Most of us associate the phrase, “Dog days” to our summer days so devastatingly hot that even dogs just lie around, panting, but originally the phrase had nothing to do with dogs, or even with the lazy days of summer. Instead, “Dog days” refer to the dog star, Sirius, and its position in the heavens. Ancient Greeks thought of the constellation Canis Major as a dog chasing Lepus, the hare. The star Sirius is the dog’s nose, and the Greeks called it the “dog star.” Both the Romans and Greeks referred to the day when Sirius appeared to rise just before the sun, in late July, believing that this began a period that could bring fever, or some catastrophe. The phrase was translated from Latin to English about 500 years ago, and since then has taken on various new meanings. Actually the dog days don’t always correspond with the heat, and depending on a person’s latitude, the astronomical dog days can come at different days, and it’s original meaning has been lost, but the phrase has lived on.
According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac , ancient Egyptians used the star as a “watchdog” announcing the season of the Nile’s flooding, and the connection with hot, sultry weather was made for all time: “Dog Days bright and clear indicate a happy year. But when accompanied by rain, we hope for better times in vain.” was recorded in 1883 by Henry Dunwoody. The expression has made its way through the years, even popping up in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: “The cold within him froze his old features…. He carried his own low temperature always about him; he iced his office in the dog days, and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.”
“The Bar Sinister” by Richard Harding Davis, is a wonderful story of a plucky bull terrier told by himself. A street dog, he 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.” This is a good read which you can find in its entirety on the web. The l955 movie, It’s a Dog’s Life, was based on “The Bar Sinister.”
Tuck Everlasting is an American children’s novel by Natalie Babbitt, and is often listed as a classic of modern children’s literature. The Prologue is the author’s opportunity to introduce her readers to her main theme—the circle of life. She begins the story in the dog days of summer, and likens the time to the top of a Ferris wheel, if the wheel were the year, and at this time of year, people, according to Babbitt, are often led to do things they are sure to be sorry for later. Tuck Everlasting has twice been adapted to film and a musical. The first was released in 1981, and the second by Disney in 2002. It was also adapted into a musical and began previews on Broadway in March, 2016, at the Broadhurst Theater, but the production closed in May of 2016.
Surveys often indicate that the phrase refers to a 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 slow on the stock market, and poorly performing stocks are often known as “dogs.”
These are days soaked in humidity and the nights are stifled by the heat, making us wish for the crisp, refreshing days of autumn, but 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 neighborhood dogs, the lonely dog down the street, and frightened shelter dogs would all enjoy a little extra attention. Become a socializer for a neglected dog…just half an hour interaction can make life better for an animal.
Dog days offer great opportunities to kick back with a glass of iced tea, (and your favorite pooch) , and watch a movie….or two…or three about dogs. Several classic dog movies include Lassie, one of the most popular dogs in film and TV history, Turner and Hooch in which a slobbery dog helps a fastidious cop solve a crime, and The Wizard of Oz, where Toto was Dorothy’s faithful companion as she faced numerous perils. On Google, you can find a list of the top 25 dog movies that feature spectacular canines you will love.. The dog days will soon be over; the dog days will soon be done, so ENJOY!