Putting the Dog into the Dog Days of Summer

The author with her dog, Seeger, demonstrating the art of tongue lolling.   Photo courtesy of Kait Leonard

Before the advent of summer vacation and air conditioners, the Dog Days were thought to bring all sorts of misery and suffering. According to legend, the seas boiled, food spoiled, people and animals went mad, and mysterious illnesses spread across the land. Now, we might be assaulted by a few mosquitoes or fall prey to barbecue overindulgence, but most Southern Californians celebrate this time of beautiful weather, often including their canine pals in the seasonal fun.

Contrary to modern thought, however, the Dog Days of Summer actually has nothing to do with dogs, at least it didn’t in the beginning. This period got its name from the star Sirius, part of the constellation Canis Major, or the Greater Dog. Sirius, the brightest star in the cluster, became known as the Dog Star. Here ends the original canine connection.

Because Sirius shines brightly enough to be seen during the day, early Egyptians believed it must be hot like the Sun. They concluded that when the two appeared together, their combined forces created extreme temperatures. The pinnacle of the period occurs on the day the two rise and set in tandem and extends from 20 days before through 20 days after that event. In the United States, the Dog Days occur from July 3 through August 11, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

In modern times, this period has taken on new meaning. In an attempt to make sense of the name so long after the original one has become obsolete, many of us have invited our actual dogs into the Dog Days of Summer. Why not embrace this change and treat the Canis Major in your life to some well-planned fun?

Since creating a new mythology should not be taken lightly, here are some suggestions for Dog Days fun:

  • Have a Dog Days Celebration. Invite pals with pooches to attend a backyard barbecue, hosted by your furry friend. Provide a wading pool, a few balls, and a couple of tug toys. Grill up strips of lean chicken, alongside whatever you’re having, of course. And let the festivities begin! Don’t forget to take pictures. You’ll be an Instagram superstar!
  • Have a picnic at the beach. Nothing new here, but some ideas just never go out of style. Bring plenty of towels, and extra water for de-sanding paws before getting back in the car. And make sure you choose a place with plenty of shade, which is especially important for seniors and short-snouted pooches. Check first to make sure dogs are allowed.
  • Make summertime treats. Yum! Think of all the wonderful fruits available during this season, especially the ones in your fridge that are a little too squishy. Put those in the blender, pour into muffin tins, and pop them in the freezer. If you want to get super gourmet about the whole thing, add a dollop of nut butter to the blender concoction. Just remember, no grapes or raisins, as they are toxic to dogs. Too much fuss? Peel a banana, freeze, and you’re good to go. Get ready for the drooling!
  • Hike the trails. This is another oldy-but-goody with a big payoff. Southern California offers a plethora of hiking trails, whether you live in the middle of the city or somewhere more rural. Don’t forget to take extra water and a bowl for easy drinking. And remember that snakes thrive in heat. Stick to well-traveled paths and always use a leash.
  • Dine out. Escape the over-air-conditioned restaurant interiors and enjoy lunch or dinner on the patio. Your dog will delight in the stimulation of the new sights, unfamiliar smells, and other dogs at nearby tables. And who knows whom you might meet while your dog explores a new friend under the table next to you.
  • Don’t forget the garden hose! Did you play in the sprinkler as a kid? Let yourself indulge in some nostalgic fun. Put on your swimsuit, hook up the hose, and turn the backyard into a water park. Many dogs will chase the hose stream just like they chase a ball, and you can justify the water use by dousing the plants while you’re at it.

Sirius and the Sun will continue their courtship in the sky for a while yet, and when they finally part ways, people in Southern California still have plenty of summer to look forward to. Take advantage of the season. Enjoy your best friend. And while you shouldn’t worry too much about the ancient curses, the seasonal temperatures do require you to take a few extra precautions.

Meghan Blankenship, DVM, offers the following recommendations:

  • The number one summer concern is heat stroke. This preventable condition can cause organ failure and brain damage. It should go without saying that an animal should never be left in the car during summer months. Cars become ovens very quickly, even with windows open. No matter where you go, ensure you have plenty of cool water and a way to provide shade. And stay alert to your dog’s signals. If he slows down, honor the message. Finally, if you have a short-snouted dog, take it very easy. They are much less able to handle the heat.
  • Stick to well-traveled paths to avoid snakes, who are shy and simply doing their part to avoid you. In the case of a bite, go to an emergency clinic as quickly as possible, even if your dog has been vaccinated.
  • If you and your pal prefer city trekking, consider that an egg can fry at 131 degrees. Asphalt easily rises above that temperature under the Dog Days’ sunshine. Provide protective paw-wear for daytime outings.
  • Ditch the flexible lead (the length makes it hard to maintain control) and dump the idea of off-leash walking. Safety matters more than having the cool dog who “never wanders.” Your pooch may be well socialized, but what happens when she runs into the dog who is not? If you see a questionable animal approaching, calmly move in another direction. Also, remember that people shoot off fireworks well past July Fourth. A bomb exploding nearby can cause even the most stable pet to bolt.
  • Be prepared for bee stings. Though not dangerous to most dogs, immediately remove the stinger. Watch for hives, prolonged limping, facial swelling, or vomiting. If any of these occur, see a veterinarian.

Before Sirius and the Sun fade into autumn skies, you and your pup can continue to create new legends for this most beautiful Southern California season. Explore exciting ways to put your dog at the center of the Dog Days of Summer and get ready for extra tongue lolling and tail wagging!



Kait Leonard

Kait Leonard, Ph.D., holds graduate degrees in literature and psychology. She shares her home with five parrots and her American bulldog, Seeger. Her writing interests include psychology, holistic wellness for both people and animals, and whatever human interest topics cross her path.

1 Comment
  1. I’m so glad to see that you are continuing to publish articles by Kait Leonard. I loved both the information in this piece and her sense of humor. I look forward to seeing her next article; she is a winner.

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