The Dog Days of Summer

The term “dog days” dates back to ancient times when people in different parts of the world began drawing images of the sky by connecting the dots of stars, now called constellations. 

These dots allowed people around the world to “see” certain images. Our European ancestors saw bears (hence Ursa Major and Ursa Minor), some saw twins (Gemini), others a bull (Taurus). They also visualized dogs (Canis Major and Canis Minor,) and the brightest of the stars was Canis Major (the big dog named Sirius). 

This dog star rises and sets with the sun and during late July and into August people once believed that its heat added to the heat of the sun which allowed for a long period of hot, sultry weather to follow. Of course today we know that this far-away star does not contribute to hot weather. The intense heat of summer is as a result of the earth’s tilt but also now because of climate warming. Nonetheless, this period of extreme heat which sometimes continues well into September, became known as “the dog days of summer” and was named for the Dog Star Sirius.

This got me thinking about dogs in general today. Remember the time when the family dog was called Rover, Rex, Fido or Spot? Whatever happened to those names? When did things suddenly change and pets began to have fancy, exotic, names?

For instance, within our neighbourhood, we have had dogs going by the grand names of  “Paris”, “Ruby”, “Rupert”, “Jake”, “Jenny”, “Penny”, “Kelsey”, “Poncho” and even “Soleil.” And at dog obedience class, we met up with a “Honey”, a “Pearl” and an “Emma.” 

I have also made the acquaintance of a “Dudley, a “Molson”, a “Miller”, a “Bailey”, a “Morgan”, an “Amber”, a “Chimo”, a “Robbie” and a “Lucy,” not to mention a “Bear”, a “Lady Bear” and even a “Mr. Lester.”  But still no sign of a Rover anywhere!

Modern day dog can trace its ancestry back about 40 million years to a weasel-like animal called the Miacis, which had five toes. This animal was pre-cat, pre-raccoon, pre-bear and pre-hyena. Miacis was probably a tree climber who lived in a den and always left its quarters for toilet purposes. Modern day dogs have this in-born instinct never to soil their own bed, even though they might be happy to leave puddles on the carpet before being trained!

The evolution of the dog continued down the line to Cynodictis, a creature which more resembled the dog as we know it today. From there, the dog evolved through an animal called Tomarctus, which lived about 10 million years ago during the Miocene epoch. Tomarctus began to develop strong social instincts, and slowly developed into the Canidae family. Members of the genus canis family include the dog, the wolf and the jackal, which all developed to their present forms about a million years ago during the Pleistocene epoch.

Throughout modern history, we have also seen some very famous dogs, such as Laika, the first dog in space aboard the Soviet satellite Sputnik 2 in 1957; Lassie (there were many of them) those popular collie movie star dogs, the first of which starred in the movie Lassie Come Home in 1942; Rin Tin Tin another famous canine movie star, a German shepherd who starred in 19 movies before his death in 1932, and “Muggins”, a WWI hero who collected donations for the Red Cross.

A notorious French dog named Le Diablo once smuggled lace across the French border under its false skin which had been dyed to confuse custom officials.

And back in the 11th century AD, a dog named Saur actually became “king” of Norway for three years. The Norwegian king was angry that his subjects had deposed him so he put Saur on the throne and made sure the dog was treated with royal respect!

In Ancient Greece, another dog named Soter was one of 50 watchdogs that survived attack by invaders and then ran all the way to the gates of Corinth to warn the citizens there.

So it’s hardly any wonder we hold our dogs in such high regard today and give them such grandiose names. They all deserve our love and respect.

Meanwhile, enjoy these dog days of August! Long may they last – but no more heat domes please!