A Celebration of the Pooch in Popular Music
Musicians and dogs are a lot alike. Both operate on instinct and feeling. Both have finely tuned ears that can pick up good and bad vibrations. And both make the world a better place by helping others feel a little less lonely.
With that in mind, it makes perfect sense that there’d be mutual appreciation of the musical kind. While dogs compose their own spontaneous tunes—“I Haven’t Seen You in Forever!” and “Scratch My Chin Again” are two favorites—musicians have been a little more considered in their creations over the years.
The story of dogs in popular music began in 1853, when American songwriter Stephen Foster was given a beautiful English Setter, whom he named Tray. Foster so loved his pal that he wrote “Old Dog Tray,” a sentimental ode that became the blueprint for bow-wow ballads from then on.
In the early 20th century, dogs were roving through Tin Pan Alley in hits such as “Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?” and “Fido Is a Hot Dog Now,” a 1914 song about a naughty pooch who ends up in Hell.
But the modern era of pup pop didn’t begin until the mid-’50s when Patti Page wondered about the price of the doggie in the window and Elvis Presley complained about a hound dog on a cryin’ jag. Since then, artists from the Beatles to Neil Young to Red Hot Chili Peppers have done the dog. To celebrate this genre, here are the stories behind ten purebred faves.
“Martha My Dear”
Later, McCartney revised his take on “Martha,” calling it a song about “a muse.”
“I mean, I’m not really speaking to Martha. It’s a communication of affection but in a slightly abstract way—‘You silly girl, look what you’ve done.’ Whereas it would appear to anybody else to be a song to a girl called Martha, it’s actually a dog. And our relationship was platonic, believe me,” he added with a chuckle.
Shannon came into Gross’s life via his marriage in the mid-’70s, about the same time he was opening tours for the Beach Boys. Gross and Carl Wilson bonded over Irish Setters, as Wilson’s had recently been killed by a car.
To this day, Gross still gets letters from fans who find solace in the tender-hearted song. “Whenever somebody loses a dog, they hit henrygross.com,” he says. “I just e-mailed a guy who lost a dog—and this may sound corny, but I said, ‘Whenever a great dog dies, I see it as an opportunity to save another poor dog, to share your love with a soul nobody wants.”
“We wanted to write something really raunchy,” says Jerry Leiber of the song that became Elvis’s most successful single. In its original incarnation, Leiber says, the song was “about a woman kicking a moocher out of her house. He wasn’t literally a hound dog and he didn’t chase rabbits.” A few years after Big Mama Thornton’s original recording, Vegas lounge act Freddie Bell & The Bellboys did a comedic version of the song. They changed the mooch to a pooch. Elvis loved this version and basically copied it. Leiber says, “The lyric change bothered me, and I wasn’t crazy about Elvis’s version at first. But a couple of years later, it kind of grew on me.”
On June 5, 1956, Elvis caused a national sensation with the hip-shakin’ rendition of “Hound Dog” on The Milton Berle Show. A month later, a supposedly contrite Presley did the song on The Steve Allen Show. Dressed in a tuxedo, with instructions to curb his pelvic movements, he sang to a Basset Hound outfitted in a top hat. “That was Steve Allen’s humor,” Elvis said. “To me, it was about as funny as a crutch.”
“How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?”
As for Merrill, when he tried to write more legit music, his novelty tune dogged his trail. In 1957 he said, “When producers heard I was the guy who wrote ‘Doggie in the Window’ they wouldn't even listen to my songs." He eventually broke through on Broadway as a lyricist for Funny Girl, writing the hits “People” and “Don’t Rain On My Parade.”
Recently championed by Bob Dylan on his XM show, Theme Time Radio, “Dog” is enjoying a resurgence. Dorough, 80, has been getting occasional requests for the ultra-wordy tune at his live gigs. “I can perform it with two weeks notice,” he laughs.
“Snoopy vs. the Red Baron”
But Gernhard loved it. So much that he landed the Guardsmen a record deal. Three weeks later, the single was soaring like Snoopy’s Sopwith Camel up the charts. While Peanuts author Charles Schulz ended up taking a sizeable cut of the royalties (Gernhard didn’t get permission to use Snoopy), the Guardsmen pushed out a litter of follow-ups—“Snoopy’s Christmas,” “Snoopy for President” and in 2003, “Snoopy vs. Osama”—but never recaptured the glory of the first hit.
“Me and My Arrow”
Everything except round-headed Oblio, who is banished to the pointless forest along with his faithful Arrow.
When Red performed the song, grown men were known to weep when he reached the line about how Shep “laid his old head on my knee.”
In 1945, a 10-year old Elvis Presley made his first public appearance, singing “Old Shep” at the Alabama State Fair and winning a $5 prize.
Covered by many artists, including Johnny Cash and Alabama, this classic ballad was also the indirect inspiration for Old Yeller.
“Everything Reminds Me of My Dog”
“I learned a lot from my dog,” Siberry says. “I never would’ve been so tuned in to the minute nuances of the everyday light, except I had to walk him all the time. Now that I don’t have a dog, I notice how much less connected I am with the outdoor world.”
When Young’s bus pulled off the highway for a pit stop, Elvis hit the ground running, in search of olfactory pleasures. Young quickly lost sight of him. Then there was a burst of drenching rain.
Young knew that even with his super-sniffing nose, Elvis wouldn’t be able to find his way back. A search was fruitless. Neil had to make the next gig, but couldn’t bear to leave the dog behind. So he put down his old “lucky shirt” and a bowl of chow by the side of the road. Once he reached the venue, he sent a roadie back to the spot, and there was Elvis, ready and wagging.
An easy-to-make meal
We are big fans of a good meatloaf, and our dogs Jordan and Gertrude were too. We adapted a basic meatloaf recipe using lean meats and adding different grains and vegetables for variety. Our dogs loved garlic, so we always added it, finely chopped; if you have concerns about feeding it to your dog, it can easily be left out.
We would make a few of these at a time to freeze, using different flavors for variety. Use beef, ground turkey, chicken, or lamb, but avoid pork or veal, which can be too fatty. In place of the oatmeal, you can try other whole grains, such as brown rice or quinoa.
Preheat the oven to 350°F and place the oven rack in the middle slot. Mix all the ingredients together with your hands. Transfer the mixture to a loaf pan, or use a 13-by-9-inch baking dish and form a loaf in the center. You can also use a roasting pan, just space the loaf in the middle of it, you can cook potatoes or sweet potatoes in the pan at the same time too. Bake for 1 hour.
Feed according to your dog’s size and calorie needs.
• 2 pounds ground turkey or other meat
[Optional: pulverized calcium. Nori (seaweed), chopped pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds. Can substitute bread crumbs for the flaxseed meal.]
Adapted from Eco Dog by Corbett Marshall and Jim Deskevich, photographs by Aimée Herring. Reprinted by arrangement with Chronicle Books. Copyright © 2008.
Hummed or howled, tunes find a receptive audience.
YES, IT’S EMBARRASSING, but many people have the urge to sing to their canine companions. Don’t worry about it—it’s natural. In fact, singing to your dog can be a lot more fun than crooning to a baby or toddler. For one thing, your dog will never develop the capacity for irony or satirical thinking so annoying in humans, so any stupid or caustic lyrics you make up won’t be understood. And your doggie will never fling these songs back to you in a family counseling session, or years later as you lie on your death bed.
The guidelines for satisfying canineoriented singing are not stringent, but you might want to consider a few strategies for making the most out of your warbling sessions with your pet.
>When choosing a name for your pooch, consider making it five letters. This enables you to use the famous song B-I-N-G-O as the base melody for special songs you can make up for your dog. For example, my new dog’s name is Nimby. I really didn’t choose it for that reason (long story—he’s named after a fairy character I created for my daughter), but WOW, what a boon! And Nimby was his name-o!
>Dig back into your past and find the songs you really enjoyed performing as a child, including perennial chestnuts such as Old MacDonald Had a Farm (for which you can substitute the repeating verses with a BARK BARK here, or a GROWL GROWL there…)
>Never underestimate the power of a narrative song, such as Little Rabbit Foo-Foo. For the uninitiated (bless you), Little Rabbit Foo-Foo is an involved tale about a little bunny who seems to go into the forest, where he scoops up all the field mice and inexplicably bops them on the head. And then a fairy descends—well, you kind of get the warped idea. So you only need to substitute your dog’s name, and perhaps his prey of choice (squirrels? moles?), and you have the makings of a really fascinating song.
>Classic folk songs are great. Consider the ballad John Henry, one version of which reads, “When John Henry was a little baby, sitting on his papa’s knee…” Think how wonderfully you can put your dog’s name in there: “When Mortimer was a little puppy, sucking on his mommy’s teat…” >Don’t discount the standards. You can adapt Cole Porter or George Gershwin pretty well to doggies. Consider “I’ve got you under my fur…” or “I get a bite out of you…” Or how about Irving Berlin? “God bless my doggie girl/Pup that I LOVE!!!/Stand beside her, and guide her…”
Well, these are merely guidelines. You must constantly look for inspiration in every facet of your past and present life—old Girl and Boy Scout songs and commercial jingles (gum, SpaghettiOs, Pepto-Bismol, late-night carpet advertisements, mnemonic bank lyrics, cereal ditties). Finding a suitable tune and putting your dog’s name into it, along with, perhaps, a few choice lyrics, is really the auditory equivalent of paint-by-numbers.
Singing to your dog is one of life’s simple pleasures. Just remember that, should you be caught doing it, you’ll have to act as though you’re warming up for choir practice. Once, someone came upon me as I was doing show tunes geared to my dog down at our community garden, and I had to pretend that I was an American Idol contestant.
Collectibles make their mark
Cotton candy, the screams of joyriders, and the tinny music of the merry-go-round and Ferris wheel—long before the modern-day amusement park, the carnival was summer’s go-to place for a good time. These well-worn collections of thrill rides, shooting galleries, games of chance, sideshows and entertainment traveled from place to place. When the carnival came to town, people turned out in droves, eager to have serious fun.
Carnivals had a single goal: Get customers inside the tent. Likewise, the games of “skill” that lined the midway did their best to entice passersby. Barkers shouted out challenges—“Step right up and win a prize!” More often than not, the prizes were chalkware figures—dogs were particularly popular. Lads eager to impress their gals or to one-up the competition stepped up to the counter to test their skills and win one of the molded plaster of Paris figures. The better the performance, the bigger the prize.
Once won, the coveted prizes often met ignominious ends. Not only were they easily broken, many became targets for slingshot practice, and young girls used the broken pieces to make sidewalk hopscotch games. By the 1960s, chalkware had been replaced by stuffed animals, which were less expensive and didn’t break.
When Disneyland opened in 1955, it created a new and more elaborate venue, bringing family entertainment into the technological age and sidelining carnivals, relegating them to the status of curiosities—much like the chipped and dusty chalkware pup shoved to the back of a closet or tossed into a box in our grandparents’ garage.
Inhaling Vitamin N
Dogs have been our boon companions for at least 32,000 years—pretty close to forever. They were our first nonhuman pals (domesticated cats came along 23,000 years, and horses 28,000 years, after dogs), hunting partners and all-around nature guides. Joining forces with such a remarkably capable species gave us a leg up on our rivals, sped up the pace of our evolution and today, provides us with a vital connection to the natural world.
As it turns out, we sorely need such a connection. In 2010, the average American spent 28 percent of his or her waking hours involved in some form of electronics-related activity: 26 hours per week online or watching TV, and another 5.8 hours on mobile devices! These digital-age habits contribute to a new malady: nature-deficit disorder.
What is nature-deficit disorder? Richard Louv coined the term and described its characteristics in his groundbreaking book, Last Child in the Woods, in which he proposed that modern childhood ailments and health problems, including attention and behavioral disorders, anxiety, depression, and even obesity, can be attributed to the lack of nature in children’s lives. In his newest book, The Nature Principle, he extends this analysis to adults, and prescribes a number of remedies (in addition to spending less time with our digital tools). One is to increase our dose of Vitamin N — “N” for nature, or the mind/body/nature connection.
From Bark’s point of view, the best way to get a daily dose of Vitamin N is to walk with our dogs in natural settings, where there are trees aplenty. Parks and forests are not only wonderfully calming places, they also have a restorative effect on our immune function. Scientists have discovered that phytoncides, airborne chemicals emitted by plants to protect themselves from bacteria, fungi and insects, contribute to stress reduction in others. These same researchers suggest that time spent in plant-filled environments lowers our pulse rate, blood pressure and concentration of cortisol (which is released in response to stress), among other things. Add that information to studies that have found similarly beneficial effects from the company of dogs, and dogs’ joyful inspiration to be more regular in our nature-walking habits, and we have an easy way to obtain a true V-N high.
Even better, getting out and exploring the natural world gives our co-pilots a chance to exercise their ancestral senses — a reminder of the time when we first started out on our amazing shared journey.
Large-animal veterinarians put in long hours and spend lots of time on the road, visiting farms in sparsely populated rural areas. It can be bitter cold or swelteringly hot, and is often muddy work. These challenges, plus an ever-shrinking number of people involved in agriculture, have been driving a shortage of large-animal and mixed-practice veterinarians nation-wide. As of last fall, 1,300 counties did not have a single doctor for farm animals, according the American Veterinary Medical Association. And the problem was expected to get worse.
A night at the theater: tails required
Even playwright A.R. Gurney might not have been able to imagine his play, Sylvia—the story of a man’s willingness to risk everything for the sake of his dog—being performed in front of an audience that had much in common with the title character. Yet, this is precisely what happened at “Dog’s Night Out” in the canine-obsessed city of Seattle, where pooches outnumber progeny by more than two to one and dogs are regular denizens at cafés, outdoor restaurants, shops and now, the theater.
Resist the puppy surprise
Giving a dog as a gift is rarely a good idea, and it’s often a terrible one, but some people can’t resist the idea of a beribboned puppy. For those of you who are thinking about giving a dog this holiday, we say, think twice. While you’re doing that, here are some points to factor in.
1. Nothing good comes of surprising someone with a dog, even if that someone is your child, who’s been begging for a dog since she could talk. Who knows...perhaps she has her heart set on a Chihuahua but you think she’d love a Lab. Learn about and select her new best friend together.
2. Puppies in particular have many specific needs, and in the general chaos of the holiday season, those needs can be easily overlooked, which can bode poorly for the puppy’s future success. Plus, standing outside in the middle of a cold winter night while waiting for the “gift” to do her business is not everyone’s idea of a good time.
3. Foster first. Fostering is a great intermediate step, and the holiday could be a good time to explore this possibility. By taking in a foster dog, not only will everyone discover the day-to-day responsibilities of pet care, it will make a big difference in the life of the dog you choose to foster.
4. Treat a case of puppy fever with Shelter Puppies. The new book from photographer Michael Kloth serves up a satisfying dose of puppy cute while conveying the urgent message that more adoptive homes are needed.
5. Build a foundation for success. If you want to give something to unwrap, fill a basket with a leash, collar, bowls, toys, treats, a gift certificate for a training class or vet care and a positive training book. After the holidays are over and life settles down, check out your local shelter and rescue groups, or do the research required to find a reputable breeder. Whatever you do, don’t buy that puppy in the pet shop; she’s likely to have come from a puppy mill. And by all means, consider an adult dog. Sure, puppies are totally cute and fun, but they’re also a lot of work. Many adult dogs are housebroken and have all sorts of good behavior skills up their furry sleeves. This is one situation in which the best surprise is no surprise at all.
Of the many legends surrounding St. Patrick, the ones that resonate for us involves this most famous of Irishmen and dogs. Around 400 A.D. legend has it when he was sixteen, Patrick was captured by Irish marauders who enslaved him, he then endured six years as a half-naked shepherd with only a dog and some sheep for companionship. One day he had a dream that his favorite sheepdog, in the guise of an angel, told him to escape to a ship on the coast that was over 200 miles away—the ship from Gaul filled from stem-to-stern with Irish Wolfhounds. Making his way to the ship, the exhausted Patrick begged to come aboard but his pleas were refused—until someone noticed that he had a calming effect on the feisty Irish canine cargo. So they let him on in exchange for some dog caring and training. It didn’t take long after that for Patrick to come up with his first miracle. The ship had crashed upon the shore of northwest Gaul, the men and dogs soon were starving, having run out of food. The men, pagans all, turned to Patrick and taunted him to ask his Christian god for help. Patrick prayed all night, in the morning a herd of wild pigs magically appeared from the forest, and he quickly set the hounds on them. The now well-fed crewmembers were so impressed that they became Christian converts. After about twenty years spent on the continent, Patrick, who had made quite a name for himself there and became a priest, decided to come back to Ireland. But upon landing on the Emerald shores he was met by Dichu, an Irish pagan prince, out hunting with his favorite hound. Dichu put his Wolfhound, Lauth on attack alert but when the dog lunged for Patrick, he uttered a few words and the dog went into an immediate down-stay and licked his outstretched hand. According to Irish folklore, this kindly saint repaid all his doggy pals by allowing the legendary Irish hero Oissain to take his hounds to heaven with him.
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