Whoever coined the phrase “working like a dog” obviously never met my dog.
It’s not that Lady MacBeth doesn’t like to be helpful by chasing Canada geese, clearing stray strips of bacon off the countertop and the like, but, honestly most of the time she’s quite content to sleep or just lie around.
In fact, while there may have been a time when most dogs were working animals, that time has long passed and the majority of our canine friends are now more pampered pets than diligent helpers.
It’s funny how idioms like this, once inculcated into the lexicon are so persistent even when they may not be so applicable anymore.
And there are probably more dog idioms than any other, perhaps owing to the long history we have enjoyed with them at our sides.
Sometimes the phrases take on new meanings altogether.
‘Gone to the dogs, ‘for example, is one that we all take to mean that a situation has deteriorated as in “this neighbourhood has really gone to the dogs.”
However, it most likely had a much more specific meaning originally.
Apparently, it was a reference to gambling away one’s paycheque on greyhound racing. The money thus has gone to the dogs.
Others don’t really make much sense, except that we all agree to their meaning.
It’s a dog eat dog world, for example, doesn’t really jive with dog behaviour.
The ruthless, backstabbing behaviour it refers to is really more a human trait. Dogs are pack animals.
Some simply aren’t true. You certainly can teach an old dog new tricks, it just takes patience, repetition and lots of treats, just like it does for a puppy.
There are certainly advantages to getting it done when they are puppies, though, because once ingrained it saves us the trouble of doing it later.
That one is also not applicable to the humans we are referencing when we say it.
We are absolutely capable of lifelong learning and changing our behaviour, overcoming addictions etc. Most of the time it’s just that we don’t want to.
Getting back to The Bug, another one that definitely doesn’t work (and probably doesn’t for most dogs) is the old ‘her bark is worse than her bite.’
Of course, when people use this phrase, what they’re trying to say is ‘don’t worry, my dog is not going to bite you.’
As someone who has been (inadvertently) bitten (that’ll teach me to try to break up a dog fight) I can definitely attest her bite is worse than her bark.
Generally speaking, dogs have powerful jaws and sharp teeth. A barking dog may be more prone to accepting belly rubs than biting, but if they were to bite for some reason, it’s safe to say it’s going to be worse.
I will end with ‘doggy bag.’ We all know people are not taking home food from the restaurant for the dog, they’re taking it home for themselves. Perhaps there was a time when there was a stigma to it, but that seems to have been lost.
Personally, I never used to take a doggy bag because I knew the leftovers would just sit in my fridge until I threw them out.
Now that I have the lovely Lady, though, I have revisited that policy. And she is very grateful for that.