Submitted by Dyske on March 9, 2014

What does “Curb your dog” mean?

When you Google “What does curb your dog mean?”, you find three different answers.

  1. Control your dog.
  2. Pick up dog poop.
  3. Take the dog to the curb to pee or poo.

I always understood it to mean #2, so even when I saw a sign that said “Curb your dog,” I would let my dog poo there but I picked it up afterward. I figured the person who put the sign there would be satisfied with that. But if #3 is what is meant by the sign, s/he would not be happy.

What is confusing is the word “curb” itself. It can mean “control” or “edge of street” which are two completely different definitions, and I would assume that they came from completely unrelated etymological roots. The expression is so vague and confusing that it is ineffective.

The only one that actually makes sense is #1 as “curb” means to control.

#2 doesn’t really make sense. The word “curb” has no definition that means to pick up after something, although it can indirectly imply cleaning up after the misbehavior of your own dog. (i.e., Since dogs cannot control themselves, you need to control the aftermath for them.) It’s too vague. You should just say, “Pick up after your dog.”

#3 is problematic for two reasons. Firstly, “curb” in this context should be used as a noun. I seriously doubt that “take your dog to the curb” was what was meant when the signs first started appearing in public. If you are the first person ever to create this sign, and if you meant to say, “take your dog to the curb”, then you would not write “Curb your dog.” You could not expect other people to understand what you meant by that, as there was no such use of the word “curb” in a verb form. You would have written: “Take your dog to the curb.” My second problem with #3 is that it implies it’s fine to leave the poo as long as you take the dog to the curb.

My theory is that “Curb your dog” originally had only one definition: “Control your dog.” And, the sign originally was introduced because many dogs were not kept on leash, and would cause trouble, like attacking kids, starting a fight with other dogs, barking uncontrollably, and running into the traffic. Ideally, they wanted to say, “Keep your dog on leash”, but at the time, this probably felt too extreme, so they just wanted to ask dog owners to responsibly control their dogs’ behavior. Then, in big cities like New York, some people started interpreting the word “curb” to mean the edge of the street/sidewalk, although it’s a bit of a stretch, given that “curb” in this case should not be used as a verb.

This is my theory of how the expression was originally introduced and evolved to include all three definitions. What do you think?

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1. The edge of the sidewalk is a kerb.
Not sure how or when curb came to be used in this context.
Maybe another Americanism.
2. Curb as a verb means to control or restrain.
3. Curb as a noun is a restraint.

As for the doggy poo: not sure how that came about. Have never heard the word curb used in that context.

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I think that the "curb your dog" means "restrain your dog" which may include when you spot the errant pooch laying a turd in the street. It has nothing to do with the kerb, which is indeed the raised bit for pedestrians (and in Bangkok the motorbikes and bicycles) next to the road, which is for cars and lorries and buses (and in Bangkok the pedestrians). In the USA this is called the 'sidewalk', in English-speaking countries the pavement. Actually, I think the kerb is the part of the pavement next to the road, not the whole thing.
In England, where dogs are treated in the same way cats were in ancient Egypt, to tell someone to "curb your dog" results in cries of anger and threats of violence, and not from the dog but from its owner and also bystanders who do not know you from Adam. A more subtle approach is to pick up the offending faecal matter, run after the dog's owner and give it to him, or her, and say "your dog dropped this".
'Curb' is a verb, 'kerb' a noun .

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Just to add to what Hairy Scot and Brus have said, I would have said just the same as with curb anything else:

curb your temper
curb inflation
curb the spread of the disease

But as 'Curb your dog' is not an expression I was aware of (I don't think it's used in the UK), I had a quick look at Google Images, and it is clear that it is used specifically to mean control your dog's toilet habits, not simply control it's behaviour:

http://www.google.com/search?q=%22curb+your+dog...

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I thought about this further and realized that street "curb" is put in place to control/restrain the movement of the cars. Curb is a framing device that contain/restrain what's inside of it. In that sense, "curb" as in the edge of the street and "curb" as in "control" are related. What is NOT related is the fact that it just HAPPENS TO BE a good place for dogs to poo or pee.

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Just to forestall any misunderstandings - kerb (BrE) = curb (AmE), so both Hairy Scot and Dyske are right on that one.

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Wow, I can't believe no one got this right. Those "curb your dog" signs have only one meaning. They are legal reminders to dog walkers that when your dog pees or poops, it must do so in the street near the curb, not on the grass easement, not on the sidewalk, not in a homeowner's yard. "Curb" in this case means to keep your dog in the street, adjacent to the curb, specifically while evacuating. It's legally defined in just about every locality in the modern world. You can look it up in your local municipal code. More recently, the laws have been modified to also require the owner to pick up any poop immediately and dispose of it properly. I suppose one could make a case that "curbing" does not specifically mean "picking up poop", since the phrase predates the requirement to do so, but modern law does now require it, at least in the civilized world. In my neighborhood, the signs actually list the exact municipal code. I'm sure yours do too. Look it up.

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No, no, no. If 'curb your dog' meant 'steer it towards the kerb to do its (ahem) business' you would cry out "kerb your dog". If you mean 'stop it yapping' or 'stop it sniffing the genitalia of folk standing there quietly' you might call out "curb your dog", but in England it would make no difference as it sounds much the same and in England dogs rank higher than humans anyway, and the owners would be mystified.

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@porsche - 'the modern world' - does that mean the modern world is restricted to North America? As far as I know, this expression is used nowhere else (for a starter we say 'kerb' in the UK, and so presumably in Australia, NZ etc). The rest of the modern world may have similar laws, but not that particular expression.

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So they really do have kerbs in Oz? Just in the settlements?

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@jayles
We also have them in Kiwiland, though I did see a sign outside a car accessory store that read "Curbed your mags?", so it looks like confusion reigns in places other than North America. :-))

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"kerbing and channelling" with a 'k' seems to be the norm, although I couldn't see whether this is used in the USA

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WRT kerbing
The OED has this:-
a. The act of furnishing with a kerb.
b. The stones collectively forming a kerb.

1869 Daily News 2 Feb., The granite kerbing on the sea wall.
1884 E. O'Donovan Story of Merv xi. 124 A canal, with kerbing of brick flush with the roadway.
1885 Law Times Rep. 52 618/2 The requirements of the respondents as to the kerbing.

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I didn't know that "curb your dog" was legally defined. That's interesting, and good to know. Thank you.

But what I'm curious about is how that expression came to be; the etymological origin. If "curb" means to take something to the curb to pee/poo, is it ever used for anything other than dogs? If it only applies to dogs, it would mean that this particular usage of the word "curb" was invented only for this particular situation, nothing else. If so, who invented this usage? And, why did s/he invent it? If no such usage of "curb" existed outside of this particular instance with dogs, how could this person expect the public to understand that it means to take the dog to the curb to pee and poo?

And, if it applies only to dogs, why bother saying "your dog"? "Curb" alone should suffice. Just define it as a legal term to take your dog to the curb to poo and pee.

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No! It means 'keep (the errant creature) under control', as 'curb' means 'control' (from French 'courber', which is a verb). Stop it from doing what is left discretely unspoken, as being unspeakable anyway.
The kerb is there to separate road traffic from that on the pavement, except in Bangkok where anything goes, really. Dogs just lie there, supine and quite pointless. And no one would tell anyone to do anything with his dog, as that too would be pointless, and most impolite. I have mentioned earlier that in England no one would do so either, as it would provoke outrage.

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According to one source (link below) it all started in New York in the thirties, and that ‘Please Curb your Dog’ meant ‘Don’t let your dog do its business on the sidewalk. Let your dog do it in the road’."

On the other hand there does seem to be quite a lot of puzzlement over this. At the Urban Dictionary they suggest two meanings - generally control, as Brus suggests, or picking up after your dog.

Nor are the signs at Google Images consistent - on one, from the Carnegie Hills Neighbors, it follows porsche's idea - "Curb means off the sidewalk"

But one from Chicago Parks District is rather more general, saying - "an ordnance prohibits dogs to be permitted to run at large or commit any nuisance upon any sidewalk, parkway or public park"

Another one covers both Urban Dictionary definitions, saying - "leash-curb and clean up after your dog"

And another - "please curb and pick up after your dog" - that doesn't sound like making it go in the gutter to me.

The there's - "Please curb your dog away from the building", and the rather strange "Private Property, Do Not Curb Your Dog Here" - which sounds as though curb means "make / let it do its stuff"

I'm not surprised people are confused.

And one from Britain - nothing about curbing, of course (we'd be even more clueless as to what it means) - "Dog owners - Please ensure your dog is on a lead and does not foul the amenity areas" - a bit longer, but perhaps a bit clearer?

http://16thwabashdogpark.blogspot.com/2012/03/w...

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Overheard tonight in a Dorset pub: "I always used to hold doors open for ladies, but then I was accused of kerb-crawling".
It reminded me of this debate, and perhaps of what the kerb is, as the notion of curb-crawling makes no sense at all. It is clear that kerb is a noun, and that is how kerb-crawling is spelled. Curb-crawling suggests the idea that crawling must be stopped, or at least controlled.
If I am expected here to throw light on the matter of dogs and their disgusting canine lavatory habits, then I am afraid that I must disappoint, as my contribution has nothing to do with the faeces of the species.
Cheers!

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