The Dog Ate My Homework And Other Excuses For Not Going

By Megan Boris

Recently, I came across an article titled “The Dog Ate My Homework and Other Lame Excuses” by Jack Lemkuil. In this article, the author claims, the average teacher hears approximately four excuses each day from grade school students explaining why they did not do their homework. Surprisingly, I hear upwards of ten to twenty excuses per day from parents who are considering going back to school themselves.

My role as an Enrollment Coach is not only to assist students with the administrative task of enrolling in college, but also to help adult learners overcome obstacles preventing them from achieving their educational goals.

There is a fine line between reasons and excuses, but when it comes to bettering yourself, any “reason” not to get started is usually just an excuse! Below is a list of excuses students share with me on a daily basis as well as some follow-up questions or statements I use to help work through those situations. Luckily, at Indiana Wesleyan, our adult and graduate programs were designed to be excuse busters. We have been around since 1985 fine-tuning each element to best suit our busy working adults.


The most frequent excuse I hear is easily “I don’t have time.” This can take on many different forms and is often the biggest factor keeping adult students from earning their degrees.

I am working too much overtime or multiple jobs.
Could earning your degree help advance your career, which could essentially lead to fewer hours?

I have a project right now at work that is taking up too much time.
How long will the project last? Will there be another project right after that to take up your time? Will work ever really “slow down”?

I need to plan first, get some things figured out.
How long does that take? How long have you been thinking about going to school? How long have you put it off?


Money can be hard to talk about with other adults. We’ve all been in the position where it seems like we just can’t afford one more thing, and it’s hard to think about the big picture when bills are piling up. Sometimes we need to think about the how we can get ourselves to a different place and what kind of sacrifices that will take.

I don’t want to get into debt.
Many students qualify for government grants, tuition reimbursement, or have military benefits to help pay for schools. Those who need to take on loans often see a return on investment soon after graduation.

I can’t afford any upfront costs.
At IWU, your application is free, books are included in the curriculum, and registration fees can be rolled into your financial aid. Plus, any repayments will be deferred until 6 months after graduation and you won’t have to pay your current loans while you are enrolled in school.

I want to find a job first.
If there are no upfront costs, why not start school now while you have more time on your hands? This is no doubt a challenging situation, but it could be just the change that is needed at the time it is needed most.


Family situations can certainly add complication to a person’s life, however it is not something that should hold you back from earning your degree.

I want to wait until my kids get older.
You can be a perfect example for your children. Show them how important education is in setting a person up for success.

My kids are involved in too many activities at this time.
Will there ever be a better time? How can you tell your kids to reach for their goals if you keep putting off your own?


Age is another popular excuse students give during the enrollment process.

I am too old to start a program.
How many working years do you have left? What about after retirement? Will you want to try something new?

I don’t think anyone will hire me once I graduate.
The working world has changed. People don’t stay at the same company their whole lives any more. You might be surprised by how a degree can make you more marketable.

It’s been too long since I was a student.
You will likely be just like many of our other students who have not been in school for many years. It’s never too late to learn something new!

Fear/Cold Feet/Special Circumstances

Once we get through the basic obstacles like time and money, there are the not-so-verbalized excuses that generally boil down to fear, or cold feet.

It’s just too soon.
There is no time like right now! The sooner you start the sooner you graduate.

I’m not mentally prepared.
What will it take to get you there? We have many resources that can help you get ready.

I’m getting ready to move.
The act of moving typically takes place in a week or two and it is not something that can’t be done while a student.

I’m going through a divorce/separation.
Starting a degree can often boost a person’s confidence and help them feel better about themselves in difficult times.

Ultimately, the decision to return to school comes down to priorities; we find time and resources for the things that we consider priorities in our life. IWU Adult and Graduate Programs are designed with busy, working adults in mind, and the time and energy it takes to complete a degree may be less than you think. Read about how IWU’s format addresses the time concern.

By the numbers:

168hrs in a week – 40 (work) – 56 (sleep) = 72 hrs each week that you are awake and not working.

If you take just 15 to 20 of those hours to dedicate to school, you can have your degree in as little as two years!

This article is about the phrase. For the CBBC panel show, see The Dog Ate My Homework (TV series).

"The dog ate my homework" is an English expression purported to be a favorite excuse made by schoolchildren explaining their failure to turn in an assignment on time. The claim of a dog eating one's homework is inherently suspect since it is both impossible for a teacher to disprove and conveniently absolves the student who gives that excuse of any blame. Although suspicious, the claim is not absolutely beyond possibility since dogs are known to eat—or chew on—bunches of paper. It has grown beyond the educational context, becoming a sarcastic rejoinder to a similarly glib or otherwise insufficient or implausible explanation for a failure in any context.

As an explanation for missing documents, it dates to a story about a Welsh minister first recorded in print in 1905. The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that a 1929 reference establishes that schoolchildren had at some time earlier than that offered it as an excuse to teachers. It was so recorded, more than once, in the 1965 bestselling novel Up the Down Staircase, and began to assume its present sense as the sine qua non of dubious excuses, particularly in American culture, both in school and out, in the 1970s. American presidents from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama have used it to criticize political opponents, and it has been a source of humor for various comic strips and television shows, such as The Simpsons.



The earliest known variation[1] on the idea that written work might be adversely affected by the tendency of some dogs to chew on paper came in a 1905 issue of The Cambrian, a magazine for Welsh Americans. William ApMadoc, the journal's music critic, related an anecdote about a minister temporarily filling in at a country church in Wales. After one service, he cautiously asked the clerk how his sermon had been received, in particular whether it had been long enough. Upon being assured that it was, he admitted to the clerk that his dog had eaten some of the paper it was written on just before the service. "Couldn't you give our wicar a pup o' that 'ere dawg, sir?" was the punchline, in Welsh dialect. ApMadoc applied the lesson to some overly long musical compositions, but wondered whether the dogs might suffer indigestion from consuming paper.[2]

Six years later, the president of the Fire Underwriters' Association of the Northwest was recorded repeating the anecdote at the organization's 42nd annual meeting. He describes it as Scottish in origin, and some of the details vary. The visiting minister speaks instead to a younger member of the congregation, who complains that the sermon was too short. In his telling, the dog was not his but one in the street who ate some of the papers after a wind blew them out of his hand. This elicits the same response, rendered in Standard English rather than dialect.[3]

The excuse for the brevity of the document did not become the punchline for another 18 years. The first use of the phrase recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary was in 1929, in an essay in the British newspaper The Guardian: "It is a long time since I have had the excuse about the dog tearing up the arithmetic homework." This suggests it had been in use among students for some time prior to that.[1]

It was first reported in an American context in 1965. Bel Kaufman's bestselling comic novel, Up the Down Staircase, published that year, includes two instances where the protagonist's students blame their failure to complete their assignment on their dogs. In a section written as drama early in the book, one student refers to "a terrible tragedy ... My dog went on my homework!"[4] Later, a list of excuses includes "My dog chewed it up" and "the cat chewed it up and there was no time to do it over."[5]


The phrase became widely used in the 1970s.[6]Young adult novelistPaula Danziger paid homage to it with the title of her 1974 debut, The Cat Ate My Gymsuit.[7] Two years later Eugene Kennedy described Richard Nixon as "working on the greatest American excuse since 'the dog ate my homework'" in the Watergate tapes,[8] and the following year John R. Powers had a character in his novel The Unoriginal Sinner and the Ice-Cream God reminisce about having used that excuse as a student.[9] Lexicographer Barry Popik, who called it "the classic lame excuse that a student makes to a teacher to cover for missing homework", found citations in print increasing from 1976.[10]

During the next decade, personal computers became more common in American households and schools, and many students began writing papers with word processors. This provided them with another possible excuse for missing homework, in the form of computer malfunctions. Still, "the dog ate my homework" remained common. In a 1987 article on this phenomenon, one teacher recalled to The New York Times that once a student had given him a note signed by a parent saying that the dog had eaten his homework.[11] The following year President Ronald Reagan lamented Congress's apparent failure to pass that year's federal budget on time, "I had hoped that we had marked the end of the 'dog-ate-my-homework' era of Congressional budgetry", he told reporters on canceling a planned news conference to sign the bills, "but it was not to be". His use showed that the phrase had become more generalized in American discourse as referring to any insufficient or unconvincing excuse.[12]

Use of the phrase in printed matter rose steadily through the end of the century. It leveled off in the early years of the 2000s, but has not declined.[13] During the 2012 United States presidential campaign, Barack Obama's campaign used it to rebuke Mitt Romney for not participating in Nickelodeon's "Kids Pick the President" special. "'The dog ate my homework' just doesn't cut it when you're running for president."[14]

In popular culture[edit]

In 1989 the popular sitcom Saved By The Bell debuted. Its theme song included the line "the dog ate all my homework last night".[1] Thus embedded in the American consciousness, it would be exploited for comic purposes in other television shows and comic strips. Users of the popular TV Tropes website have devoted a page to collecting examples from various popular media.[15]

It became an occasional running gag on The Simpsons, which also began airing that year, mostly playing off Bart's tendency to offer ridiculous excuses for all sorts of misconduct to his teacher Mrs. Krabappel. In a 1991 episode, a difficult day for Bart begins with Santa's Little Helper, the family dog, eating his homework. "I didn't know dogs actually did that", he says, and finds his teacher equally incredulous since he had used that excuse before.[16] In a later episode, when the dog goes to work for the police, Bart must eat his own homework for the excuse to work.[17] When Mrs. Krabappel begins dating Ned Flanders, the Simpsons' neighbor, at the end of the 2011 season, she sees Santa's Little Helper in the Simpsons' yard and asks if he is the dog who has eaten Bart's homework so many times. Bart's attempts to demonstrate this and thus lend credibility to his use of the excuse backfire.[18]

Humorists have also punned on the phrase. A Sam GrossNew Yorker cartoon from 1996 shows a Venetian classroom of several centuries ago where a standing student announces "The Doge ate my homework."[19]

Comic strips that feature anthropomorphized dogs as characters have found the concept of those characters eating homework a source of humor. In one of his Far Side panels, Gary Larson depicted a classroom of dogs whose teacher asks, "Did anyone here not eat his or her homework on the way to school?" In a 1991 Dilbert strip, a boy on the street asks Dogbert to chew on his homework so he can have the excuse; in the last panel the boy, beaten, is shown in class claiming a dog made him eat it.[21]

There have been three different books that used the excuse as a title. Two have been collections of poetry for students with a school theme,[22][23] and one has been a business book about lessons dogs can teach about accountability.[24] Other books for young readers have had titles blaming aliens[25] and the protagonist's teacher[26] for the missing homework. A two-act children's musical called A Monster Ate My Homework has also been written.[27]The Dog Ate My Homework is the title of a British comedy/competition show first broadcast in 2014 on CBBC.[28]


  1. ^ abcForrest Wickman (October 9, 2012). "Why Do We Say "The Dog Ate My Homework"?". Slate. Retrieved October 14, 2012. 
  2. ^ApMadoc, William (September 1905). "Music". The Cambrian. XXV (9). Retrieved October 14, 2012. 
  3. ^"Proceedings of the 42nd Annual Meeting of the Fire Underwriters' Association of the Northwest". HathiTrust Digital Library. 1911. Retrieved October 15, 2012. 
  4. ^Kaufman, Bel (1965). Up the Down Staircase. HarperCollins. p. 41. ISBN 9780060973612. Retrieved October 15, 2012. 
  5. ^Up The Down Staircase, 155.
  6. ^Scott Simon and Forrest Wickman (October 13, 2012). "Can The Dog Still Eat Your Homework?". National Public Radio. Retrieved October 14, 2012. 
  7. ^Danziger, Paula (1974). The Cat Ate My Gymsuit. HarperPutnam. ISBN 9780142406540. Retrieved October 16, 2012. 
  8. ^St. Patrick's Day with Mayor Daley and other things too good to miss, p. 87, at Google Books
  9. ^Powers, John R. (1977). The Unoriginal Sinner and the Ice-Cream God. Chicago: Loyola Press. p. 165. ISBN 9780829424294. Retrieved October 16, 2012. 
  10. ^Popik, Barry (August 28, 2012). ""The dog ate my homework" (student excuse)". Retrieved October 16, 2012. 
  11. ^Freitag, Michael (January 4, 1987). "Blackboard Notes: Excuses Go High-Tech". The New York Times. Retrieved October 16, 2012. 
  12. ^Rasky, Susan (October 1, 1988). "Congress Meets Spending Bill Deadline". The New York Times. Retrieved October 16, 2012. 
  13. ^Ngram viewer. Google Books. 2012. Retrieved October 16, 2012. 
  14. ^Lisa de Moraes (October 8, 2012). "TV Column: Romney snubs Nick's 'Kids'". Washington Post. Retrieved October 14, 2012. 
  15. ^"A Dog Ate My Homework". TV Tropes. Retrieved October 16, 2012. 
  16. ^John Swartzwelder (October 10, 1991). "Bart the Murderer". The Simpsons. Season 3. Episode 39. Fox. 
  17. ^John Frink (May 13, 2007). "Stop or My Dog Will Shoot". The Simpsons. Season 18. Episode 398. Fox. 
  18. ^Jeff Westbrook (May 22, 2011). "The Ned-Liest Catch". The Simpsons. Season 22. Episode 486. Fox. 
  19. ^Gross, Sam (March 18, 1996). "The Doge ate my homework". Conde Nast. Retrieved October 5, 2016. 
  20. ^Adams, Scott (March 27, 1991). "March 27, 1991". Retrieved June 8, 2015. 
  21. ^Holbrook, Sara (1996). The Dog Ate My Homework. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mill Press. ISBN 9781563976384. 
  22. ^Lansky, Bruce (2009). My Dog Ate My Homework. Meadowbrook. ISBN 9781416989134. 
  23. ^Dwyer, Joe (2011). The Dog Ate My Homework. Indianapolis, IN: Dog Ear Publishing. ISBN 9781608449644. 
  24. ^Coville, Bruce (2007). Aliens Ate My Homework. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9781416938835. 
  25. ^Greenburg, Dan (2002). My Teacher Ate My Homework. Penguin. ISBN 9780448426839. 
  26. ^Christiansen, Arne (1995). A Monster Ate My Homework. Englewood, CO: Pioneer Drama Service. 
  27. ^"The Dog Ate My Homework". British Comedy Guide. Retrieved July 3, 2014. 


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