Dog Idioms and Phrases in the English Language -

Dog Idioms and Phrases in the English Language

Dog idioms that will make you writing a howling success. Let’s introduce you to some other expressions featuring the animal that makes up half that idiom – the dog.

Here are some well-known dog expressions.

Dog Idioms and Phrases

(The) Tail That Wags the Dog

Meaning: A small part of something that controls the whole thing

Example: Past TV deals have seen the tail wagging the dog. Now football clubs feel they are equal partners with TV.

A Barking Dog Never Bites

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

Example: Pay no heed to his protestations – he’s a barking dog that never bites.

A Dog’s Breakfast

Meaning: A mess

Example: I thought I could trust Jim to finish the business proposal, but he made a dog’s breakfast of the whole thing.

A Glory Hound

Meaning: Someone is looking for glory, fortune, and fame.

Example: He never fails to invite the press to one of his functions—he’s a glory hound.

A Shaggy Dog Story

Meaning: A long-winded anecdote that has a silly or anticlimactic ending.

Example: The old man was known for telling shaggy dog stories that made people groan and scratch their heads when he reached the ending.

As Mean as a Junkyard Dog

Meaning: An idiom that suggests a person is very mean. It can also describe someone as cruel or eager to fight.

Example: They say that he is meaner than a junkyard dog, but he is quite sweet when you get to know him.

As Sick as a Dog

Meaning: slang Very ill.

Example: Haley called out sick today, and she really sounded sick as a dog.

Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Meaning: Taking a wrong direction in an activity; from the idea of a hunting dog being mistaken over which tree a hunted animal has climbed.

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.

Be Like a Dog With a Bone

Meaning: That a person is fixating on a topic.

Example: I was late once, and my boss is like a dog with a bone, bringing it up every chance she gets.

Be Like a Dog With Two Tails

Meaning: To be very happy and excited.

Example: Mary’s been like a dog with two tails ever since she got her promotion.

Better the Head of a Dog Than the Tail of a Lion

Meaning: It is better to be a small or low ranking group leader than be a subordinate in a higher or more prestigious group.

Example: The phrase better to be the head of a dog than the tail of a lion advises people to take the opportunity to be leaders.

Bite the Hand That Feeds You

Meaning: An ungrateful person who turned against you.

Example: You might not agree with your parents’ rules, but be careful about biting the hand that feeds you, because you owe everything you have to them.

Bought a Pup

Meaning: slang To buy something that ultimately proves to be worth nothing or less than promised. Primarily heard in UK.

Example: I’m sorry, but that’s definitely not an authentic Louis Vuitton bag. You’ve bought a pup, my friend.

Call Your Dogs Off

Meaning: To say that someone should tell their friends or associates to “back off” or stop picking on you.

Example: Call the dogs off! I’ll tell you anything you want to know, just stop threatening me!

Clean as a Hound’s Tooth

Meaning: To describe something spotlessly clean. It can also describe a person who is of high repute and honesty.

Done Up Like a Dog’s Dinner

Meaning: Of a person’s attire, very showy in a way that attracts negative attention.

Example: Look at that fool, all done up like a dog’s dinner. Who told him that patterned suit was a good idea?

Dog in the Manger

Meaning: A person who prevents others from using something, even though the person himself or herself does not want it.

Example: Jonny is being a dog in the manger – he won’t let the other kids play with his ball, even though he never uses it.

Dog-and-Pony Show

Meaning: A flashy presentation, often in a marketing context

Example: The salesman gave us a real dog-and-pony show, but I’m still not sure what the product will cost.


Meaning: Someone who does all the work.

Example: If you need anything at all, just let me know, and I’ll have my dogsbody get it.

Dog Days

Meaning: (Physical Geography) the hot period of the summer reckoned in ancient times from the heliacal rising of Sirius (the Dog Star)

Example: Dog Star days is called because the Dog Star (Sirius) rises and sets with the sun during this time.

Dog Does Not Eat Dog

Meaning: proverb Nefarious people will not harm those who act like them.

Example: Naturally, that jerk preys on kind people and leaves people like himself alone. Dog does not eat dog, I guess.


Meaning: To say that something is a bit worn or well used. Often said when referring to an old book cover or magazine that has seen well thumbed through and has seen better days.

Example: The book is a first edition copy and could be worth a lot of money. The only issue is that it’s a well-read copy, and the dust-jacket is worn and a little dog-eared.

Dogs of War

Meaning: The chaos that accompanies war.

Example: If we can’t find enough willing soldiers, we’ll have to turn to the dogs of war.


Meaning: Intensely competitive

Example: The world of the inter-war period was a dog-eat-dog affair.

Dog in the Nighttime

Meaning: To describe someone who unwittingly connives to involve themselves in a crime.

Double Dog Dare

Meaning: A phrase used to say: “I absolutely dare you.”

Example: An intensified form of a dare, frequently used after the dared person initially refuses.

Read More: Idioms About Animals

Every Dog Has His (Its) Day

Meaning: Everyone has a moment of fame, power, or influence

Example: Yug has had a run doff bad luck. But every dog has his day, and today he was singled out for praise by the president.

Every Man and His Dog

Meaning: Many people

Example: I’m so jealous, everybody and his dog is going on a vacation this summer except for me.

Fight Like Cat and Dog

Meaning: Continually arguing with each other

Example: Those two fight like cat and dog, so please don’t put them together on the project.

Give a Dog a Bad Name

Meaning: It is very difficult to lose or change a bad reputation.

Example: A: “Ever since I failed my exam, my teacher sees me as a slacker, no matter what I do.” B: “Well, give a dog a bad name, right?”

Go See a Man About a Dog

Meaning: Go to the bathroom (said as a euphemism)

Example: I’ll be right back-I’ve got to go see a man about a dog.

Go to the Dogs

Meaning: To become disordered, to decay

Example: This has always been a nice hotel, but it’s going to the dogs.

Have a Dog in the Hunt (Fight, Race)

Meaning: To support a certain person in a competition

Example: I’ll be happy working under either Carl or Sheila-I don’t have a dog in that hunt.

Hell Hound

Meaning: A devilish person; a fiend.

Hot Doggin’

Meaning: To grandstand in front of an audience, show off and 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.

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.

In a Dog’s Age

Meaning: A long time.

Example: I haven’t had so much fun for a very long time—it feels like it’s been a dog’s age since we last laughed so much.

In the Dog House

Meaning: To say that you are in trouble or not in favor. Reminiscent of a naughty dog instructed to go to the kennel as punishment for a misdemeanor.

Example: I’m in the dog house again! I should never have forgotten our anniversary.

Lazy as a Dog

Meaning: 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.

Let the Dog See the Rabbit

Meaning: To say that you should let a person get on with their task as they have the skills and attributes needed to achieve it.

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

Meaning: To avoid stirring up a problem; to leave things alone

Example: Oh, don’t mention that fight they had months ago—let sleeping dogs lie!

Love Me, Love My Dog

Meaning: proverb If you are going to love someone, you must accept everything about them, even those aspects, qualities, or faults that you might otherwise dislike.

Example: It’s good that you want to move in me, but please remember, I’m far from perfect, and you will need to be able to love me, love my dog.

Puppies and Rainbows

Meaning: Perfect, ideal (usually used slightly sarcastically, in contrast with a less ideal situation)

Example: I try to be strict with my daughter, but when she looks at me with those puppy dog eyes, I buy her candy.

Puppy Dog Eyes

Meaning: At first my marriage was all puppies and rainbows, but then reality set in.

Example: I try to be strict with my daughter, but when she looks at me with those puppy dog eyes, I buy her candy.

Puppy Love

Meaning: 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 it’s a case of puppy love.

My Dogs Are Barking

Meaning: My feet hurt

Example: My dogs are really barking after all that dancing!

Rain Cats and Dogs

Meaning: Rain very heavily

Example: We were so disappointed that it rained cats and dogs for our whole vacation in Hawaii.

Run With the Big Dogs

Meaning: 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.

Rock Hound

Meaning: A geologist, studying the Earth’s origin, structure, and composition, is commonly known as a “rock hound.”

Example: He may only be young, but he’s becoming a real rock hound. He’s out collecting rock samples every chance he gets.

Sad as a Hound Dog’s Eye

Meaning: Something unfortunate and sad.

Slept Like a Dog

Meaning: To say a person slept soundly.

Example: I had a wonderfully restful night – I slept like a dog.

Tail Wagging the Dog

Meaning: The smallest or least important part of something in control of the larger or more important elements; a reversal of typical roles or dynamics of power.

Example: They reorganized their entire weekly schedule just because their son likes to sleep in late. Talk about the tail wagging the dog.

Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

Meaning: To change someone’s long-established habits. Usually used in the negative: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Example: We tried to explain social media to our grandfather, but it’s no use-you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

That Dog Won’t Hunt

Meaning: That won’t work; forget it.

Example: I know you think that we can cross that swollen river by wading across—but it’s a strong current, and I can’t swim. That dog won’t hunt; I’m afraid we need another plan.

Three Dog Night

Meaning: To say that it is so cold that we need an extra dog for cuddling and warmth

Example: Temperatures fell well below freezing, a true three-dog night.

Throw to the Dogs

Meaning: To put one in the position to be the recipient of blame, trouble, or criticism, often that which was intended for oneself.

Example: Our manager never hesitates to throw an underling to the dogs when something goes wrong in the office.

To Lead a Dog’s Life

Meaning: A person 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.

To See a Man About a Dog

Meaning: To say that you do not want to reveal to someone where you are going is often used to excuse yourself to go to the bathroom.

Example: It’s none of your business where I am going. Let’s say that I am going to see a man about a dog and leave it at that, shall we.


Meaning: One that is expected to lose a contest or struggle, as in sports or politics

Example: Most of the crowd were cheering for the underdog to win.

Dog Idioms and Phrases in the English Language -

One thought to “Dog Idioms and Phrases in the English Language”

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