German Language Blog

11 Animal-Related Sayings In German Posted by on Nov 17, 2021 in Idioms, Language

Guten Tag! Today I have a light-hearted little post for you where you will get to learn some Sprichwörter (das Sprichwort: The saying/proverb). In particular, this post will focus on Sprichwörter relating to die Tiere (das Tier: animal)!

11 animal-related sayings in German


Photo by Hans-Jurgen Mager on Unsplash

Da steppt der Bär
Literally: ‘There dances the bear’
Meaning: “That’s where the party’s at!” If you and your friends are trying to decide where to go on a Friday night, go to the place ‘where the bear dances’! Note: the word ‘steppt’ refers to tap dancing: das Stepptanzen.


Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash

Wissen, wie der Hase läuft
Literally: To know how the hare/rabbit runs
Meaning: “To know the lay of the land.” This phrase describes someone who is experienced or well-versed in something. “Er weiß, wie der Hase läuft”.


Photo by alan King on Unsplash

Er ist bekannt wie ein bunter Hund
Literally: He is as well known as a brightly-coloured dog
Meaning: “He’s known all over.” This isn’t necessarily about famous people/celebrities, but rather regular people who are known by everybody in their community!


Photo by Christopher Carson on Unsplash

Ich glaube, mein Schwein pfeift
Literally: I think my pig is whistling
Meaning: “I can’t believe it.” This phrase is used to express disbelief and shock, though because it’s rather colloquial it’s more suited to light-hearted, trivial things than serious incidents. For example, if your friend who’s always late turns up on time for once, this would be a perfect opportunity to exclaim: ‘Ich glaube, mein Schwein pfeift!’.
PS. Did you know there are LOTS of sayings about pigs in German? Click here for more!


Photo by Pratik Bisht on Unsplash

Wo sich Fuchs und Hase gute Nacht sagen
Literally: Where fox and hare/rabbit say good night to each other
Meaning: “A place in the middle of nowhere.” This fantastic little phrase is great to use when you’re out in the sticks with no clue where you are; after all, where is this mysterious place where a fox and a hare would say goodnight to each other? Exactly… nowhere!


Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Kleinvieh macht auch Mist
Literally: Small animals create manure, too
Meaning: “Every little helps”. Though its literal translation sounds like a negative statement, this phrase means that even the little things count!


Photo by Carter Yocham on Unsplash

Die Kuh vom Eis hohlen
Literally: To get the cow from the ice
Meaning: “To save the day”. This one is used when you tactfully resolve a problematic or delicate situation.” There’s even a follow-up saying you can use once the problem has been resolved: ‘Die Kuh ist vom Eis’ – ‘The cow is off the ice’!


Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

Da liegt der Hase im Pfeffer
Literally: There lies the hare/rabbit in pepper
Meaning: “Therein lies the problem”, or “there’s the fly in the ointment”. If there’s some detail that spoils your whole plan, this is what’s known in German as the ‘rabbit in pepper’.


Photo by Dustin Bowdige on Unsplash

Hunde, die bellen, beißen nicht
Literally: Dogs who bark don’t bite
Meaning: “Empty vessels make the most noise.” This is a great way to describe people who are all talk and no action!
PS. There are signs dog-owners can buy that say, “Hunde, die bellen, beißen nicht… Ich belle nicht!” on them. This means, “Dogs who bark don’t bite… I don’t bark!”


Photo by Dorothea OLDANI on Unsplash

Eine Katze mit Handschuhen fängt keine Mäuse
Literally: A cat wearing gloves catches no mice
Meaning: You won’t get what you want if you are too cautious or comfortable; or, sometimes you have to get your hands dirty. A reminder that it pays to be a little more assertive (assertive: durchsetzungsfähig).


Photo by Gary Meulemans on Unsplash

Besser ein lebender Hund als ein toter Löwe
Literally: Better a live dog than a dead lion
Meaning: “Don’t be a hero”. There is no use in being a hero if you are dead. This same saying exists in English and stems from die Bibel (the Bible).


And there we have just some of the many animal-related sayings the German language has to offer! Did you learn a new one today? Which is your favourite?

Bis bald (see you soon)!

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About the Author: Constanze

Servus! I'm Constanze and I live in the UK. I'm half English and half German, and have been writing about German language and culture on this blog since 2014. I am also a fitness instructor & personal trainer.


  1. Dr. Dan:

    regarding “Hunde, die bellen, beißen nicht” the american phrase is to describe someone as “all bark and no bite”!

  2. Diana Biegner:

    I appreciate so much what you do and make happen with your blog! Danke.