Anyone who’s ever had a dog or even just been around dogs know that the critters love to make themselves heard. Patches barks at cars; Toast won’t stop yapping when he’s hungry; Lupin howls when she’s left alone. But that doesn’t quite explain the phenomenon of dogs singing along to (human-sang) songs, something which has been documented en masse on social media. So, Slate asked Terry Marie Curtis, a clinical behaviorist at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine, if dogs are really “listening” and thus copying human singing, and her answer: No, but that doesn’t mean there’s something else there.
Sometimes, humans are clearly stretching their interpretation of “singing”…
…and sometimes it’s like, “Okay, we can hear it.”
Regardless of how “close” these dogs are to matching Adele’s or Elsa’s high notes, Curtis suggests that dogs are vocalizing to songs not because they’re really feeling the feelings behind the songs, but because they’re, well, dogs. Beyond the fact that wolves and wild dogs often howl and bark together for communication purposes, Curtis suggests that dogs singing could be a form of classical conditioning; specifically, positive reinforcement. After all, if you clap and give Bucky a treat after woofing along to “Happy Birthday,” it makes sense that he’ll continue to do that.
Above all, Curtis stresses that dogs probably aren’t registering the “emotional” projection of songs, e.g. the sadness, anger, joy, and desire underpinning most popular songs. They simply want to communicate with the sounds they associate with their favorite humans — which, honestly, is the same reason most people sing together anyway.
Image via YouTube.