Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Origin of Dog Days & Sweating Like a Pig

Miss Ellie Mae, a blonde golden retriever lying on a stone patio with a kneeling pad for weeding and water bottle

Hello fellow readers, Mysteriously, a photo of our dear Miss Ellie appeared while posting last week’s column. It was taken on a hot day while out weeding. Miss Ellie plopped herself in the garden to cool herself off. It brought a smile as recently I snagged a photo of Jolee doing the same thing almost in the same spot.

We certainly have been in the thick of the Dog Days of summer. The Farmer’s Almanac explains that the Dog Days run from July 3 to August 11 each year. So hopefully, soon, we won’t be sweating like a pig. Have you ever wondered where these old sayings originate?

The Origin of the Dog Days of Summer
a white dog with black face mask with black ears sitting in a garden during the dog days of summer

Jolee finds shade in about the same spot.

A an older golden retriever with a white face and big smile named Miss Ellie Mae sitting in a garden.

Miss Ellie Mae was cooling off during the Dog Days of Summer.

Like pigs, dogs barely sweat. However, dogs pant heavily to cool themselves as they only have a few sweat glands on the pads of their feet. Maybe their heavy panting is what earned the name Dog Days. But it turns out it has to do with the stars.

During the peak of summer, the Sun and Sirius, the brightest star we see on earth, are in the same area. And Sirius is in the Canis Major constellation, meaning the Greater Dog. Hence Sirius, which means scorching or glowing in Greek, is referred to as the Dog Star.

The Romans thought Sirius added to the Sun’s heat.

The Dog Days of summer originates from the Roman days when they associated the rise of Sirius before the Sun as the signal of the beginning of evil drought and disease. They thought the brightness of Sirius added to the Sun’s heat. On the contrary, the ancient Egyptians associated the rise of Sirius before the Sun with the floodwaters of the Nile River, which was welcomed to their desert lands bringing fertile soil to grow crops.

While the Dog Star seems to rise later than it did in ancient times, it still appears during the summer heat and is sometimes visible to the naked eye at the height of the day.

We’ve indeed endured a wretchedly hot spell. Never mind the oppressive humidity adding to the misery with several days of heat advisories. Exerting yourself in the heat is downright dangerous. And, combined with the lack of rain, it’s caused havoc to many plants.

a hose with a sprinkler on soaker mode watering new plant babies in a garden.

Use a slow stream or soaker setting from your garden hose.

How to water distressed plants

I’ve advised clients with established gardens to resume watering distressed plants until the dry spell ends. Watering the root zones in the early evening, before 6 PM, is the best time, so leaves have time to dry before nighttime. And it allows the plants to absorb the moisture through the night before the drying sun and heat of the next day. But if you have to use sprinklers, early morning is best, so leaves have all day to dry to reduce the likelihood of foliar disease. And it gives the plants time to absorb the water before it evaporates.

Where does Sweating Like a Pig originate?  

Back to the old time sayings—Like dogs, pigs have only a few sweat glands that aren’t very useful in managing their body temperature, so Wilbur wallows in the mud to cool off. The adage sweating like a pig comes from melting pig iron, a crude iron that sweats when it cools. Pig iron was so named because it’s shaped into molds that look like suckling piglets.

a brown wooden plaque with a a poem about losing a dog in white lettering leaning against a green wall. a white dog with black ears sitting on a screen porch next to a plaque with a poem about dogs Dog Days can last forever.

The photos of Miss Ellie and Jolee cooling themselves in the garden bring to mind a poem by an anonymous writer given to me soon after Miss Ellie passed.

“It came to me that every time I lose a dog, they take a piece of my heart with them, and every new dog who comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough, all of the components of my heart will be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are.”

Those that have had the privilege know that the Dog Days, the days with our dogs, last forever in our hearts. The same is true of all of our beloved pets.

Garden Dilemmas? and your favorite Podcast App.

You’ll enjoy more of the story in Episode 69 of the Garden Dilemmas Podcast:

Watering Distressed Plants is much like Watering New Plant Babies

Link to a cherished Pet Memorial Celebration in a previous column titled Forest Bathing

and the blessing of Miss Ellie Mae, my- Unexpected Furry Messenger 

Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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