My father was originally a country boy, born in Australia at the beginning of the 20th century.

He had a number of typically Australian expressions (e.g. "stone the crows"), but the one I remember most was "you lie like a dog in straw".

He always used this as a friendly jibe of disbelief when someone in the family was obviously trying to fool him with some story. I was quite young when I figured out the play on words inherent in this expression, which is why I've remembered it so well. However, every reference I can find in a preliminary search of the internet has a shortened version "you lie like a dog" which, among other things, has lost its early rural association (i.e. the availability of straw).

My question then: does anyone know of a documented use of the 'full' expression as handed down to me by my father, or of any other references to this version? (which, to me, has an air of earlier authenticity).

  • 2
    I searched and the only place I found this expression is this post. (This doesn't mean it wasn't an expression. Maybe it just wasn't written down. Maybe someone with access to historical Australian newspapers will find something.) However, I did find a similar expression "lie like a dog in a manger". One last thing: the source of "lie like a dog" is much older than your father.
    – Laurel
    Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 3:15
  • 2
    "Like a dog in a manger" is in Aesop's Fables (taken from a much earlier Greek fable), but it has a totally different meaning to "Lie like a dog in a manger" which arose much later and was, itself, intended to convey a quite different meaning to the expression I'm asking about ("You lie like a dog in straw"). Also, I'm not sure why you would point out that the source of "lie like a dog" is 'much older than your father'. Did you think I was claiming this expression originated with him? A specific source citation would've been more appropriate and less patronizing.
    – CRM
    Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 10:40
  • I have certainly heard it before, but I couldn't find a written record of it either - short or long. It must be an oral tradition spread by bards in various forms.
    – user22542
    Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 0:53
  • I have heard a number of different variations on "lie like a dog". Most are simply making a pun on the word "lie", and there's no real significance to it, though some are funnier, and others get in a little extra "punch" (the motion, not the beverage).
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 9, 2019 at 23:15
  • 1
    My own mother was always partial to lie like a rug books.google.com/ngrams/… Commented Jan 9, 2020 at 0:16

3 Answers 3


Early lying like a dog

The root expression seems to have been simply "lie like a dog." The earliest match for the phrase that an Early English Books Online search turns up is from George Whetstone, The Right Excellent and Famous Historye, of Promos and Cassandra Deuided into Two Commicall Discourses (1578):

Phallax [an officer]. Friend be not to cranke, / I am an officer, and meane to know / The cause, why you brauld thus, before I goe: / Your bobs show, that the same, you best can tell.

Rapax [a "Promoter"]. I would your worship, felt the same as well, / I then am sure, this blockhedded slaue, / For both his faultes, double punishment should haue.

Phallax. What faultes?

Rapax. Marry,

Iohn Adroynes ["A Clowne"]. He wyll lye lyke a dogge.

Phallax. How now you churle, your tongue, would haue a clog, Say on:

Rapax. To showe his first, and chiefest faughte: / His Fathers maide, and he are naught.

Iohn. What I?

Rapax. I.

Iohn. By my Grandsires soule, you lye.

Here "lye lyke a dogge" seems to mean something like "tell untruths as with as little conscience as a dog has."

From Austin Saker, Narbonus: The Laberynth of Libertie (1580):

As for the Gentleman Courtier, his felicitie is not the happyest, nor his gaine the greatest: when he is in the prime of his youth, he must bee braue in apparell, and lauish of his pursse, neate in his going, and stately in his gate: courteous of behauiour, and curious in his choyce: liberall of his liuing, and no niggard of his loyaltie: his grace must be liked, and his maners marked: If he be a comely personage, then is hee hated of his inferiours: if faire, then effeminate: if blacke, then meeter to bee a Souldiour, then [fi]tte to be a Courteour: if well fauoured, disdeyned of the deformed: if kind and louing to all, then a Parasite, and a Flatterer: if something strange of acquayntance before he be knowen, then proude, and disdeyneth to speake: if riche, then a churle: if but of small reuenewes, then a shifter, and knoweth not elsewhere to liue: if high of stature, then a lubber: if low of making, then a Dwarfe: if liked of some Gentlewoman, then a hunter of that kinde: if he talke not in their companies, then precise, and tyed to his chastitie: if not content to put vp iniuries, a quareller, and a hacker: if patiente sometime to beare, rather than to make a brabbling for nothing, then is he a milkesop, and as good a man as Maulkin: if liked of the Nobilitie, and beloued of Gentlemen, then eyther he caries two faces in one hoode, or doth lye like a Dog: if disliked of a few not his freends, & them some vayne persons, therfore vnregarded of many, and not beloued of any: if he spend something liberally, then is he prodigall, and neuer mindeth to buy lands: if something hard, then miserable, and a churle: if liked of his Prince, then a faire tounged fellow, or he coulde neuer gayned such good will: if not loued for affection sake, then hated of all, and indéede rather a conspiratour, then of any honest demeanour.

The lying here appears likewise to refer to dissembling, as it does again in "A Merry New Song How a Bruer Meant to Make a Cooper Cuckold and How Deere the Bruer Paid for the Bargaine" (1590?)

The Bruer that vnder the Fat did lye, / Like a Pig did assay to grunt and crie: / But alas his voice was nothing small, / He cryed so big that he mard all.

Wife said the Cooper this is no pig, / But an old hog he grunteth so big, / He lift vp the Fat then by and by, / There lay the Bruer like a Bore in a stie.

Wife said the Cooper thou wilt lie like a dog / This is no pig but a very old hog: / I sweare quoth the Cooper I doe not like him, / Ile knock him on the head ere ile kéepe him.

The sense is also unmistakable in the next example, although it is then taken wrongly (as a jest) by the second party to the quoted dialogue. From John Taylor, A Dog of War, or, The Trauels of Drunkard, the Famous Curre of the Round-Woolstaple in Westminster His Seruices in the Netherlands, and Lately in France, with His Home Returne (1628):

But many pretty rediculous aspersions are cast vpon Dogges, so that it would make a Dogge laugh to heare and vnderstand them: As I haue heard a Man say, I am as hot as a Dogge, or, as cold as a Dogge; I sweate like a Dogge, (when indeed a Dogge neuer sweates,) as drunke as a Dogge, he swore like a Dogge: and one told a Man once, That his Wife was not to be beleeu'd, for she would lye like a Dog; marry (quoth the other) I would giue twelue pence to see that trick, for I haue seene a Dog to lye with his Nose in his Tayle.

From very early times, then, speakers were conscious of the competing meanings of lie as "tell an untruth" and "position oneself horizontally."

Nevertheless, some early instances refer simply to literal or figurative placement in a demeaning position. For example, from Richard Fowns, Trisagion or, The Three Holy Offices of Iesus Christ, the Sonne of God, Priestly, Propheticall, and Regall How They Ought of All his Church to Be Receiued (1618):

Other Potentates also haue beene brought to the lowest deiection, and basest slauery that might be. ... Franciscus Dandalus to lye like a dogge vnder the Popes table being Clement the fift, and there to gnaw bones to satisfie the Papall fury.

The earliest match for lying like a dog in something involves a manger, consistent with the information that Laurel provides in a comment above. From Thomas Dekker, The Honest Whore with, the Humours of the Patient Man, and the Longing Wife (1604):

Crambo. No more to doe, but insconce your selfe i'th taueren; prouide no great cheate, couple of Capons, some Phesants, Plouers, an Oringeado-pie or so: but how bloudy so ere the day be, sally you not forth.

Fustigo. No, no, nay if I stir, some body shal stinke: ile not budge: ile lie like a dog in a manger.

This usage seems to be intended literally as the behavior of a lazy dog; there is no hint here of dishonesty. To my surprise, I could not find another instance of "lying like a dog in a manger"—which would seem closely akin to "lying like a dog in straw"—after Dekker's until this instance in a speech by Representative Bertram Podell of New York titled "France: Faithless Ally and Betryer of Israel," in The Congressional Record (January 8, 1969):

She ["De Gaulle's France"] lies like a dog in the European manger, refusing entry into the Common Market to England, who bled for her, helped free her, and seeks to enter peacefully into a European economic union. It is perhaps the last best hope for a cure to the disease of European nationalism that has twice almost destroyed the world.

As in this instance, the familiar trope of "a dog in a manger" generally focuses on a very different type of behavior: denying something that is of no use to oneself to others who could benefit from it.

Meanwhile, "lying like a dog" in the "telling falsehoods" sense does appear in a variety of longer phrases, including "lie like a dog licking a plate" (sometimes rendered as "lie as fast as a dog will lick a plate"), "lie like a dog on a rug," "lie like a dog a-trotting," and "lie like a dog running on hot sand."

The association of lying (in the sense of telling falsehoods) with dogs evidently occurs in languages besides English. John Williams, The Rise and Progress of the Northern Governments; viz. the United Provinces, Denmark, Sweden, Russia, and Poland, volume 2 (1777) describes a judicial punishment against calumniators that, he says, is "still practiced in Poland":

When a calumniator is judicially convicted of his crime, he is conducted into the great hall of the senate, where he is obliged to lie down under the seat of him whom he has offended and there, in this humiliating situation, he is obliged to pronounce, with a loud voice, that he repents sincerely of the calumnies and falsehoods that he has wickedly spread against the reputation of the person whom he accused, and that he lied like a dog; and after this public confession the guilty person is obliged to counterfeit three times the barking of a dog, which terminates this singular scene.

Update (May 10, 2021): Even earlier lying like a dog

Bartlett Whiting, Proverbs, Sentences, and Proverbial Phrases from English Writings Mainly Before 1500 (1968) has an interesting entry for "lie like a dog" that includes five citations from approximately the period 1300–1420:

To lie (in field, etc.) like a Dog (hound) (varied) c1300 Havelok 63.1921–2: Ile on other wirwed lay Als it were dogge that weren hanged. c1330 Praise of Women 296.227–9 And as a dogge in feld to ly, Wolves and houndes to don his masse Bi night. c1385 Chaucer TC iv 626: Shulle in a strete as dogges liggen dede. c1400 Laud Troy II 362.12290: And ligge In dykes as ded houndes. c1420 Wyntoun III 263.729–30: And outhe the erde but sepulture As a doge lay that emperoure.

The ineteresting thing about these early instances is that all of them seem to focus on lying dead in the open—that is, unburied—like a dog.

Lying like a dog in straw

I couldn't find any instances of this expression in newspaper or book databases online. The closest expression that I did find is from Walter De La Mere, "The Creatures," in The London Mercury (January 1920):

He stooped forward, lean, darkened, objurgatory. "Don't we make our world? Isn't that our blessed, our betrayed responsibility?"

I nodded, and ensconced myself, like a dog in straw, in the basest of all responses to a rare, even if eccentric, candour—caution.

The simile in this case is to a dog resting in a nest of straw. There is no sense that the narrator's nodding amounts to a falsehood, but that he is building a cocoon of caution around himself rather than responding to the other speaker's candor with openness of his own.


I could not find any instances of "lie like a dog in straw" in the various online book and newspaper databases I checked. The expression may be used in pockets of the English-speaking world today, and its usage may go back a considerable distance into the past, but it hasn't left a trail that I could discover.


A brief scan with Ngram:

  • lie like a dog in a manger
  • lie like a dog in your bed
  • lie like a dog in a kennel
  • lie like a dog on a rug during a July day in Florida
  • lie like a dog a-trotting
  • lie like a dog licking a plate

There probably are more, but the string seems to pull up an awful lot of bad hits -- either the string is not found or the book text isn't accessible.


You seem to have conflated "you lie like a dog in straw", and "You lie like a dog" which mean different things.

A dog in straw is comfortable. Here “dog” is literal, and there is a punning use of “lie” - "You lie like a dog in straw" = “you tell untruths very comfortably or “You sound very comfortable (i.e. 'at ease') when you say that.” The point here is that if you are telling untruths, your conscience should make you uncomfortable.

In “You lie like a dog”, there is no pun with "lie", which means "to tell untruths" and “dog” is used as a pejorative.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.