The first recorded mention of the term, “Prairie Dog” was in Lewis and Clark’s expedition journals in 1804, when they wrote about “an animal the French Call the Prairie Dog.” And according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the name has been used since 1774.
Prairie dogs don’t look like dogs; they aren’t in the Canidae family. The little critters are rodents, and are actually a type of “ground squirrel.” I didn’t even know “ground squirrels” were a thing, but they are. They’re like, forming a union. Anyway, “ground squirrels” are comprised of rodents that live on the ground instead of in trees, like chipmunks, groundhogs and Prairie Dogs.
And the bushy tail fits, Prairie dogs look exactly like our dog’s worst enemies, just without the extra butt fluff.
It seems a bit like a slap-in-the-snout to have dogs share a name with something that is technically their nemeses. So why are these ground squirrels called Prairie Dogs?
The answer is simple; it’s because of the Prairie dog’s “bark.” Prairie dogs (much like good old fashioned dogs) are very social animals and live in familial groups called coteries. Another Prairie Dog fact, they have a lot of enemies. Coyotes, eagles, bobcats, badgers, foxes, etc., all think the little guys are delicious.
In order to avoid being gobbled up like pizza bagels, Prairie dogs bark to warn the members of their coterie when hangry predators approach. If you’ve never heard a Prairie dog bark, here’s about a
lifetime’s minutes’ worth of it:
Frankly, I don’t hear it. They sound more like, Prairie Dog-Toys, or Prairie Bed-Springs, or Prairie Music-From-The-Shower-Scene-In-Alfred-Hitchcock’s-Psycho if you ask me.
However, everybody else seems to agree they sound like they’re barking. Prairie dog’s genus is Cynomys, which means “dog mouse” in Greek. And bringing it back to ole Lewis and Clark, while they recognized that the French called the animals “Prairie dogs,” they themselves referred to the little guys as “barking squirrels.”
Further investigation (read: Instagram stalking) leads this hard-hitting, investigative canine journalist to conclude that while Prairie dogs are not dogs, and never will be dogs, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t pawsitively pawesome.
And maybe not so different than us pups after all…
So, git on with your badselves, lil Prairie doggies! You can hang with our pack anytime!