or stop picking on you.

45. Dog in the Nighttime

Meaning: To describe someone who unwittingly connives to involve themselves in a crime.

Probable origin: An expression seen in the Sherlock Holmes short story "Silver Blaze" (1892). It refers to a family dog that would not bark at night while the owner's horses were in the process of being stolen. The dog was failing to cry out because it knew the person carrying out the theft.

46. Hell Hound

"Hell hound" is a phrase steeped in history and fable. The most recognized use of the words is of Cerberus - Hades' three-headed guard dog. However, the term may have originated from the Egyptians use of hounds to guard graves.

47. Rock Hound

Meaning: A geologist, studying the Earth's origin, structure, and composition, is commonly known as a "rock hound."

Example: "He may only be young, but he's becoming a real rock hound. He's out collecting rock samples every chance he gets,"

48. Clean as a Hound's Tooth

Meaning: To describe something spotlessly clean. It can also describe a person who is of high repute and honesty.

49. Sad as a Hound Dog's Eye

Meaning: Something unfortunate and sad.

Sad as a hound dog's eye

Sad as a hound dog's eye

50. A Glory Hound

Meaning: Someone is looking for glory, fortune, and fame.

Example: "He never fails to invite the press to one of his functions—he's a glory hound."

51. Let the Dog See the Rabbit

Meaning: To say that you should let a person get on with their task as they have the skills and attributes needed to achieve it.

52. In a Dog's Age

Meaning: A long time.

Example: "I haven't had so much fun for a very long time—it feels like it's been a dog's age since we last laughed so much."

53. A Dog in the Manger

Meaning: Describes a person who prevents or hinders others from having something that may benefit them. Even though they do not want or need it.

54. To Lead a Dog's Life

Meaning: A person has had or is having a very miserable time.

Example: "Danny has had a dog's life—his family gives him no respect, and they constantly take him for granted."

55. A Hang-Dog Air

Meaning: A person who has a shame-faced expression.

Example: "Don't be so miserable. Cheer up. Just don't go around all day wearing that hang-dog expression."


Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on July 13, 2013:

@HappyTom LM: Thank you.

Tom Christen from Switzerland/Ecuador on July 12, 2013:

A great lens, thank you very much for sharing.

Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on June 09, 2013:

@knit1tat2: Thank you.

knit1tat2 on June 08, 2013:

some of these I've heard but with different animals in the saying, still, no matter how say it, dogs are usually great people! Thanks for a cute lens, always nice to get smile!

Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on May 27, 2013:

@bossypants: Thank you.

bossypants on May 26, 2013:

I hadn't heard someo f these. Very educational! And, great pictures, too!

Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on April 20, 2013:

@Lady Lorelei: Thank you.

Lorelei Cohen from Canada on April 19, 2013:

I'm shocked that I have not heard many of these dog idioms before (where the heck have I been?) Seriously this is one ridiculously cute article and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit.

Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on March 09, 2013:

@lionmom100: Thank you. Pugs can be really cute - but they can also look mean if provoked...

lionmom100 on March 09, 2013:

I love these dog idioms. I was really amused by the pug being paired with Mean as a junk yard dog." Lol

Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on March 08, 2013:

@anonymous: Thank you - its always good to spread a little joy.

anonymous on March 07, 2013:

Its always fun to visit one of your lenses. :)

Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on March 06, 2013:

@Loretta L: Thank you.

Loretta Livingstone from Chilterns, UK. on March 06, 2013:

Another great lens.

Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on March 05, 2013:

@alenmic: Thank you for the visit and comment - always appreciated.

alenmic on March 04, 2013:

@beaworkathomemom: yes,i do, too..but how can a dog bark when it's biting?...^^..just kidding......

alenmic on March 04, 2013:

Thanks for great lens...

Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on February 10, 2013:

@TonfaGuy: Thank you for your visit and comments.

TonfaGuy on February 10, 2013:

great lens. thanks.

beaworkathomemom on December 31, 2012:

Great lens. I agree with the idiom "A barking dog never bites".

anonymous on July 02, 2012:

I hadn't heard of "Be like a dog with two tails." before, fun!

gatornic15 on April 09, 2012:

Great lens!

Camden1 on March 11, 2012:

I couldn't even remember what an idiom was until I read your definition - it's been waaaayyy too long since English 101! Great lens!

DebMartin on March 10, 2012:

I love these. And all the dog images. Well done. d

Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on February 26, 2012:

@John Dyhouse: Thank you so much for the blessing - it is very much appreciated.

John Dyhouse from UK on February 26, 2012:

Love the images that you have found for these idioms. I think my favourite is the small dog barking up the wrong tree. wonderful fun and a great lens - blessed

CCGAL on September 09, 2011:

I love how you have found such charming images to illustrate each idiomatic expression. Very nicely done!

My dad used to say he had to go see a man about a horse, but it makes sense using dog, too.

Wanda Fitzgerald from Central Florida on February 25, 2011:

These are so cute. You must have been collecting these sayings for a long time. Very creative lens.

anonymous on February 14, 2011:

Wonderful lens. I really love it. Thanks for sharing. 5 stars for you :)

KonaGirl from New York on February 03, 2011:

I really enjoyed your lens. Very clever with great graphics and images.