When I first heard there was something called Dog Days, I got very excited because I thought it was a special time of year when all the humans would make a big fuss over dogs and give them lots of yummy treats. But Mom told me that is not what Dog Days are. So then I thought maybe it was a time when the weather got really hot and made everybody pant like a dog. And Mom said that was closer to the truth, but she thought I should do some in-depth research on the subject, so I did.
And what I learned was that there is a star that is actually called the DOG STAR, which I think is totally cool, especially since it's the very brightest star in the whole sky! Another name for this star is Sirius, which comes from an Ancient Greek word that means "scorcher." There are really two Sirius stars -- Sirius A and Sirius B. The A star is the one that is big and bright, and the B star is a little tiny star called a white dwarf. Here's a picture of the two Sirius stars that was taken from the Hubble telescope.
Anyway, Sirius got to be called the Dog Star because it's part of the constellation Canis Major, which means "big dog" in Latin. There is also a "little dog," and it's called Canis Minor. In this picture, you can see the stars that make the Big Dog constellation, but in my opinion they don't look much like a dog.
But some people used their imaginations, and they came up with a dog like this, which is sort of like a greyhound. Anyway, it's supposed to be a dog that belongs to Orion, who is some hunter dude who is in another constellation. And there's a rabbit constellation that the dog is chasing. These are the kinds of stories people come up with when they don't have TVs, so they sit outside at night and look at the stars a lot.
I got to wondering what the Little Dog looked like, because I thought it might be a basenji, but it's not. Here's a picture of it, but I couldn't figure out what breed it is, exactly. Maybe it's just a good old-fashioned mutt.
Anyway, getting back to Dog Days. In ancient times in Egypt, the people used to watch for Sirius (which they called Sopdet) to show up on the eastern horizon right before the sun came up. And when this started happening, it meant the Nile River was going to flood soon, which was an important event because the Nile brought them lots of nice dirt from further upstream. So they thought that when this star showed up, it was a good thing.
But the Ancient Greeks thought that when Sirius came, it had a bad effect on dogs and made they behave in weird ways and pant too much and maybe even get rabies. The Greeks said that the hot days of summer were "dog days" because only dogs would be mad enough to go out in the heat. I resent that the Greeks said this about dogs because I think dogs are much smarter than to go out in the heat. The dogs I know would much rather stay in the house where it's air-conditioned. Or if they have to be outside, they will dig a nice cool place in the dirt under a bush and sleep there.
The Romans came right out and blamed Sirius for causing hot weather in July and August. Every year they sacrificed a brown dog because they thought it would make Sirius be less angry. I think this was a mean and terrible thing to do, and I don't think it probably worked very well. At least I'm glad it wasn't a black-and-white dog that was sacrificed!
A lot of people in history didn't like the Dog Days much because they thought that what happened during this evil time was that the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs went mad, and people got feverish or hysterical. Which explains why people weren't exactly handing out special treats to dogs during the Dog Days.
Nowadays people mostly know that the Dog Star does not cause all the bad stuff that happens when there is a lot of hot weather. Or at least they ought to know. But in case they don't, PETA, which stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has filed a formal petition with the International Astronomical Union to ask them to change the nickname of Sirius to something besides Dog Star. They said, "We believe it's degrading to Dachshunds, Great Danes, Doberman Pinschers and other dogs to have their name flippantly used like this."
Personally, I kind of like it that there's a star named for dogs. I think a better idea would be for Dog Days to be changed to be a time for celebrating dogs and hugging them and adopting them and giving them treats and doing lots of neat stuff like that. Wouldn't that be great?