Dog Idioms in the English Language: What They Mean and Where They Come From

Dogs have been an integral part of our lives for thousands of years. It is no wonder that languages around the world are peppered with dog idioms — especially English. Previously, we explored the origins of the sayings Three Dog Night, Working Like a Dog, Dog Days of Summer, Let Sleeping Dogs Lie and more.

Let’s continue to explore with some of our favorites. We’ll share their origins and how to use them in a sentence. Let’s go!



If you look at a wolf’s ears and some breeds of dogs, like German shepherds, you will notice their ears point straight up. But many breeds’ ears are also floppy, soft and oh-so-cute. The phrase, as you have probably guessed, describes a piece of paper—usually a page in a book—that has been folded over at the top edge.


“Like a dog with two tails” 

We know that a dog wagging their tail is a signal of happiness, pride and joy. So this explanation is basic math — if one wagging tail means happiness, then two means double joy! Can you even imagine the fun a dog would have wagging two tails?


“Gone to the dogs”

This is something people say when things have taken a turn for the worse (although us dog lovers might object to that a little). This saying has two possible origins. One is that it comes from greyhound racing and refers to the risk of gambling all of one’s money away. Another possibility is that when dogs were first domesticated, they were fed scraps and leftovers from meals. Thus, one could literally say that a meal has “gone to the dogs.”

“The tail is wagging the dog”

The tail wagging the dog describes a role reversal. For example, in most babysitting situations the adult calls the shots. But in the case of grandparents babysitting, you might find the tail sure wags the dog when kiddos use their charm to get dessert first and a later bedtime!


Do you use any of these or other dog-related phrases? Tell us!