The Dog Days Of Summer: What And When Are They?

Silhouette dog standing on field at sunset

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The dog days of summer are usually the hottest days of the year, but you may be wondering why we refer to them as the “dog days” and when exactly they are supposed to happen. What do our beloved canine companions have to do with the warm weather? Well, we can probably thank ancient cultures, astronomy, and some mistaken beliefs about dogs for this mysterious phrase that connects our pups to this time of year. Here’s what you should know about the dog days of summer.

Why Are They Called The “Dog Days?”

South facing night sky with star spikes indicating the positions of the constellation of Orion in butterfly shape at central top to middle, his bow on the right side, and his dog Sirius below his left foot on the left. The image was photographed at 10

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The phrase “dog days of summer” has been used in the English language for about the past 500 years after being translated from Latin, but the true origins of the expression go back a lot farther than that. The dog days were written about by the ancient Greek and Roman poets, and even a passage from Homer’s Iliad, which was likely composed in the 8th century BC, connects summer to the appearance of stars in the night sky that were associated with dogs.

In fact, the brightest star in the summer sky, Sirius, was also referred to as the Dog Star, as it followed the constellation symbolized by the hunter, Orion. Even today, Sirius is sometimes known as Canis Majoris, which is Latin for the Greater Dog. The appearance of this star was said to herald the arrival of the hottest days of the year, which likely contributed to the origin of the term “dog days of summer.”

Some ancient Greeks and Romans believed that heat from the incredibly bright Sirius actually caused the hot weather during the most sweltering days of summer. They thought that the combined light and heat from the Sun and the Dog Star had a strong effect on everything from plants to animals to humans, and even to dogs. It was said that dogs would become aggressive or go mad during this time, and dog attacks on humans would increase. This may have helped continue the association between dogs and the hot weather, encouraging the use of the phrase “dog days” to describe the time of year.

When Are The Dog Days Of Summer?

Dogs panting together on beach

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The phrase “dog days of summer” continues to be used to this day, though the exact dates that the term refers to are not always clear. In the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans, the dog days started around the time of year that Sirius appeared in the night sky, which has been calculated as being close to July 19th for them. Much has changed since then, and different parts of the world observe the dog days at various times.

The problem with having dog days refer to a specific set of dates is that both the appearance of Sirius in the sky and the arrival of the hottest days of summer can vary greatly by location. For example, summer in the Northern Hemisphere is actually winter in the Southern Hemisphere, and people in many places south of the equator can’t even see Sirius in the sky. Sirius appears at different times of the year to people at different latitudes. Additionally, places that have similar latitudes may have completely different climates due to air and ocean currents, meaning that the hottest days of the year can vary even if two locations can view Sirius at the same time of year. To complicate things further, the hottest days of the year can also change from year to year even in the same locations based on weather patterns.

Not to mention the fact that, due to the shifting tilt of the Earth’s axis, the positions of the stars change in the night sky over the course of several millennia, so the position of Sirius relative to us is gradually shifting. In 13,000 years, Sirius will actually rise in the middle of winter in the Northern Hemisphere.

Because of all of these variations, the dog days of summer have referred to dates starting as early as the beginning of July and ending as late as the middle of September. All of that said, most of the modern, English-speaking world in the Northern Hemisphere refers to the days between July 3rd and August 11th as the dog days of summer, which places the appearance of Sirius in the night sky somewhere close to the middle of the dog days for most people.

What Do The Dog Days Of Summer Mean For Your Pet?

Shower dog

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While the appearance of Sirius itself has no effect on dogs as some people in ancient cultures believed, the heat associated with the dog days of summer can be dangerous for our pets. The hottest days of the year can even be deadly if dog owners don’t take precautions to keep their pups safe. Here are a few tips to keep your dog cool and out of danger during the dog days of summer.

  • Keep your dog out of the direct sun when you can. Avoid being outdoors during peak hours from around 10 am to 2 pm.
  • Use caution on walks. Touch the pavement with your hand, and if you can’t keep your hand there for 5 seconds, it is too hot for your dog to walk on. Stick to the shade, walk on the grass when you can, and carry water for your dog.
  • Take steps to avoid heat stroke and dehydration, and know the symptoms. Always provide your dog with a place to cool off and plenty of water.
  • Avoid shaving your dog completely. Dogs’ fur helps regulate their body temperature and prevent sunburn. Most vets advocate leaving at least an inch of fur for long-haired dogs.
  • Use dog sunscreen. Apply to areas that have less fur coverage, like the nose, face, ears, groin, and any patchy spots. Short-haired dogs can benefit from full sunscreen coverage.
  • Never leave your dog locked in a car. The inside of a car is like an oven this time of year and gets drastically hotter than the outside temperature in a matter of minutes.
  • Do not leave your dog unsupervised outdoors. This is good advice for any time of year, but it is especially important when the weather is very hot.

What kinds of things do you like to do with your dog during the dog days of summer? How do you keep your dog safe from the heat this time of year? Let us know in the comments below!

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