The dog days of summer are upon us and with the U.S. celebrating National Dog Day on August 26, we’ve highlighted the best songs about dogs to mark the occasion. Dogs in hit songs have been bad and funky, they’ve been fine and noble, they’ve even gotten yelled at for acting up. This list stretches across eras and genres, showing the many different dogs who’ve been saluted in song.
30: Napoleon XTV: They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Ha!
It still boggles the mind that a single this bizarre was released in 1966, much less that it hit the Top Five. It’s a joke in less-than-perfect taste, about a guy who’s losing his mind after the one he loves runs off and leaves him. The punchline is that they’ll find his beloved sooner or later: “And when they do, they’ll put you in the ASPCA, you mangy mutt!”
29: Jethro Tull: Rover
There’s a whole menagerie on Jethro Tull’s Heavy Horses album, with songs from the perspective of cats, mice, moths, and of course horses. The family dog gets his day on “Rover,” which proclaims his devotion and nobility. It should surprise no one that Ian Anderson is a confirmed animal lover.
28: The Monkees: Gonna Buy Me a Dog
Even The Monkees couldn’t keep a straight face on this tune about a hapless guy who loses his girlfriend and decides to replace her with a pet. Legend has it that Micky Dolenz attempted to sing a straight version, then Davy Jones invaded the session and added his one-liners to the version we all know and love.
27: Johnny Cash, “Dirty Old Egg-Sucking Dog
This is one of many reasons we love Johnny Cash: During the 60s, when he was hanging around with Bob Dylan and recording some landmark topical numbers, he also found time to record this comedic tune. It’s not exactly a kids’ song (the audience at Folsom Prison audibly loved it) but it’s hilarious, and especially tough to sing without breaking into profanity.
26: Tom Waits: Rain Dogs
This song is quintessential Waits, a singalong about how he identifies the worn-out, homeless dogs that roam his town after a storm. It was the title track to the 1985 album that redefined his career and opened up new musical territory. And since the song is so catchy, it was the perfect entry point.
25: Elvis Presley. “Old Shep” and “A Dog’s Life
Elvis took his most famous dog song from Big Mama Thornton, but saluted them a few other times in his career. From his second album, “Old Shep” might well be the weepiest song in his catalog, a mournful tale of a boy losing his best four-legged friend. For an antidote, we’d suggest “A Dog’s Life,” a wonderfully goofy number from the soundtrack era.
24: Eels: Dog’s Life
In another songwriter’s hands, this might have been a nice little tune about wishing you could spend your life laying in the sun and chasing trains, but with Mark Oliver Everett at the helm, the song gets a sadder spin, with a tender violin and the chorus “I’ll take a dog’s life, ‘cause I don’t care for this one.”
23: Etta James: Watch Dog
Etta James was one singer who knew how to put men in their place. In this tough number, she chews her guy out for watching over her, sending his little brother to spy on her, and generally cramping her style. The background vocals – “You ain’t nothing but a watch dog” – are a clear nod to the Big Mama Thornton classic.
22: Patti Page: (How Much is That) Doggie in the Window?
Perhaps the most famous song on this list, this 1953 record was an instant novelty sensation – much to the mixed feelings of Patti Page, who preferred to record torch ballads and country songs. It’s a standard to this day, even if Page recorded an alternate version toward the end of her life, for fear that her original might encourage puppy mills.
21: Hank Williams/George Thorogood: Move It On Over
You’ve heard of landing in the doghouse. That’s literally what this tune is about; the singer comes home after a night of carousing and winds up sleeping with the mutt. The song was a big hit twice: Hank Williams did the country-swing original in 1947, while Thorogood rocked it up three decades later.
20: Sublime: I Love My Dog
As far as songs about dogs go, this one might have the best groove. This Sublime nugget sails on a slinky reggae beat. And they really did love their dog: Lou Dog was Bradley Nowell’s pet Dalmatian, who was saluted in a number of their songs. He wrote this one after Lou went missing for a week.
19: Luke Bryan: Little Boys Grow Up and Dogs Get Old
Though it was released just three years ago, it’s an instant classic country tearjerker about a boy, his black Lab, and their inevitable goodbye. The dog doesn’t die in the song, but any dog lover will start tearing up when Luke Bryan sings about leaving town and telling his 14-year-old pet to be a good boy.
18: Nick Drake: Black Eyed Dog
Not all songs about dogs are cheerful: in this stark tune, the black-eyed dog is a metaphor for depression, a subject with which Nick Drake was sadly all too familiar. Jesse Winchester used the same metaphor in a similarly dark tune, “Black Dog.”
17: Dr. John: How Come My Dog Don’t Bark When You Come Around?
A longtime highlight of the Doctor’s live shows, this is one depraved song about infidelity and violent revenge – and it’s pretty funny. The singer’s dog is so mean that he bit the mailman and “took a chunk outta my mother,” but he wants to jump up and play whenever the backdoor guy shows up.
16: Led Zeppelin: Bron-Y-Aur Stomp
From the acoustic side of Led Zeppelin III, this was Zep at their lightest and most good-natured. Robert Plant doesn’t reveal until the last verse that the loving companion he’s singing about is four-legged; he also gets in a jokey reference to Elvis Presley’s “Old Shep.”
15: Procol Harum: Salty Dog
The “salty dog” in question is actually the captain of a majestic sailing ship. Procol Harum’s seafaring epic still rates as one of prog-rock’s grandest moments, thanks to a dramatic turn by singer Gary Brooker. It’s now a recognized classic, even though it flopped as a single in 1969.
14: Aerosmith: The Reason A Dog
Ask any Aerosmith fan and they’ll tell you that Done With Mirrors (the first album after they cleaned up but before all the comeback hits) is one of the lost gems in their catalog. This track is one of the reasons, a raunchy groove courtesy of bassist Tom Hamilton. The title offers a bit of advice: “The reason a dog has so many friends, ‘cause he wags his tail instead of his tongue!”
13: The Stooges: I Wanna Be Your Dog
Without a doubt, it’s punk rock’s greatest canine classic. This one became Iggy Pop’s calling card for decades. Listen closely and he’s really singing about sexual devotion – so between the obsessive lyric and John Cale’s classic one-note piano, there was always more here than meets the eye.
12: Rufus Thomas: The Dog
One of Stax’s greatest shouters, Rufus Thomas could make a killer dance record out of anything. “The Dog” was a less inhibited version of the dance craze “The Twist,” and he provides all the instructions you need: “Do the hound dog, do the bull dog, any kind of dog!” His next four hits were all songs about dogs, including the famous “Walking the Dog.”
11: Nazareth: Hair of the Dog
This attitude-heavy song really should have gone down as one of the all-time hard-rock classics, but it didn’t break in the US, where Nazareth was known mainly for their Everly Brothers cover “Love Hurts.” But it also delivered one of the best hard-rock shout-along choruses: “Now you’re messin’ with a son of a b_tch!”
10: Bobby “Blue” Bland: I Wouldn’t Treat a Dog (The Way You Treated Me)
The title tells the story; this is Bobby Bland at his most lowdown. Recorded in 1974, the track hailed from his Dreamer album, where he worked with top jazz players and aimed for the crossover success of his then-labelmate B.B. King. It paid off, with “I Wouldn’t Treat A Dog” becoming a hit.
9: Yusuf/Cat Stevens: I Love My Dog
The greatest song about a dog was written by a Cat. This was the master songwriter’s debut single and first U.K. hit. The singer loves his dog as much as his partner, and the lyric makes it sound like the dog will stick around longer. The music was interpolated from jazzman Yusef Lateef, who later got a co-writing credit.
8: The B-52’s: Quiche Lorraine
Leave it to the B-52’s to dream up a surreal, affectionate send-up of all those lost-dog songs. Fred Schneider gives the perfect dramatic reading to this tale of a runaway pet. It does beg the question: How in the world did anyone manage to lose a French poodle with dyed green hair and designer jeans?
7: The Royal Guardsmen: Snoopy Vs. the Red Baron
A cartoon dog who brings down the German flying ace in World War I? It was 1966 and you had to be there. The Florida garage band didn’t have anyone’s permission to record a single based on the Peanuts comic strip, but creator Charles Schulz ultimately said okay. This was the first in a string of Snoopy hits by the band, including one for Christmas.
6: Baha Men: Who Let the Dogs Out
This Trinidadian soca classic became a worldwide sensation at the turn of the millennium, and to this day no football game or frat party would be complete without it. But it started as an underground hit – the English DJ John Peel was among the first to play it – and was intended as a feminist-friendly send-up of boisterous guys.
5: Snoop Dogg: Doggy Dogg World
It’s hard to imagine a list like this without Snoop Dogg, AKA The Doggfather. This was a landmark fusion of 90s hip-hop with 70s soul, thanks to Dr. Dre’s savvy production and the Dramatics’ guest vocal – not to mention the video cameo by Pam Grier, years before her Tarantino comeback.
4: Elton John: Gulliver/It’s Hay Chewed
A real heartbreaker in waltz time, this poetic song addressed the memory of having a beloved dog put down. One of many overlooked tracks on Elton’s debut Empty Sky, this one showed the promise of the John-Taupin team. Elton’s wordless cries at the end are a real grabber and lead into the album’s offbeat finale.
3: The Beatles: Martha My Dear
Of course, Paul McCartney wrote one of the most charming songs about dogs. Only real fans knew that Martha was the name of his sheepdog, so the song worked on many fronts: As a love song to a pet, a pep talk to a loved one, or just a jaunty pop song with a great hook.
2: Big Mama Thornton: Hound Dog
Great as Elvis Presley’s version was, it didn’t match the venom of Big Mama’s original, which ranks as one of R&B’s great empowerment anthems. The guy’s just a hound dog because he disrespects her, is too lazy to catch any rabbits, and just wants to crash at her place. (Our local hound dogs would like us to point out that they’re hardworking hunting dogs).
1: George Clinton: Atomic Dog
There are countless songs about dogs, but they’ve never been this funky. Thanks to this tune, the 80s would be full of barking on the dancefloor. This was the runaway hit off George Clinton’s first official solo album Computer Games, and the first of many dog songs he’d unleash over the years.