Webster defines the “dog days” as “that period between early July and early September when the hot sultry weather of summer usually occurs in the northern hemisphere”. Many of us hide out in our air conditioned homes and condos and wait for the temperatures to settle down a bit.
The term dates back to the ancient Romans who were believed to be the first to notice that Sirius (the “dog star”) would rise and set with the sun during this late summer time. The brightest star in the night sky is Sirius from Canis Major, a constellation mapped out by our European ancestors. They identified two images of dogs, Canis Major and Canis Minor, “canis” from the Latin word meaning “dog”.
Some ancient cultures sacrificed a brown dog at the start of the “dog days” to appease the rage of Sirius. It was believed that the earth received heat from this star and that it was an evil time when the sea boiled, dogs grew mad and it caused man fevers, hysterics and phrensies. We know today that the summer heat is simply a result of the earth’s tilt.
The term “Dog Days of Summer” has also been used to refer to the Stock Market, typically a slow time in the market. In addition poorly performing stocks are often referred to as “dogs”.
Even Charles Dickens in his A Christmas Carol when describing the “Scrooge” says “He carried his own low temperature always about him; he iced his office in the dogdays; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.”
If you know about astronomy and can find that dog (Canis Major) in the sky, know that he/she will not bite, bark, start a fight with Canis Minor or leave a mess to be cleaned up.
Many people attach the connotations of conspicuous laziness of dogs or of lying or dogging around or being “dog tired” on these hot and humid days. Be very careful, there is a real danger of dogs overheating with too much exercise in the “Dogs Days of Summer”. Some breeds and some particular dogs have difficulty breathing when it gets very hot and humid. Have plenty of water available and don’t over do the exercise and of course NEVER leave your dog in a closed car in the summer heat.
If you are one of Chicago’s dog walkers or just someone out walking your dog, don’t forget about the temperature of the pavement. Try it barefoot sometime and you will experience just how hot it can be. The Lovin’ Spoonful described the intensity of the heat in their classic hit, Summer in the City…..Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head. If your four-legged friend refuses to walk or starts a high-stepping dance, you can bet his/her pads of the paws have reached their tolerance and best to get them into the shade or off the sidewalk. City high rise condo dwellers don’t always have the option to move onto the grass, but if you are in a neighborhood that has grass or a grassy area, use it.
The three critters pictured below look like they are ready to cool off!