Put on the Dog - Meaning, Usage and Origin

The literal definition of “put on the dog” might sound like it means putting a dog onto something, or putting something on the dog; however, when used as an idiom, this figure of speech means to behave in a pretentious or ostentatious manner. It could be used to describe someone over-dressing for a casual affair, or someone pulling out all the stops, so-to-speak, to impress someone else or to show off what they have. It could also be used to describe someone who is acting “uppity” or behaving as if they are better than others. This phrase was predominately used as a form of slang by American college students.


The first record of put on the dog was references in Four Years at Yale, by Lyman H. Bagg. In this text, Bagg wrote suggested that the idiom meant: “Dog, style, splurge. To put on dog is to make a flashy display, to cut a swell.” During the same period of time, “doggy” an adjective that was related to the idiom, came about. It, too, was used as a popular slang term that means “attractively stylish; costly; fancy.”

The phrase put on the dog may also be linked to nobility and aristocracy, as wealthier ladies often kept small dogs as pets and allowed them to sit on their laps (so-called “lapdogs”). A common lapdog breed, the Maltese, a long, silky-haired dog that was a highly pampered pet of the noble women of ancient Egypt, Rome, and Greece. The remains of Pekingese, another popular small dog breed that was highly pampered by nobility and served as lapdogs, were found by archeologists in tombs that dated back some 2,000 years. It was believed that the Pekingese were the incarnation of the Chinese Door Guardian god. The dog symbolized wealth and it was the much-beloved pet of the upper class, highly wealthy.

Sophie Tucker, a famous vaudevillian, piano accompanist, Ted Shapiro, wrote a rag song titled “Putting on the Dog”, which became extremely popular. While the phrase has grown out of fashion in the vernacular of the modern era, it is still used on occasion. It is mainly used to describe things that are fancy or that are expensive to purchase, such as wedding attire. It should be noted, however, that the phrase put on the dog is still popular and widely used in humorous, but literal, contexts. This indicates that the majority of people are aware of what the figurative phrase of speech means. To illustrate, the owners of a dog that participated in a dog show were described as “putting on the dog” or “putting on heirs”.

How to Use it in a Sentence

There are several sentences that can be used to illustrate the use of the idiom put on the dog. A few examples of sentences that include this figure or speech are as follows:

  • We always have to put on the dog when my in-laws come for dinner.
  • Jack really put on the dog when he got all dressed up in his best and slicked back his hair before his date.
  • The boss put on the dog when he was trying to attract new customers to the store.
  • Despite the fact that he really put on the dog, I wasn’t impressed.
  • I guess I could have put on the dog a little bit more to get the job, but I guess I really didn’t want to work there, so it’s no big deal.
  • Why do you always have to put on the dog when Sandy comes over? It’s so annoying!
  • There’s no reason to put on the dog; just be yourself and they’ll like you for who you are!
  • Politicians always put on the dog when they’re up for reelection, but they drop the show once they’re elected and show who they really are and what their objectives are.

Phrases/Idioms Similar to Put on the dog

There are a few different phrases that can mean the same thing as “put on the dog”. Examples include:

  • Put on the ritz
  • Pulled out all of the stops
  • Really went whole hog
  • Be fully of yourself
  • Show off
  • Blow your (own) horn
  • Toot your (own) horn
  • Draw attention to yourself

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