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 out the most common cat idioms in Italian.

Let’s get started!


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 is forcing us to live a miserable life.


Raddrizzare le gambe ai cani

This is the Italian equivalent of to teach an old dog new tricks. You can’t really teach an old dog new tricks, so this Italian idiom is used 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 dogs’ legs

dog idioms in italian - raddrizzare le gambe ai cani

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!

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Language: English / Italian
Publisher: For Dummies
Pages: 672

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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 literally translated as to treat someone like a dog.

Trattare qualcuno come un cane
To treat someone like a dog

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


Non svegliare il cane che dorme

Which means, don’t go looking for trouble.

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

Cane non mangia cane

This is an interesting idiom. It comes from the Latin canis canem non est, which literally means dog doesn’t eat dog. A thief will not harm another thief.

When the English language adopted it, this Latin idiom completely lost its original meaning. In the English language, it expresses a completely different concept: 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. Lighter animals such as dogs and chickens 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?

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