There is not a segment of the calendar year which is associated with more intrigue, charm or folklore than the 40-day period during the summer known as “dog days.” With the dog day period having its history rooted in ancient Greek and Roman times, the centuries have contributed much to adages, prose and lore. The science associated with “dog days” originally referred to the time when Sirius, the Dog Star, rose just before or at the same time as the sun. While this is no longer true owing to the procession of the equinoxes, the dog day period has become more defined by hype and superstition than science.
For the ancient Egyptians, since Sirius appeared just before the flooding of the Nile River, the star was used as signal for that event. Since the rising of the Dog Star coincided with a period of extreme heat. The association with hot, sultry and stagnant weather was made for the centuries to follow. In ancient times, “dog days” were believed to be an evil time when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad, and all creatures came to be languid and lethargic, causing man to have burning fevers, hysterics and other illnesses. While these beliefs may seem extreme, the legacy of “dog days” has spawned many more through the years which rival fact or fiction.
My research revealed some interesting beliefs. The period of dog days, which according to the “Old Farmers Almanac” begins July 3 and ends Aug. 11, is a time during which snakes are blind and will strike at anything. Birds do not sing as much. Because these are the days of the year when there is less rainfall, wells may go dry. There is a chance of showers each day during dog days which prompts many farmers not to cut hay during this time. This unpredictable forecast is supported by the belief that if it rains the first day of the dog day period, then it will rain each day afterwards. Sores and wounds are said not to heal during “dog days,” prompting individuals to delay operations and farmers to forego the castration of farm animals. If one walks barefoot through grass in the early morning while it is still wet, they might contract what is known as the “ground itch.” Insects are said to be more plentiful and aggressive during dog days.
Dogs and other animals are said to be more lazy and cantankerous, and in many cases so are humans. In the business world, the “dog days of summer” have found new meaning when referring to the American stock market. Normally, the summer period is a very slow time for the stock market. In addition, poorly performing stocks with little future potential are many times referred to as “dogs.”
When generally speaking of “dog days” there may be a connotation of lying or “dogging” around or being “dog tired” or exhausted on the associated hot and humid days. Regardless of the original source of the phrase “dog days” or their colorful history and legend, they do occur each year, and we all have to endure them.
(Taylor is a Carroll County resident and local forester.)