What Does ‘The Dog Days of Summer’ Mean?

By Dr. Bruce Little

As the “dog days of summer” are upon us, I’ve often wondered where that phrase came from, and why it’s called the “dog days”? According to National Geographic, the phrase “the dog days of summer” comes from Ancient Greek history. The Greeks of the time thought of the Constellation, Canis Major, as a dog chasing Lepus, the hare.  The very bright star Sirius is the dog’s nose, so the Greeks called it the “dog star.” As the Earth rotates around the sun Sirius begins to rise in the East just before the sun comes up, and this occurs during the hot days of August.  Therefore, approximately 500 years ago, the phrase “dog days of summer” was coined. The phrase has stuck around, although it really doesn’t have anything to do with dogs. Or does it?

The truth is, late summer brings many reasons for why people may call dogs “crazy.” Until the mid-20th Century, rabies was rampant across most of the world. Dogs were not vaccinated nor kept in controlled environments where they were protected from the wild animal population.  A rabid dog will show physical signs that could easily be described as “crazy.” Late summer also brings with it an influx of allergic dermatitis that can create erratic behavior by dogs chasing their tails to relieve the itch even though they are living in the comfortable confides of the everyday family home. 

Whatever the case, we’re headed into fall.

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