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Why Are They Called the “Dog Days of Summer”?

Hey there, fellow dog lover! Ever wonder why we call those steamy summer days from late July to late August the “Dog Days of Summer”? It’s not because our furry friends laze around in the heat, though it’s a fun image, right? 

Actually, this image sort of reminds me of Lawrence of Arabia when they are crossing the desert, but that’s probably because I’ve seen that movie WAY too many times!  🙂

However, the name has nothing to do with our dogs lazing around in the heat, (or bathing in the sun on the deck, like my youngest dog does). Instead, the name takes us back to ancient Rome (cue the time travel music…).  The Romans noticed that the brightest star in the sky (other than the sun, obviously) that rose and set with the sun during the hottest part of the summer was Sirius, the Dog Star.  (And yes, Sirius Black from the Harry Potter novels gets his name from the Dog Star.

Sirius is located in the Canis Major (‘Large Dog’) constellation, and is actually a binary star (two stars orbiting one another) rather than a single star.  

Seeing the association between the summer heat and Sirius, the Romans started calling the time in late July and August “dies caniculares”, which translates to “dog days”.  This is what comes from having a mother who studied Latin and sees everything as a learning opportunity!

Photo by Adirondack Sky Center

Interestingly, because of the way the Earth’s rotation changes over time, Sirius doesn’t rise and set with the sun during our hottest time of the year anymore.  But, we still use the term “Day Days of Summer” to talk about those sweltering summer days that make even the most energetic dogs (and their humans!) seek out a shady spot under the tree and nice cool bowl of water.  So, keep your furry kids and yourself hydrated, and share off this obscure fact with your family and friends!

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