By Janet Coulter, MSN, MS, RN, CCM, FCM

Ahhhh…the “Dog Days of Summer”! My Grandpa always called the month of August “the Dog Days of Summer.” It’s the time to enjoy the last days at the pool or water park, take that last summer trip with the family and start getting ready to go back to school or college. Summer activities start to fade into Fall activities.

But where did that saying come from? The phrase “Dog Days” was coined thousands of years ago to describe uncomfortably hot weather and it centers around the rising of the Sirius sun or “the Dog Star.”  The “Dog Star” is only visible for 40 days each year. This is usually the hottest stretch of summer. The ancient Egyptians believed the sun’s energy combined with the energy from Sirius resulted in excessively hot temperatures. Historically, “Dog Days” meant extreme heat, sudden thunderstorms, drought and bad luck. The heat is really a result of the Earth’s tilt. During this time, the Sun’s rays hit the earth at a more direct angle and for a longer period during the day. This causes longer, hotter days. Greek poets wrote about the return of Sirius and its effects on plants, animals and humans. They believed that when the star Sirius passed over the heads of men, Zeus sent the autumn rains and then leaves fell to the ground. Aristotle mentions the heat of dog days as part of his argument against an early formulation of evolution in Physics. Seneca’s Oedipus complains of "the scorching dog-star's fires.” Homer’s Iliad, probably composed in the 8th century BC, describes Achilles’ approach toward Troy where he will slay Hector. A metaphor is used to illustrate the effects of Sirius:

Priam saw him first, with his old man's eyes,
A single point of light on Troy's dusty plain.
Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky
On summer nights, star of stars,
Orion's Dog they call it, brightest
Of all, but an evil portent, bringing heat
And fevers to suffering humanity.
Achilles' bronze gleamed like this as he ran.

According to the Farmers’ Almanac, the phrase “Dog Days” was translated from Latin to English about 500 years ago and it has taken on multiple meanings. For some, it means hot, sultry days that are “not fit for a dog” or extreme heat that drives dogs mad.

Dog days bright and clear
Indicate a good year;
But when accompanied by rain,
We hope for better times in vain.

In modern times, "Dog Day" promotions are commonly used by baseball parks to boost ticket sales during mid-afternoon games. In popular culture, “Dog Days” were mentioned in the film, Dog Day Afternoon (1975). Several songs make reference to “Dog Days” including Head of David's "Dog Day Sunrise" covered by Fear Factory in 1995; Florence and the Machine's 2009 "Dog Days Are Over", as well as the album Dog Days by the U.S. southern rock band Atlanta Rhythm Section. Dog Days is also the title of a 2012 opera by composer David T. Little and librettist Royce Vavrek, based on the short story by Judy Budnitz.

As Case Managers, we assist our patients to navigate through their “Dog Days.” We provide support during that difficult time when they receive a diagnosis or prognosis. We provide education to assist them in making informed decisions about their healthcare and provide support during an illness, hospitalization or rehabilitation. We provide referrals to community agencies and so much more. Case Managers help turn their “Dog Days” into cooler Fall days.

I hope you are enjoying the “Dog Days of Summer.” Keep your children and animals well hydrated! And don’t forget the sunscreen! I’m looking forward to cooler days, football season, leaves changing colors and the grandchildren’s back-to-school activities!

Bio: Janet Coulter, MSN, MS, RN, CCM, FCM, is a transplant case manager with a wide variety of experiences including educator, administrator, team leader, and Director of Case Management. Janet holds a Master of Science in Nursing from West Virginia University and a Master of Science in Adult Education from Marshall University. She has published many articles in CMSA Today and the Professional Case Management Journal and served as a reviewer for the Core Curriculum for Case Management Third Edition. She currently serves as Chair of the CMSA Today Editorial Board and Secretary of the CMSA Foundation board. Janet was the recipient of the CMSA National Award of Service Excellence and Southern Ohio Valley CMSA Case Management Leadership award and was recently inducted as a Case Management Fellow from CMSA.

Helping your patients through their "Dog Days" takes knowledge, skill, and experience. Elevate your practice with CMSA Integrated Case Management Training this fall, November 15-17. Find out more here: