Ever stop to think how many idiomatic phrases you hear every day–or thereabouts–reference a dog? No? Well, try. Go ahead right now and see how many idioms involving dogs (and I just mean the generic animal, not specifics breeds) you can come up with. If you can think of a dozen in the next minute or two, you might well consider yourself some of kind master of the vernacular. Well, you shouldn’t. Because you have only just begun to scratch the surface.
Dog and Pony Show
Ever been to a circus–or, more to the point–ever seen an old movie about a circus featuring an exhibition of dogs jumping onto the back of horses and riding them around for the purpose of entertainment? There’s your idiomatic foundation. But the real meaning here is about someone putting on an exhibition to draw you in and entice. A dog and pony show is all about the lure of something that, well, you just don’t see every day.
The Dog Days of Summer
Living in Northwest Florida along the Gulf of Mexico, this particular dog-related idiom has precious little meaning. Sometimes April and December can be as hot around here as the Dog Days of Summer might be where you live. I have actually heard Dog Days of Summer referenced to mean those days that are so hot that you never seen a dog doing anything active. In reality, the term dates back to ancient times along the northern coast of the Mediterranean when Sirius, the Dog Star, would appear in conjunction with the sun near the end of summer.
Three Dog Night
Less an idiom for most people than one of rock music’s strangest band names. The band claimed that they got the idea for their unusual moniker from Australian aborigines. That may or may not be true, but the idiom almost certainly refers to a night so cold that sleeping in the company of three dogs is the only way to keep warm.
Although I can barely tolerate the sterility-inducing sound of Gloria’s voice on “Modern Family” I do love her view of what a doggie-dog world would be. You see, English is her second language and idioms do not translate quite so easily so she gets a little confused. Seriously, though, could you explain what a dog-eat-dog world is a foreigner? The actual origination of this dog-referencing English idiom is up for grabs, but those who speak the language have no trouble understanding it: it’s Ayn Rand on Tea Party steroids telling the world that the key to success is to stamp out the weak competition and lie, cheat or steal to get ahead of those who are better than you.
In the Doghouse
If you have heard that “in the doghouse” traces back to “Peter Pan” prepare to be disappointed. According to Phrases.org , it is easy enough to debunk that myth. The same web site interestingly points out “in the doghouse” is pretty much an idiom unique to American English. To be there essentially means that you have seriously screwed up. I would further the notion that not only is this dog idiom mainly heard in America, but that it is probably heard 90% of the time in reference to a man who has done something his wife disapproves of so much that the doghouse become an active metaphor for the couch. I would have trouble coming up with very many examples of a character saying he’s in the doghouse in American movies or TV shows that don’t have something to do with marital problems that result in separate sleeping locations.
A Dog’s Breakfast
On the other hand, “a dog’s breakfast” seems to be an English idiom expressed very seldomly in America compared to its popularity in countries which have produced big screen James Bonds. So what is a dog’s breakfast, anyway? Pretty much anything he can find. A dog making his way through a neigborhood after a good night’s sleep may piece together a breakfast from leftover kibble, some cheese stuck to the lid of a pizza box, a three-day old half-eaten hamburger and what’s left at the bottom of a jar of peanut butter. All those things separately may have made for a great meal for someone, but for the dog it’s just a smorgasbord of garbage.