The 5 Best Songs About Man’s Best (Non-Human) Friends

For more than 12,000 years, dogs have been companions for humans for hunting, protection, and friendship. They’ve played a crucial role in human history and inspired some of music’s iconic songwriters to compose odes to their best (non-human) friends.

Videos by American Songwriter

However, dogs are also used as epithets songwriters use furiously against their foes—the world’s most famous dog song (No. 1 on the list below) isn’t about puppy love.

Dogs even inspired the yelping one-hit wonder that sports fans in stadiums around the world still sing (or bark). They’ve been the muse of lonesome folk songs, whimsical piano ballads, and scorching blues all the same.

Loyal pooches, on occasion, act more civilized than humans, but that’s a philosophical discussion for another day. In the meantime, here’s a list of the five best songs about dogs.

5. “Cracker Jack” by Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton recorded “Cracker Jack” in 1973, but it didn’t appear on Jolene until a 2007 reissue. In her 2020 memoir Songteller, she explained that “Cracker Jack” is based on family members who’ve lost their dogs and the enduring memories pets leave behind. She said, “And like Cracker Jack, your first dog in your childhood can help you through a lot of problems. Cracker Jack only lives in memories now, but he was the best friend I ever had; more than that, he was a playmate, a companion with love and understanding.”

Once, I had a little dog
I called him Cracker Jack
He had a spot around one eye
That looked just like a patch

4. “Old King” by Neil Young

“Old King” is about Neil Young’s dog Elvis, though he changed the name to King to “avoid any confusion.” King was a hound dog and traveled with Young on tour. Young tells the tale of his beloved traveler over a rolling banjo and shuffling groove on his 1992 album Harvest Moon. Nicolette Larson sings the lifting harmony.

King went a-runnin’ after deer
Wasn’t scared of jumpin’ off the truck in high gear
King went a-sniffin’ and he would go
Was the best old hound dog I ever did know

3. “Martha My Dear” by The Beatles

Music fans have speculated that “Martha My Dear” is about Paul McCartney’s ex, Jane Asher. But McCartney said his Old English Sheepdog, Martha, inspired the title. The song began as a piano exercise and appeared on the White Album. In Barry Miles’ official biography Many Years from Now, McCartney said he bought the puppy in 1965, and his pet had the unlikely side effect of improving his relationship with John Lennon.  

Hold your head up, you silly girl
Look what you’ve done
When you find yourself in the thick of it,
Help yourself to a bit of what is all around you, silly girl

2. “Who Let the Dogs Out” by Baha Men

Baha Men released “Who Let the Dogs Out” in 2000, and the song became their first and only hit. It’s a cover of a 1998 song called “Doggie” by Trinidadian singer and songwriter Anslem Douglas. It follows a good time ruined when rowdy boys show up and begin catcalling women. The girls then shout, “Who let the dogs out?” Baha Men’s version appeared in the animated film Rugrats in Paris: The Movie.

Though “Who Let the Dogs Out” became famous in 2000, the hook dates back to 1959. The ownership of the song’s copyright exists in a confusing web, and the hook has existed as a chant for years before the 2000 hit became ubiquitous. The Trinidadian phrase meaning “the boys are in the club” somehow arrived at sporting events in America in the 1980s and 1990s. Who originally let the dogs out is anyone’s guess.

Get back gruffy, back scruffy
Get back, you flea-infested mongrel!

1. “Hound Dog” by Big Mama Thornton

Big Mama Thornton recorded “Hound Dog” in 1952, and she sings with fury about a bad man she’s throwing out. Though dogs are mostly beloved, they are often used as derogatory metaphors. But deadbeat boyfriends aren’t the only ones referred to as dogs. The Old Norse word for a female dog, bikkja, evolved to Old English bicce, which became bicche. To further the misogynist slur, at some point, life in general became a b—h.

Meanwhile, when Elvis Presley released his version of “Hound Dog” in 1956, it helped stir a rock and roll revolution. Presley’s version was inspired by Freddie Bell and the Bellboys’ 1955 rendition. But Scotty Moore’s rockabilly guitar playing drives the song away from Bell’s Las Vegas parody.

You told me you was high-class
But I could see through that
Yes, you told me you was high-class
But I can see through that

When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Leave a Reply

Cody Johnson will perform at the 2024 ACM Awards

2024 ACM Awards: Full List of Presenters, Performers and Nominees