Posted by: Jack Henry | December 15, 2022

Editor’s Corner: Dog Idioms

Last week, I explained several idioms about horses. One of you sent me a couple of web sites with a ton of other horse idioms. For you horse lovers out there, here are some additional phrases: Horse TV.

But our animal idioms don’t end there! In fact, several of you requested idioms about animals that make easier house pets than horses: cats and dogs. There are so many idioms out there, so I’m selecting a few, along with their meanings and some examples. Today, we’ll start with dogs and a smattering of entries from the website Owlcation.

Be Like a Dog With a Bone

We all know what a dog is like when it has a bone, right? They are relentless. They never stop.

Meaning: That a person is fixating on a topic.

Example: "Can’t you stop going on about wanting that new car? You are like a dog with a bone."

Tail Wagging the Dog

We all recognize an excited, happy dog by the wagging of its tail. Sometimes, the dog becomes so enthusiastic that it’s as if the dog’s back end has a life of its own.

Meaning: A phrase used to say that a small part controls the whole of something.

It can describe a situation where a recently employed person suddenly runs the business as if he owned it.

Example: "Allowing Paul to dictate the terms of the contract is like letting the tail wag the dog. He’s only been here for three months, and it’s like he is running the show."

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."

Every Dog Has Its Day

Meaning: that everyone will inevitably have at least one moment of glory in their lifetime.

Example: "Would you believe it! Andrew has only gone and won that promotion. I guess every dog has its day after all."

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.

A Dog’s Breakfast

A reference to a dog’s meal often being a jumble of scraps.

Meaning: To indicate that a task has been performed to an appalling standard. To tell a person that they are poorly dressed. A phrase that suggests that someone is very messy.

Example: "I hope you aren’t going out dressed like that! You look like a proper dog’s breakfast."


Meaning: To say that someone is at a disadvantage and likely to lose a contest. Said of a team that is forecast to lose against better opponents.

Example: "The Torrey Elementary School Thunder Cats have a world famous coach; every other team they play joins the game as the underdog.”

A Shaggy Dog Story

Meaning: An idiom that refers to a story that can be funny but usually ends up being ridiculously lengthy. Often utilized in the context of someone telling a joke that has a meaningless or sudden ending.

Example: "Danny is forever reciting his shaggy dog stories. They drone on for what seems like forever without hardly ever getting to the point."

Done Up Like a Dog’s Dinner

Meaning: An idiom that describes a person seemingly overdressed. The clothing usually being too fussy or silly for the occasion.

Example: "I hope you do not intend to go to the party dressed like that? For goodness sake—you look like a dog’s dinner!"

Dog Days

Meaning: An expression that refers to a period of hot sultry weather in which we feel lazy and unwilling or unable to exert ourselves. Occasionally this is also referred to as a "dog day afternoon."

A Dog and Pony Show

Meaning: To lay on an elaborate presentation with the hope of gaining approval for something such as a product. The Cambridge Dictionary defines this idiom as: "an event that is designed to impress people in order to make them buy something or invest money."

Kara Church | Technical Editor, Advisory | Technical Publications

Pronouns: she/her | Call via Teams |

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