Dogs of War – Origin and Meaning

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Language itself is such a fascinating subject, and the use of idiomatic expressions often enriches and enlivens our conversations, as well as any writing we do. As an author, I use idioms all the time! One fairly popular and super old idiom is “the dogs of war.”

So, let’s take a look at the metaphorical nature of this idiom as I explain its origin and show you the full version and how you can put it in a sentence.

Is “Dogs of War” a Metaphor?

Yes, “the dogs of war” is indeed a metaphor with no literal meaning. There are no actual dogs in war, for the most part, making this phrase a metaphor and an idiom.

Meaning of Dogs of War

Dogs of War Origin Meaning

The shortened phrase “the dogs of war” captures the idea of war as a force that, once unleashed, is very difficult to control from either side.

It’s meant to represent a vivid and powerful image and compares the unleashed chaos and devastation of actual war to that of a pack of wild, uncontrollable dogs.

The saying is supposed to conjure up this idea of war being crazy, uncontrollable chaos from both sides as if the people and the weapons were indeed a bunch of wild animals.

What Is the “Dogs of War” Quote in Full?

It’s unnecessary to use the full quote to convey the message because it’s been shortened for so long that most people understand what you mean when you just say, “the dogs of war.”

But the full quote is, “Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war.”

Origin of Dogs of War Saying

Like a lot of quotes, it originates from William Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar,” where the infamous character Mark Antony utters the words after Caesar’s assassination. It’s supposed to express the idea of inciting violence and chaos as a means of revenge.

This was way back in 1599 and can be found in Act 3, Scene 1. Don’t you just love Shakespearean phrases?!

Over time, the phrase evolved slightly and can be used in several ways where you want to create the idea of evoking chaos as a means to an end.

Dogs of War Examples in a Sentence

Dogs of War Origin Meaning 1
  • As the conflict overseas escalated, it seemed that the dogs of war had been well and truly unleashed upon the area where two opposing countries feuded.
  • The stoic general, seeking revenge for the attack on his troops, cried havoc and let slip the dogs of war.
  • I feel like I could rain chaos and release the dogs of war whenever I lend a book to someone and it comes back damaged.
  • The devastating consequences of the conflict were a jarring reminder of the destructive power of the dogs of war.
  • As tensions between Russia and Ukraine grow, the dogs of war become more and more uncontrollable.
  • The haunting images of what was left of the battlefield served as a chilling reminder to the world of what happens when the dogs of war are unleashed.

Order Through Chaos

What a silly notion that chaos and murder can help win an argument or get you what you want. Alas, such is the world we live in. Hopefully, you won’t have to use this phrase for anything too serious, but even so, it can be applied to any situation of uncontrolled war, whether literal or figurative.

Enjoyed reading about this phrase? Check out some others we covered: