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What does "in the Doghouse" Mean?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 23, 2024
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The phrase “in the doghouse” is a figure of speech with its roots in the English language. More particularly, this idiom is of American origin and usually refers to currently being out of favor with someone of importance. As with all idioms, the application of this phrase is an example of colorful language that conjures up a powerful and vivid image in order to describe a situation.

Figures of speech like this one seek to create a visual image that expresses the degree of emotion present in a given situation, but still maintaining a small amount of humor. In American culture, the phrase has particular meaning, owing to the fact that canines are sometimes banished from the home when they misbehave. Instead of being inside with the pet owners, the dog must seek shelter in a doghouse in the back yard until the owners choose to allow the pet back into the home.

It is possible to be in the doghouse in a number of different situations. Most commonly, the phrase is applied to a period of discord between romantic partners. A spouse who repeatedly fails to arrive home at a reasonable time each evening, for example, might be in disfavor. Eventually, the other person in the relationship could decide that this is no longer a tolerable circumstance and take action to express his or her displeasure. This may include informing the offending partner that he or she will temporarily be barred from sharing a bedroom with the offended party. As a result, the offending party must seek shelter elsewhere.

Employees can also be in the doghouse with a supervisor or manager. Once again, this usually comes about because the individual has failed to comply with the expectations or wishes of the other party in the business relationship. While out of favor, the employee may receive some type of disciplinary action, lose the option of a promotion or raise, or lose privileges until the confidence of the manager is restored.

There is likely no human relationship that does not experience this phenomenon. Disobedient children fall out of favor with frustrated parents. Municipal officials may choose actions that cause citizens to lose confidence in his or her leadership, getting him or her in trouble with his or her constituency. Even friends occasionally disappoint one another.

Fortunately, this idiom does not refer to a permanent state. In most cases, the offending party can make some type of restitution and once again be in the good graces of the offended party.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including Language & Humanities, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By jmc88 — On Jun 18, 2012

@jcarig - I have to agree. Despite what this article says I do not hear this phrase used that often anymore outside of the realm of sports as it is a quite popular term to use.

Because of the level of emotions associated by all that are involved with sports, including the players, coaches, executives, and fans, someone is more likely to be placed into the doghouse if they were to screw up somehow.

I know that sometimes a player will be put in the doghouse because of inept or under achieving play, but because their coach has faith they will rebound they will continue to play to break out of their slump.

In this instance the player is not in the dog house with anyone unless he or she begins to be booed by the fans for the lack luster performance.

When this occurs the media could also cast the player in the doghouse and it can be tough for the person to repair their reputation when this happens.

By jcraig — On Jun 17, 2012

I feel like this phrase is used most commonly in sports when a player either gets on the manager or coaches bad side or has done something very foolish and cost their team dearly.

I know that there are instances in which players will sit for long instances at a time and they are described as being in the dog house for a certain reason that may not even be known.

Sometimes a player will be sat simply do for behavioral issues and not necessarily because of their play on the field. This is usually the worst kind of being in the dog house because basically the coach refuses to play the person because they feel that they are detrimental to the team not because of their play which can be improved, but because of their attitude or their lack of discipline required to be part of the team.

By serenesurface — On Jun 17, 2012

@fify-- I hadn't thought about that, but you are right that this idiom is very much American. The exact origin of the phrase is not known, but it first began to be used in the United States, around the 1930s if I remember correctly.

Some English experts think that the origin of the idiom goes back to the children's story "Peter Pan." The actual phrase "in the doghouse" is not found in the story. But there is a part where the father of the children in Peter Pan goes to the doghouse because he is so ashamed of how he wasn't able to protect his children.

It's possible that other writers took this as inspiration to come up with the phrase "in the doghouse." But there isn't a single person who can be credited for coming up with the phrase. And even though Peter Pan was written in United Kingdom, the phrase first became popular in the US, not UK.

By fify — On Jun 16, 2012

@anamur-- Yes, you are right. It makes sense, I don't think it's offensive either. But it is necessary to know American culture to understand the idiom.

I'm not American and when I first heard this idiom after coming to the States, I was very confused. I took the phrase literally and I had no idea why my friend would go into a doghouse! I grew up with a dog but our dog was always indoors. And even if she did something wrong, she didn't have a doghouse in the yard that we could send her to anyway.

So I think that sending a dog to a doghouse as punishment is more common in the West. This idiom doesn't make much sense unless someone is familiar with the culture.

By the way, do you know what the origin of this idiom is? Is it a very old idiom?

By serenesurface — On Jun 16, 2012

I like this idiom, it's so funny!

Some people might find the idiom kind of offensive, because it compares a person to a dog. But in a way, it's true, because it's talking about a situation or relationship where someone has the upper hand over the other. Someone doesn't end up "in the doghouse" unless they did something wrong and are being punished for it. It does imply that the person who is doing the punishment is superior and can make decisions about the status of the relationship. But isn't that usually the case, whether it's a romantic or professional relationship? I think so.

I think in romantic relationships, there is a general understanding that whoever makes a mistake will ask for forgiveness and will try to make up for it. That's the only way to keep the relationship together. And you can't expect the person who didn't do anything wrong to make amends.

So for a short while, the person who is in the right does sort of become superior and calls the shots in the relationship. The one who is at fault can end up "in the doghouse." But thankfully, couples who are in love always want to make up, and make things work. So no one stays in the dog house for too long.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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