Although we often use the term, “Dog Days of Summer”, I had to do a little research to discover what “Dog Days” really means. The name comes from the constellation called Canis Major or “Big Dog” because the brightest star in it, Sirius, rises at the same time as the sun around this time of the year. The Romans believed that this star was the cause of the hot weather and other bad things, like dogs going mad and people suffering various diseases.  According to Wikipedia, the Romans sacrificed a brown dog at the beginning of the Dog Days to appease the rage of Sirius.  The lectionary of the 1611 edition of the King James Bible indicates that the Dog Days begin on July 6 and end on September 5, but recent reprints of the 1662 edition of the Book of Common Prayer contains no reference to the Dog Days.

The phrase is mentioned in the short story, “The Bar Sinister,” by Richard Harding Davis, when the main character, a street dog, explains, “but when the hot days come, I think they might remember that those are the dog days, and leave a little water outside in a trough, like they do for the horses.” The Prologue of Tuck Everlasting, a fantasy children’s novel by Natalie Babbit, set in the month of August, says, “These are strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.”  This book received numerous awards including being chosen as one of the top books for children.  Tuck Everlasting was made into a Disney movie in 2002.

Surveys usually discover that many people believe the phrase is in reference to the conspicuous laziness of domesticated dogs, which is a myth. Dogs lie around on hot “dog days” because they are in danger of overheating.  In recent years, the term has also been used in reference to the American Stock Markets. Typically summer is a slow one for the stock market, and poorly performing stocks are frequently known as “dogs.”

Rather than focus on the negative aspects of “Dog Days”, why not take some actions to make them happy days for the dogs? Your dog, your neighbor dogs, the lonely dog down the street, and the frightened shelter dogs would all enjoy a little extra attention.  Even if you don’t have a lot of time to give, consider volunteering as a dog walker once a week on your lunch hour. Take the opportunity to stretch your legs as well as your dogs. Offer to be a socializer for a neglected dog. Just a half hour interaction can make life better for an animal.  Provide comfy blankets (they don’t have to be new) for the “outside dog”…sure, they will get chewed up and ruined, but for at least a short time, the dog will enjoy them. Check regularly and replace them.  Ask your friends to sort out their old blankets, or stop by the local thrift shop.

If you or the kids like to bake, try a batch of sweet potato chips. Quick and easy… cut them up and let them bake while you watch your favorite TV program!

Scrub and slice 6 large whole sweet potatoes into rounds. (No need to peel)  Cut into thin slices (the thinner the slice, the shorter the cooking time). Thinner chips will be crunchier, thicker ones will be chewier chips… the dogs will appreciate either. Place on a foil lined baking sheet.  Bake for 250 degrees for about three hours. Allow to cool and store in an airtight container.

With a little effort, the “Dog Days of Summer” can be great days for both humans and canines.