Dog idioms in Italian

In this lesson you’ll learn the most common and interesting dog idioms in Italian.

If you’re a cat person, you may also want to check the most common cat idioms in Italian.

Let’s start!

Click here to go to the dog idioms in Italian interactive exercises!


Dog idioms in Italian: more than one dog

Fare una vita da cani

A dog’s life is a terrible life in English and the same can be said in Italian.

Fare una vita da cani
To lead a dog’s life
Literally: to make dogs’ life

Che vita da cani!
What a miserable life!

Questa pandemia ci costringe a fare una vita da cani.
This pandemic forces us to lead a miserable life.


Raddrizzare le gambe ai cani

This is the Italian counterpart to to teach an old dog new tricks. You can’t really teach an old dog new tricks, so this Italian idioms serves to address a problem that can’t be solved no matter how many times you try.

Raddrizzare le gambe ai cani
To teach an old dog new tricks
Literally: to straighten dog’s legs

dog idioms in italian - raddrizzare le gambe ai cani
Raddrizzare le gambe ai cani
To teach an old dog new tricks

Farsi obbedire da un gatto è come raddrizzare le gambe ai cani.
Making a cat obey you is like teaching an old dog new tricks.


Dog idioms in Italian: one dog

Essere come cane e gatto

If you’ve followed the previous lesson on cat idioms, you’ll remember this one.

It translates to to be like cats and dogs. It means to be archenemies.

Essere come cane e gatto
To be like cats and dogs
Literally: to be like cat and dog

I miei due figli sono come cane e gatto. Litigano sempre!
My sons are like cats and dogs. They are always fighting!


Can che abbaia non morde

Abbaiare means to bark. Mordere means to bite.

Can che abbaia non morde
Its bark is worse than its bite
Literally: barking dog doesn’t bite


Trattare qualcuno come un cane

This idiom can be translated literally as to treat somebody like a dog.

Trattare qualcuno come un cane
To treat somebody like a dog

Mi sento trattato come un cane.
I feel like I’m treated like a dog.


Non svegliare il cane che dorme

Meaning, don’t go looking for problems.

Trivia: Hogwarts’ motto is Draco dormiens numquam titillandus, “never tickle a sleeping dragon”.

Non svegliare il can che dorme
Let sleeping dogs lie
Literally: don’t wake up the sleeping dog

dog idioms in italian - non svegliare il can che dorme
Non svegliare il can che dorme
Let sleeping dogs lie

Cane non mangia cane

This is an interesting idiom. It’s derived from the Latin canis canem non est, which literally means dog doesn’t eat dog. A thief won’t damage another thief.

As the English language adopted it, however, this Latin idiom lost its original meaning completely. This is why it expresses a completely different concept in the English language: dog-eat-dog world.

Cane non mangia cane
There is honor among thieves
Literally: dog doesn’t eat dog


Menare il can per l’aia

Menare means to beat. Aia means barnyard.

In the past, people used to thresh grain in barnyards by letting heavy farm animals walk on it. Light-weight animals such as dogs and hens would have taken much more time to thresh the same amount of grain, hence the idiom.

Menare il can per l’aia
To beat around the bush
Literally: beat the dog around the barnyard

You may have noticed, in some of these idioms, that cane is written as can. This is a contracted, literary form of this noun and it’s found in these dog idioms in Italian. Although they are less common, that means you can also say Menare il cane per l’aia or Non svegliare il cane che dorme!


What next?

Click here to go to the dog idioms in Italian interactive exercises!

Now that you’ve seen the most common dog idioms in Italian, you might want to keep learning Italian online with these free Italian resources:

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