Why do dogs sing?
March 17, 2005 8:23 PM   Subscribe

Why do dogs sing?

If I sing in a high pitched voice, my chihuahua will howl along. The maltese I grew up with will do the same thing with my Dad (their version of Jingle Bells is a family classic). Why do they do it? Is it fear, a pack thing, or is it possible that dogs like music?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero to Pets & Animals (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Hmm. Define "like music."
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:35 PM on March 17, 2005

I suspect that to puppy, singing sounds like howling, and to person, howling sounds like singing. It has always struck me as being a "bonding" thing- pack to puppy and family to person.
posted by oflinkey at 9:11 PM on March 17, 2005

I don't think "singing" is any different than howling, and I think it's simply triggered by a certain pitch (or pitch range, at least). There's a dog on my block that howls when it hears sirens.
posted by O9scar at 9:13 PM on March 17, 2005

It has always struck me as being a "bonding" thing- pack to puppy and family to person.

I agree. In an apartment building where I used to live, there once was a woman who lived next door with a really sweet German Shepard-Collie mutt named Dylan and who loved to howl. I called her Dylan the Singing Dog. On a lark one day I howled with her and when we hit a note in unison, she was gone! She'd howl everytime she saw me after that, no matter where it was, just wagging her tail off. It was so much fun to hit that same note with her--although it didn't exactly make us popular with the neighbors. I was sad when they moved away. She was one sweet dog. She sure loved to sing.
posted by y2karl at 9:56 PM on March 17, 2005 [1 favorite]

My girlfriend's parents have a german wire-haired pointer (griffon?). They keep the radio on regularly on a rock station, and the dog will sing to certain songs, a lot of them are Rolling Stones songs. I'm not making this up (and I'm not a big dog lover either) but he has his "favourites" as it were and is consistent in which ones he sings along with.

No, Werewolves of London isn't one of the songs. I'll see if I can find out what some of them are tomorrow.
posted by furtive at 10:18 PM on March 17, 2005

furtive, that is so cool.

I'm hoping biscotti, as queen of all things canine, will answer this for you, but I can tell you my male cat does this too. He comes flying in whenever I'm singing, as a matter of fact, and it's clear that he thinks I'm trying to talk with him. I'd imagine that's even truer with pack animals such as dogs -- as y2karl's example shows, if you hit the same note, it sends them into ectasy. It certainly makes boy cat happy, and he does a mean call and response too.

For every dog I've ever known, there's a huge difference between "singing" with a siren and singing with a human for whom they feel affection. People singing obviously relaxes them or makes them visibly, happily excited. Siren singing or stranger dog singing is pissy singing. That also supports the pack animal hypothesis. How Mick Jagger figures into all of this seems a bit more complicated, and what I'd really like to know is why some strange human voices inspire that loving feeling in dogs (or cats, for that matter; I knew one who was quite fond of Yma Sumac).

Generally, though, I think our pets spend a lot of their time trying to talk to us and thinking we're dumbasses for not knowing how to reply.
posted by melissa may at 10:40 PM on March 17, 2005

Dogs are wolves. DNA from the tiniest tiny Yorkshire terrier is virtually indeciferable from that of a timber wolf. Howling (singing) means survival for wolves. They howl to stay in touch and therefore survive. In the wild this is more of an issue, of course, but the behavior is so deeply ingrained in dogs that sounds in a certain range of frequencies may trigger this survival trait, even though it may not be necessary to survival.
posted by wsg at 12:31 AM on March 18, 2005

i don't know how common this in the states, so forgive me if i'm stating the obvious, but i don't remember it happening in the uk. anyway, where i live now, police sirens will start all the dogs in the area howling and then they'll sing along together for maybe half an hour or so after it's gone by.
posted by andrew cooke at 3:37 AM on March 18, 2005

Just like me, they long to be close to you?
posted by mzurer at 7:36 AM on March 18, 2005

One of my good pals has a female cat that totally loves it if you sing to her, especially in a high voice. She doesn't sing along but just comes close to you and looks happy. I have sung Belle and Sebastian and La Traviata to her to good effect.
posted by matildaben at 9:08 AM on March 18, 2005

I had a cocker spaniel who would sing along with Whitney Houston's version of "I Will Always Love You" every time the song was on the radio or tv.
posted by chickygrrl at 9:25 AM on March 18, 2005

isn't the question "why do humans sing" just as mysterious?
posted by mdn at 10:09 AM on March 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

(don't get me wrong, I love music. I just mean, we don't really know why it makes us feel good, or whatever it does that makes us keep doing it.)
posted by mdn at 10:11 AM on March 18, 2005

I have a deaf jack russel terrier with the most expressive voice I've ever heard in a dog. She sings/yodels/yips/whines All.The.Time. We think it must comfort her or maybe she can "hear" herself. It's really interesting, though, because she didn't learn any of it from other dogs, she's been totally deaf since birth. And just like with hearing dogs, the sounds change based on her feelings or what she's trying to do.
posted by pomegranate at 11:47 AM on March 18, 2005

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