Is there any saying in a complete sentence including “a dog which is cornered”? I have tried to find a complete one, but there seems to be no one.

Actually, what I want to know is how to explain the situation in North Korea. Since I think North Korea has been going through hard times and now they have nothing to lose, they keep threatening with their nuclear weapons as their last resort.

So, I want to use a saying. Is there one like “When a dog is cornered, it bites or attacks or something else?” I want to get a fixed sentence, which is cliché.

If there is another saying that can show the situations above, please give that, too.

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    I don't think Anglophones in general consider a dog to be be a typical animal that attacks when cornered - firstly, I'm not convinced they always do, and secondly, dogs often chase and attack even when they're not backed into a corner. The typical animal for this context is a rat, and I know from personal experience that they will attack a person when cornered, even though they would never attack a healthy human in any context where they could escape instead. Mar 15, 2013 at 14:04
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    r"This dog is bad - when you attack it it defends itself" [A good illustration of The Israeli view of Hamas] or something like that - I think originally in French, but I cannot now find it in either English or French, though have certainly heard it mentioned several times.
    – user85878
    Jul 22, 2014 at 16:09
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    I am not aware of any specific idioms in English like what you are asking for. To my knowledge we just refer to someone or something being cornered, and to possibly watch out because of that, relying on the common understanding of the flight-or-fight response
    – Sam
    Jul 22, 2014 at 17:35

5 Answers 5


Yes, there is a saying which relates to this:

Corner a dog in a dead-end street and it will turn and bite

Also, I have seen "back a dog up in the corner it's gonna bite", which means 'If you annoy/irritate something long enough and don't leave an escape route, then they will attack if they feel threatened'.

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    While this is a proverb, it is not an English proverb, it's a translation of a Chinese proverb. Mar 15, 2013 at 11:25

Yes, I've seen the metaphor used. Someone will say: Corner a dog (or an animal, or a snake), and that is when he's most dangerous (or most likely to bite, or most likely to strike) – and the speaker really isn't talking about animal behavior, they are instead describing how people (or nations) can be most dangerous when they feel threatened and cornered.

Here's one example:

He didn't know what to do, but his instincts, his blind rage, the surge of revulsion at what this bully had done, his fear, his pent-up emotions, all spilled over, and he attacked like a cornered animal, gouging, pulling, kicking, punching. (from Bad Intentions: The Mike Tyson Story by Peter Heller, 1995)


Consider, go for broke, stake one's all, and go all in

go for broke

To choose to risk everything; to try to succeed against great odds. We decided to go for broke, and that is exactly how we ended up.

McGraw-Hill's Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions

go all in

Games Staking all of one's chips, as in poker.

Putting all of one's available resources into an effort: The governor mounted a halfhearted campaign for the presidency but didn't go all in.

American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language

Also, have one's back (up) against the wall

have your back against/to the wall

to have very serious problems which limit the ways in which you can act With rising labour costs, industry has its back to the wall. When his back was against the wall he became very aggressive. (Emphasis is mine.)

Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, 2nd ed.


In the military I was trained to refrain from cornering an enemy because a cornered enemy has nothing to lose and they become more dangerous than they would be otherwise. This should help to show that the idea of attacking when in a corner is not limited to animals and is also quite common, even if the wording may change from place to place.


In Chinese: gou ji tiao qiang 狗急跳墙: a cornered dog will jump over the wall., meaning a desperate person is capable of doing anything.

  • Welcome to the English Language & Usage Stack Exchange site. I'm not convinced that a Chinese proverb is really answer to a question asking for an English idiom, I'm afraid.
    – Andrew Leach
    Mar 19, 2016 at 15:12
  • I like this answer, even though it doesn't really help the questioner identify English idioms about cornered dogs. Thanks for your contribution, Elizabeth Yew.
    – Sven Yargs
    Oct 27, 2016 at 1:21

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