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Laura K. Lawless

French expression: Avoir du chien

By July 29, 2011

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What does the idiomatic French expression avoir du chien mean? Click to learn all about it, and then come back here to share your thoughts.
More: French expressions | Common French phrases

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March 7, 2008 at 6:33 am
(1) jomomma says:

My students will love this expression! Now, how does one say that someone is ‘hot’ – as in attractive. Can these sayings be used for both sexes? (As you might guess, I teach teenagers).

March 7, 2008 at 6:57 am
(2) deb says:

et pour lui?

August 13, 2011 at 5:04 am
(3) david hawkins says:

I am English,the derogative expression is”old Dog”.I have never heard the word “fox” used in an uncomplimentary way.”Foxy” or “Old fox ” is used to suggest a person who is cunning or crafty.Your example uses the word “chien” but you have translated it as dog.

March 7, 2008 at 7:05 am
(4) Therese Clancy says:

Surely avoir du chien is to have some dog, to have something special and etre du chien is to be a dog. In Australia is a woman is called a dog(unless it is a puppy) it is also derogatory. Probably here to have some dog would be to show courage. Thanks for the lessons.

March 7, 2008 at 7:13 am
(5) Jo says:

Therese, expessions with ‘avoir’ and ‘etre’ are not always the same in French as in English. So for example in French you might say ‘avoir la peche’ where in English you’d say ‘to be full of energy’(plus there are all the serious expressions like ‘avoir faim/soif/peur’ etc where the English use expressions with ‘to be’). So you can’t necessarily translate avoir du chien as meaning ‘to have…’ something.

March 7, 2008 at 7:17 am
(6) Jo says:

Jomomma – you can say ‘il / elle est canon’ to describe someone as ‘hot’, or mignon / mignonne for ‘cute’.

March 7, 2008 at 7:24 am
(7) Maryse T says:

Est-ce qu’on utilise cette phrase très souvent? C’est trop marrante!

March 7, 2008 at 7:34 am
(8) michele says:

So, “avoir du chien” might rightfully be closer to the English phrase, “to put on the dog”, as in, to put on a really classy party, or to dress up for a fancy event.

March 7, 2008 at 8:38 am
(9) benito solis says:

I know well tht my students will LOVE TO MEMORIZE THIS EXPRESSION!

March 7, 2008 at 8:48 am
(10) brent says:

I’ve heard migon used as well but with the verb être. My second thought was with the new anology of dog with “wild” not the old one “homely”. So if you have (a little) dog in you, then you have a little wildness.

March 7, 2008 at 9:15 am
(11) Marlene says:

In England if you call someone “a fox” the meaning can also mean that that person is “cunning” or “sly”.

March 7, 2008 at 9:31 am
(12) Suzanne says:

I have learned a new meaning to the expression “avoir du chien”. For me it means somebody that has no fear, somebody that is not shy, somebody who’s actions are not stopped by others’ judgment.

Sorry for my english… I’m learning

Have a great day

March 7, 2008 at 11:24 am
(13) Tamara says:

I’m a Mexican student who’s been studying French for about 8 months now. In Mexico, there is an expression that says “que te tiren los perros” which literally means “to have the dogs thrown at you”, meaning that somebody considers you attractive. I thought it was a curious coincidence to share….

March 7, 2008 at 3:28 pm
(14) André says:

This kind of explanation is exactly why I keep reading this newsletter so regularly. Only people who are learning a language can spot tiny details like this one avoir du chien/être un chien and it gives me a tremendously interesting opportunity to see my own language the way foreigners can see it. Thank you for it Laura and go on just like this. Et bon courage à tous les amoureux de notre belle langue.

March 7, 2008 at 8:04 pm
(15) yukiko says:

I found it very interesting English and French have different image in the same animal. In Japanese, dog and fox are used to explain bad people. “to be a dog” means to be a spy for a person of power, and “fox woman” means woman blandishing men for money. Attractive woman may be expressed as “baby cat”!

March 8, 2008 at 12:01 am
(16) Le Mot Juste says:

If you saw how much the French love their dogs, you’d understand!

March 8, 2008 at 6:18 am
(17) josette says:

Avoir du chien is more than attrative
it is to be classy.

July 29, 2011 at 5:53 pm
(18) antonia says:

I think that the expresion is a change of :”elle est chic”

People use to replace words each other and chic and chien

have a similar sound

March 8, 2008 at 12:02 pm
(19) Marie says:

Yes, ‘elle a du chien’ would be much better than saying ‘elle est une chienne’… not nice to say in Quebec or any other place for that matter (lol), a totally different meaning there! We also have used other expressions to describe someone as being a ‘fox’ or ‘hot’!!

I agree, the French do love their dogs, particularly in France.

March 8, 2008 at 4:11 pm
(20) ROD PICKERING says:

Sorry to tell you that regarding avoir du chien the female for fox is vixen.
We would never say Look at Peters date,she is a fox or vixen. We would say she is classy, gorgeous, not bad or even a star but never a fox of vixen

March 8, 2008 at 8:00 pm
(21) Lauren says:

ROD PICKERING: I think that what is meant by “she is a fox” is that “she is foxy”

Jomomma: You can literally say “il/elle est chaud” for “he is hot” as well.

How often does this expression get used?

Thanks for the lesson Laura, I’d heard this expression before but wasn’t sure if what I’d heard about it was true. Thanks for confirming that it was.

March 8, 2008 at 9:13 pm
(22) Suzette says:

Put on (the) dog is an expression that means ‘to make a display of wealth or importance, especially by dressing stylishly and flashily’. It’s similar in meaning to the later expression put on the ritz.

March 9, 2008 at 9:54 am
(23) Katja says:

in Dutch to be a dog means you’re rude and impolite

March 9, 2008 at 12:47 pm
(24) Mark Smith says:

I said it to my French Girlfriend ‘tu a du chein’.
She says nobody says it anymore – but it caused a laugh nonetheless

March 9, 2008 at 4:08 pm
(25) Andrew says:

The meaning to be a dog. lit. ‘She’s a dog’ in England (not necessarily in English) is a horrible derogatory term aimed purely towards a female person. Saying it means to be extremely unattractive is mild in the extreme, to the point of being incorrect. I cannot possible give more detail.

March 11, 2008 at 12:42 pm
(26) Oggie says:

J’aime bien les idiomes. Thanks Tamara your explanation ” éclaire ma lanterne !!! ” I like to compare the way of thinking according to the country !
As far as I know “avoir du chien” concerns only WOMEN. My dico Petit Larousse (an old one) says “entrain, charme” I’ll rather go for gorgeous, classy woman someone that stands out of the crowd (la foule). A+

March 11, 2008 at 1:31 pm
(27) Edward says:

In spite of all its abstraction and refinement, French is still a language that’s very close to the countryside and down to earth. This old dog understood the expression instantly. My nostrils flared. It describes someone who exudes an uncomplicated natural sexuality.

March 13, 2008 at 5:31 am
(28) Roman says:

Merci. (especially Edward) That perfectly describes Alizée. :)
From a Californian: For fox being crafty, I think “crazy like a fox” fits in with that idea – for example, someone who has a plan that seems crazy or unlikely to be successful, but maybe just because it’s not obvious and actually is likely to have great successful result – completely unrelated to “being a fox”. Avoir du chien – I wonder where this came from. It does sound like a woman who would have the dogs after her… dogs being men driven by primal instinct, but that might only fit with Edward’s explanation not so much the classy explanation that’s more like putting on the dog (which I’m sure I’ll never hear where I live) though the two could still be construed as the same I think.

June 13, 2008 at 3:57 pm
(29) ingred says:

bon,AVOIR UN CHIEN ,differe d’etre un chien et cette expression exprime qu’il y a quelqu’un qui nous considere charmant plutot attractive:)

November 3, 2008 at 11:22 am
(30) Alvaro Augusto says:

Weird. In Brazilian Portuguese, the animal boys and girls would like to be compared to is a cat!

November 24, 2008 at 12:38 am
(31) Saskia says:

As a native french speaker, ‘Avoir du chien’, is an expression to link to an other one: ‘avoir du mordant’ impossible to translate, really, indeed it’s a bit ‘Have some biting’,so she have some dog, elle a du chien means she have something special, she ‘bites’ just by looking you.
It’s more to have personality, to seems savage, free, than to be sexy. That don’t means she’s sexy.

February 2, 2010 at 9:47 am
(32) Dominique says:

“Avoir du chien” pour un homme/femme c’est comme “avoir de la race” quand on parle d’un bel animal.

Ce chien est beau, il “a de la race”.

En vieux français on disait “avoir de l’estoc” c’est à dire de la noblesse, de la classe.

April 20, 2011 at 1:18 pm
(33) Raelinn says:

“avoir du chien” means chic, lovely.

Yourcenar used it as follows, “Brune, belle, et meme mieux que belle… Elle a du chien…”

April 20, 2011 at 1:22 pm
(34) raelinn says:

-(1866) Vieilli Charme, attrait (surtout des femmes). « Brune, belle, et même mieux que belle : elle a du chien » (Yourcenar).allure, chic.

June 29, 2011 at 12:56 pm
(35) Normand Paul says:

Avoir du chien au Québec veut dire plus avoir du caractère et de ne pas se laisser marcher sur les pieds que d’avoir une belle apparence.

C’est peut-être différent ailleurs. C’est souvent le cas avec les expressions.

July 29, 2011 at 10:16 am
(36) Mark says:

“Hot” doesn’t express it. Si elle a du chien, you need to have her on the spot. It’s a very strong animal appeal. Among actresses, Simone Signoret had it early in her career. Catherine Deneuve never had it, as alluring as she can be. Jeanne Moreau has it for me. Isabelle Huppert, sometimes, when she doesn’t play the role of a total neurotic. In America, I would argue the quality is much harder to find. Jane Fonda in Klute. Not Marilyn Monroe, as sexy as she was. Sexy is not the standard for this special term. It’s much rawer, closer to an irresistable urge.

July 29, 2011 at 10:59 am
(37) Marie-France says:

“Avoir du chien” means more than just being attractive. There are many attractive women who would not fit in this category of “avoir du chien”. It refers back very well to the second explanation you gave “to have a certain something”. These women usually look strong-will, like they know what they want, know that they are beautiful but not in a “soft” looking way.

July 29, 2011 at 11:33 am
(38) Pamela says:

Normand Paul says:
Avoir du chien au Québec veut dire plus avoir du caractère et de ne pas se laisser marcher sur les pieds que d’avoir une belle apparence.

In the movie “The Holiday” with Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet, “avoir du chien” is used to translate the word “gumption” when Winslet finally sees through her smarmy two-timing boyfriend. Can’t remember if it was the subtitles or the dubbing that used it. (I switch back and forth between them for practice and generally they are not the same, no doubt because dubbing has to match the lips of the speakers.)

July 29, 2011 at 12:13 pm
(39) Lauriate Roly says:

la petite Michel a du chien !
It’s a cute expression. I was quite certain it did not mean that la petite Michel “has a dog”. Some things can sound like something else.
Reminds me of a situation I once observed. A very young English boy was teasing a young French girl. Running away, she called out to him, “ tu est bien laids”.
When asked by his older brother what the young girl had called him, the youngster said,
“She told me I was full of milk”.

July 29, 2011 at 2:29 pm
(40) dave taylor says:

C’est bon – je n’ai jamais entendu cette expression !

July 29, 2011 at 3:17 pm
(41) Shannon says:

That’s incredible. This is good to know, à mon avis!

July 31, 2011 at 2:28 am
(42) Ouma M.M says:

C’est interressante savoir parsque au Kenya, nous avon peur pour les chiens. You can’t call some one a dog. It is abusive because dogs are regarded as careless animals that mate openly. We keep dogs for security reasons and a few people keep them as pets

July 31, 2011 at 5:21 pm
(43) Lauriate Roly says:

Peut-on les regarder quand ils s’accouplent, ouvertement?
Peut-être que c’est là que provient cette expression?

July 31, 2011 at 7:19 pm
(44) marie-helene says:

Cette expression s’entend tout de meme rarement, elle est plutot demodee.

August 1, 2011 at 3:36 am
(45) Mally says:

I guess this a positive expression because the french love dogs. Though i still wonder why it is used for women?
So what expression is used for men? Avoir le Chat? lol

August 1, 2011 at 4:55 am
(46) Lauriate Roly says:

Possible answer to Mally’s question??

Pour beaucoup de messieurs, dans de nombreux cas, on pourrait dire, “Avoir du Poids”;

August 2, 2011 at 10:51 am
(47) Jake says:

Neat expression! But it kinda reminds of the phrase “Don’t have a cow”.

Y’know, when someone is freaking out or throwing a fit, you can sometimes say “Calm down, don’t have a cow-”

Is there a French equivalent to this…?

December 20, 2011 at 4:05 pm
(48) Henri says:

On ne voit pas d’où peut venir cette expression.
Une supposition: pourrait être nune déformation du mot “chic” ?
Mais comme ce mot a différentes applications,y compris morales,et même concernant la gent masculine pour qui elle se rapporte surtout à l’habillement, il fallait trouver quelque chose pour exprimer non seulement l’élégance vestimentaire,qui compte,mais également la beauté physique féminine et l’élégance de la démarche. l’expression “du chien” rappelle une élégance particulière à certaine animalité notamment, particulière dans certains milieux sociaux huppés,celle des chiens dits “de race” pour lesquels il y a même des concours.
Et,en somme ce terme condense la double notion d’élégance vestimentaire et physique,naturelle, qui aurait pu être evoquée mais,finalement moins littérairement par avoir de la race,qui était une expression très ancien régime en France,et que,de nos jours,on peut exprimer par “le naturel”.En somme tout ce qui apelle l’admiration et retient l’attention,que lemot attractive,au fond,dit très bien,convenant aussi bien en anglais qu’en français.
C’est quand même très imagé,et ce qui pouvait convenirà une époque serait moins évident de nos jours.Surtout le mot race évidemment .
Il y a aussi,mais non-sexué,ce qui dans un sens est dommage,le mot prestance,mais qui n’évoque pas autant l’attirance. Je crois qu’il y a une expression en anglais dont on n’ a pas parlé et qui est le “sex-appeal”,non ? mais qui se rapporte moins à la notion d’élegance et de style.
Difficile !
Ah! l’attraction universelle !Newton au secours !

December 20, 2011 at 4:14 pm
(49) Henri says:

Ma tentative d’explication,un peu “tirée par les cheveux” peut-être.
Mais,quand même on peut rappeler le terme de “pedigree”,non ?

December 20, 2011 at 4:45 pm
(50) Henri says:

Ce que je cherchais a été très bien dit (pardon,je viens seulement de parcourir toute la page des commentaires),par Michele,Josette,Antonia Suzette et Dominique,avec qui je suis heureux de me rencontrer.

Je n’avais pas trouvé le mot : la classe !
La classe,c’est la finesse et l’assurance,la grâce et la force.
Chez une femme,c’est imparable !

Tout ce qui peut en résulter n’est que conséquence.

Bien entendu,absolument rapport avec ce qu’on appelle “la chiennerie”
c’est même le contraire .

December 20, 2011 at 4:57 pm
(51) Henri says:

Le terme de “canon” cité par Jo n’est pas faux,bien que n”étantpas une traduction littérale.
Le “canon” cela signifie la perfection.Il y a le “Canon” de l’Eglise,de la morale,aussi de la mode,de la beauté,etc…
du greco-latin qui veut dire la règle.
Appliqué aux femmes,c’est légèrement argotique,dans le genre sympa ,un peu ambigü,un peu dans tous les sens qu’on voudra.
Quoique que,en tant que jugement assez désintéressé,disons objectif.

December 21, 2011 at 3:54 am
(52) Gwamaka Joseph says:

ca depend de la region. ici en tanzanie comme au kenya le chien est un animal elveve pour la securite et d’ailleurs appeller quelqu’un(e) un chien c’est l’injure!

December 26, 2011 at 4:47 pm
(53) Henri says:

@ Gwamaka Joseph
On ne donne pas le nom de chien à un jloie femme(encore moins de chienne), I l s’agit la Sans doute par simple hasard et par homonymie,d’une sore de substance qualitative qu’on appelle DU “chien”Or il y a en occident des vrais concours de beauté d’aimaux de race, élevées pour leurs qualités et leur esthétique,et qui valent des fortunes. (chiens de chasse,ou de compagnie,ou chevaux,censés avoir de “la race” et sélectionnés selon leurs ancêtres.)Ce sont des animaux “de race”.Et une femme très belle,sera censée avoir en elle cette qualité qui ne vient que de la race,cad des ancêtres. Ce n’est qu’un façon de parler qui comporte,loin de toute péjoration,au contraire une grande admiration.

February 10, 2013 at 1:23 pm
(54) denise matt says:

i guess saying “avoir du chien” sounds better than “avoit du renard”

April 26, 2013 at 11:25 pm
(55) allyssa says:

When I was in high school a French foreign exchange student that had a crush on me brought me back a ring with a dog’s head on it after his visit home for Christmas break. I could never figure out what it meant. In fact, I was a little insulted…..well, now I know it meant he thought I was a fox! I’m glad I kept the ring…

August 25, 2013 at 9:36 pm
(56) jean-Paul Renoir says:

Avoir du chien means a lot more than being attractive…First some examples: Catherine Deneuve, Jeanne Moreau, Marlene Dietrich, Glenda Jackson, (currently Cate Blanchett). It is a woman who is feminine in a spontaneous way (as opposed to calculated), but is also of a strong character and intellect; and of independent mind and judgement. This combination of attractiveness, femininity, strength, independence, functionality, ability to take charge of her own life and those around her is very rare…and so desirable. The ultimate woman!

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