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The Canine in Conversation
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detail photograph of a person's back with 7 or 8 flea bites visible.
figure 1  


He who lies down with dogs, rises with fleas. Be careful who you hang out with—specifically, I suppose, with whom you sleep. You are known by the company you keep.

This expression leaves no doubt about the unsavory habits of our canine friends and it goes way back. One source traces it to the 1500sreference 1 and it is still in use. A more recent version turned up on the editorial page of the New York Post: “Lay down with dogs, catch fleas.”reference 2 In that case, it was a disparaging remark on the company kept by celebrity attorney Alan Derschowitz.

In a turnabout, op-ed writer Kathleen Parker challenges the implicit judgment in the phrase as a blame-the-victim mentality. In discussing the controversial spring break videos, Girls Gone Wild, Ms. Parker has this to say: “One argument goes that the women [some of these 'women' are earlier described as under 18] are responsible for their decision to get drunk and strip. This is the sleep-with-dogs-wake-up-with-fleas school of thought.” She never quite says that these young women are taken advantage of by the men behind the cameras, but she does note that it is the men who are “profiting from women demeaning themselves.”reference 3

1. Holder, M. K. 2001. Animal Proverbs & Clichés. Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior. Accessed Sep 19 2001 from http:// ~animal/ fun/ wordplay/ proverbs.html.

2. New York Post Editorial Board. 2002. Alan Dershowitz's New Groove. New York Post, Jan 21. Accessed Feb 19 2002 from http:// h/ nypost/ 20020121/ cm/ alan_dershowitz_s_ br_ new_groove_1.html.

3. Parker, Kathleen. 2006. Girls Gone Ridiculous. San Francisco Chronicle, Sept 18, B5.
About the illustration: This is shows what flea bites look like, just in case you ever want to identify someone who has been lying down with dogs. This image was created in Aug 2006 by Nzfooty, who has released all rights to it.

see also: beware of dog; dogflea Last updated: July 5, 2008
by Alec MacLeod 2001-2008  Dogmatic Technologies Oakland Creative Commons unless otherwise expressly stated, all original material of whatever nature created by Alec MacLeod and included in The Canine in Conversation and any related pages, is licensed under a Creative Commons License. Please read the Terms of Use Agreement by Alec MacLeod Dogmatic Technologies