A Story of the Human-Canine Relationship

By Sandy Masuo

Many consider the hot, languid, tail end of summer “dog days.” But the phrase “dog days of summer” has nothing to do with actual dogs or weather.

The ancient Greeks considered dog days to be the period of time (late July in ancient Greece) when the Dog Star, Sirius (the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major), appears to rise above the horizon just before the sun. The dog days of summer were considered a time of portent, when illness, misfortune, and natural disasters are prone to happen. In fact, the word “disaster” is Greek in origin, and means literally bad (“dis”) star (“aster”)—or ill-starred.

Constellation with Canis Minor and Canis Major

“Canis Major, the great dog, was believed to be following the mythic hunter Orion across the night sky. “

Canis Major, the great dog, was believed to be following the mythic hunter Orion across the night sky. (Interestingly, the brightest star in Canis Minor is called “Procyon,” the genus to which raccoons belong.) Millennia ago, early humans and gray wolves first struck up a relationship based on the mutual need to hunt. Ancient humans and wolves hunted in much the same way, tracking the prey over long distances to wear them out before attacking. Humans learned they could more successfully track animals with canine help, and canines learned that humans would protect them and share the kill in exchange for their assistance.

August 26 is National Dog Day—a day to honor and celebrate canines whose job description has diversified considerably. They now hunt for missing people, explosives, drugs, cancer cells, the enzymes produced by humans prior to heart attacks and epileptic seizures, contraband animal and plant products, poachers, and more. They guide visually impaired humans and guard livestock, act as extra hands for people with restricted mobility and make connections with people who are emotionally remote or cognitively challenged.

So today, be sure to give your dog or someone else’s a pat on the back.


Related Content:

Learn more about the Zoo’s maned wolf, which is located in South America across from Cafe Pico.


Originally published in the Zoo’s staff newsletter Gnus, titled “Barking Mad,” relating to the “time of portent” known as the dog days of summer.