We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What Is a "Dog's Life"?

By Alan Rankin
Updated May 23, 2024
Our promise to you
Language & Humanities is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At Language & Humanities, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

The English expression “It’s a dog’s life” and its variations illustrate just how pet ownership has changed in the Western world over the last 400 years. The most common meaning is of a life of poverty and want. Like other negative expressions involving the word dog, the phrase "a dog’s life" originated in the 16th century, when dogs and other house pets did not lead enviable lives. In the 20th century, however, Americans and other people around the world began offering preferential treatment to the animals that shared their homes. Consequently, the expression now sometimes means a pampered and easy life.

Dogs were domesticated by humans at least 15,000 years ago. The first pet dogs probably aided their human masters by protecting their homes, aiding hunting expeditions, and disposing of food scraps, roles still enjoyed by dogs today. This is not to say that dogs always enjoyed privileged roles in human households, however. For most of human history, they were treated like any other livestock. Some cultures even ate dogs when other food was scarce; some cultures still do.

In 16th-century England, dogs were kept by some wealthy landowners because of their well-known ability to trap or fetch prey during a hunt. When not working, these dogs were often housed outside, in rude kennels or whatever cover they could find. They were fed with table scraps, often vying with other dogs for these leftovers. Fleas and other parasites had free run of the dogs, of course, as even human hygiene was far below modern standards. These conditions led English people of the time to describe anyone suffering from poverty and a poor living standard as living “a dog’s life.”

Aside from “a dog’s life,” many other common dog-related expressions had their origin in this era. “To go to the dogs” means to go from prosperity to poverty, while “die like a dog” means to die in a miserable state. “Throw it to the dogs” recalls how the animals subsisted on unwanted scraps, while “in the doghouse” means to be excluded or ostracized. Various other phrases, such as “dirty dog,” are intended to insult or demean people by comparing them to these unfortunate 16th-century canines.

The 20th century was the dawn of a new era for the dog. Many families welcomed dogs into their homes and offered them increasingly ideal lifestyles. Lives of high-profile excess often included dogs; in 2007, New York real estate tycoon Leona Helmsley infamously left a fortune to her pet Maltese. This has led to a new definition of “a dog’s life,” meaning to have a carefree, pampered lifestyle. This reversal of fortune recalls yet another common expression, that “every dog has its day.”

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By Ruggercat68 — On Jan 24, 2014

I know some cats who are living a "dog's life", too. I have always thought it would be nice to come back in a future life as someone's pampered dog. My day would start with sleeping, then eating, then playing, then eating again, and finally sleeping. I suppose it might get boring after a few years, but it sure beats anything we humans go through every day.

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.