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Dog Idioms


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

55 Dog-Related Idioms and Phrases

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 behaviours and traits, dogs have made an indelible impression on us all. Hardly surprising, then, that these deep-seated interactions and observations of canine behaviours have led to the incorporation of their unique characteristics into our language.

Done Up Like A Dogs Dinner - Dog Idiom

Done Up Like A Dogs Dinner - Dog Idiom

Like a Dog With a Bone - Be Tenacious With Your Idioms

1. 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.

To say that someone is fixating on a topic. An example would be: "Can't you stop going on about wanting that new car, you are like a dog with a bone."

2. Done up like a dog's dinner
It is often used in a negative sense to describe someone who is wearing clothes that are over the top. Usually 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!"

3. As sick as a dog

Ever seen a dog being sick? It's never a pretty sight!

An expression used to say that someone is very sick or ill.
Usually refers to someone who is being physically sick. However, it can also mean that you are feeling fed up with a situation.

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

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

More Dog-Related Expressions

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.
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."

5. Tail wagging the dog
A phrase used to say that a small part is controlling the whole of something.

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 back end of the dog has a life of its own.
It can describe a situation where a recently employed person is suddenly running 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
To say that you are in trouble or not in favour at the moment. Told about a naughty dog instructed to go the kennel as punishment for a misdemeanor.

Often used to describe a husband who is unable to 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."

As mean as a junkyard dog

As mean as a junkyard dog

Doggy Phrases

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.

A way of saying that a person is very mean. This idiom describes someone as cruel or eager to fight. 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."

9. Dog does not eat dog
Meaning: not to turn on your kind. Usually associated with someone disreputable. Often refers to one person of low repute, not turning on another person of similar low reputation.

10. Better the head of a dog than the tail of a lion

To say that it is better to be the leader of a small or low ranking group than be a subordinate in a higher or more prestigious group.

What are Idioms?

Idioms can be described as short, memorable sayings that add colour and vibrancy to our everyday language. Often humorous and always pointed in nature, they cleverly allow us to express what are sometimes complex viewpoints with very few words.

The English language is a rich source of idioms that have their beginnings in our history and culture. Often sourced from people's observations and experiences of life, they offer wise and sensible advice from people of one generation to another.

For people trying to learn the English language, they can be tricky things to understand. Due in large part to the fact that the combination of words used within an idiom can have a different and unique interpretation than their underlying meaning or definition as found within a dictionary.

An idiom:

  • a group or combination of words that express a view that cannot necessarily be gleaned from the individual words themselves.
  • an idioms figurative meaning is different than the literal sense.
  • a form of expression peculiar to a language.
  • sometimes humorous.
  • often expresses advice, caution, or warning.

Let's Not Make a Dogs Breakfast of This

11. A dog's breakfast

A statement made regarding a dog's meal often being a jumble of scraps.

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

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

12. Underdog

A way of saying that someone is at a disadvantage, and likely to lose a contest. Used to describe a team that not expected to win against better opponents.

13 A shaggy dog story!
An idiom that refers to a story that can be funny but usually ends up being ridiculously lengthy.

An expression 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."

A shaggy dog story

A shaggy dog story

Hope I'm Not Barking up the Wrong Tree With These Idioms

14. Barking up the wrong tree
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 show off. To grandstand in front of an audience, or to 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
Meaning to sleep long and hard.

17. Dog days
It refers to a period of hot sultry weather in which we are feeling lazy and unwilling or unable to exert ourselves. Occasionally this is also referred too as a "Dog Day Afternoon."

18. To see a man about a dog

A way of saying that you do not want to tell them where you are going. Often used as a way of excusing yourself to go to the bathroom.
Example: "It's none of your business where I am going. Lets's say that I am going to see a man about a dog, and leave it at that shall we."

Dog Idioms From BBC Learning English

A dog and pony show - idiom

A dog and pony show - idiom

A Dog and Pony Show

19. A dog and pony show
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."

20. If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas
A way of issuing a warning to someone — to say that if they do dangerous things, they will have to suffer the consequence.

21. A barking dog never bites

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

22. Be like a dog with two tails
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
To say that it is so cold that we need an extra dog for cuddling and warmth.

Super Happy Funny Dogs Video

More Canine Idioms and Phrases

24. Throw to the dogs
To tell someone that 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. He threw me to the dogs."
Sometimes a variation of this is used: Thrown to the dogs. To discard a person who has been deemed worthless.

25. Double dog dare
This phrase is a way of saying that I absolutely dare you.

26. Run with the big dogs
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
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
A way to describe a situation of fierce competition and one in which people may be willing to cause harm to others to succeed. Meaning: That the world can be a very competitive and cruel place.

30. Give a dog a bad name
Once a person has acquired a bad reputation, it will difficult to restore. This idiom is used to describe a situation where an innocent action is acknowledged as proof of their ill intent. Their efforts are always colored 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."

Puppy Love

Puppy Love

Lets Not Forget These Cute Puppies

31. Puppy love
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 its a case of puppy love."

32. Puppy dog eyes
A way of describing someone who is using their eyes or an appealing cute expression to try and appeal to your better nature. An example would be: “ 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

A way of describing someone deceived. For example, they thought they were buying something much better than they got.
Example: "I was led to believe 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

To express the view that that something is cute.

Dog Idiom Poll

Idiomatic Expressions

35. That dog won’t hunt

Meaning: That won’t work, forget it.

36. My dogs are barking

Meaning: My feet hurt.

37. Dog-eared

A way of describing something a bit worn, or well used.

38. A barking dog never bites

A method of saying that someone may be making lots of threats, but they are unlikely to carry them out.

39. Dogsbody

This term originated in the Royal Navy during the 19th Century. A regular meal at that time was a mixture of dried peas and eggs boiled in a bag, which was commonly known as a ‘dog’s body.’ Today, the phrase is used to describe someone who does all the work.

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.

It's a Dogs Life

41. Dogs of war
This phrase is an extract taken from a Shakespeare play called Julius Caesar. "Let slip the dogs of war!" It is a cry to war and havoc. A phrase used to conjure the image of a pack of hunting dogs relentlessly chasing down their prey.

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

43. Dog and bone
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
A way of saying that someone should tell their friends or associates to “back off” or stop picking on you.

45. Dog in the night-time
To describe someone who unwittingly connives to involve themselves in a crime.
A phrase having its origins in the Sherlock Holmes adventure book "Silver Blaze," published in 1892. It refers to a family dog that would not bark at night while horses where being stolen. The dog was failing to cry out due to it knowing the person who was carrying out the theft.

Sad as a hound dogs eye

Sad as a hound dogs eye

Bring on the Hounds

46. Hell hound
This phrase is 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

The name attributed to a geologist who studies the origin, structure, and composition of the Earth.
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
A way of describing something spotlessly clean. Also used to describe someone who is of high repute and honesty.

49. Sad as a hound dogs eye
A way of saying that something is unfortunate and sad.

50. A Glory hound
This idiom describes someone who is looking for glory, fortune, and fame.

We've Reached the End. So don't Wear that Hang Dog Air

51. Let the dog see the rabbit
This idiom is used to say that you should let a person get on with the task they are doing as they have the skills and attributes needed to achieve it.

52. In a dog's age
A way to say a very long time.

53. A dog in the manger
A way to describe a person who prevents or hinders others from having something that may be to their benefit. Even though they do not want or need it.

54. To lead a dog's life
To say that someone 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
Used to describe someone 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.

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