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Karen B. London
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Dog Idioms
Big truths in little sayings
Wagging the dog

Since dogs have been such a big part of our lives for thousands of years, it’s no surprise that they appear in expressions in many human languages.

In French, “between a dog and a wolf” signifies dusk or twilight. In Spanish, “like a dog in a canoe” means being very nervous and “little dog of all weddings” is a way to describe a highly social person.

In Italian, an admonition to stop beating around the bush is expressed as “stop leading the dog around the barnyard,” while the Russian expression for “like a fifth foot on a dog” refers to something useless.

In German, “a fat dog” is a startling piece of news and to say that people get on “like a dog and a monkey” in Japanese means that they are on bad terms.

Dog idioms show up in English, too, and I’ve always really liked the expression, “the tail wagging the dog.” It is used to describe either a situation in which a small part of something is controlling the whole of it or a reversal of the proper roles. Despite the actual meanings, it always makes me think of happy dogs who wag their tails so enthusiastically that their whole bodies, from the shoulders back, are involved in the action. It looks as though the tail is literally wagging the dog.

Do you have a favorite dog-related expression?

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 17 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs, especially aggression. Karen has been writing the behavior column for The Bark since 2012 and wrote The Bark’s training column and various other articles for eight years before that. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, and teaches a tropical field biology course in Costa Rica. Karen writes an animal column, The London Zoo, which appear in The Arizona Daily Sun and is the author of five books on canine training and behavior. She is working on her next book, which she expects to be published in 2017.

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