Spend any amount of time on social media or YouTube, and you'll most likely run across a video clip of a singing dog within 10 minutes.
Adorable puppers like Chili the Singing French Bulldog have racked up millions of views for simply doing what comes naturally to them — singing their stinkin' cute hearts out.
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Believe it or not, there is actually controversy in the world of animal behavior research as to whether or not your dog is howling or singing.
So, do dogs sing or howl?
While we often use the terms singing and howling interchangeably, biologists studying animal cognition regard howling as a communication behavior — like when a dog tells you they're anxious about a mysterious pile of leaves.
Dogs singing, on the other hand, was regarded by many researchers to not really exist, despite this talented pooch singing a Witney Houston song. (C'mon science, what more proof do you need?)
Because true singing involves melody, harmony, pitch and tempo — the popular opinion was that dogs were incapable of that level of cognition and that this cute video of a dog singing a Celine Dion song was merely a dog imitating its human.
That was the theory, until now.
Scientific proof that dogs do sing
Researchers at the University of Vienna are now suggesting that your dog, along with a few other tetrapods (a big, sciency word for four-legged animals), are indeed capable of the complexities of melody.
In a groundbreaking study recently published in the Royal Society of Biological Sciences, researchers revealed that dogs, in fact, do modulate their vocalizations, in the same way, that humans do — suggesting that dogs are singing.
By controlling the aspects of vocalization, dogs are creating a melody when they sing and keeping rhythm with what they hear.
"It has been widely investigated how animals produce sounds and how their vocalizations are structured. However, there is hardly any data on how animals perceive and interpret the melodies in their vocalizations," explains lead researcher, Dr. Theresa Matzinger of the University of Vienna. "Promising candidates for the investigation of animals' interpretation of melodic patterns are those melodic patterns that occur and are interpreted similarly across all human languages."
Take, for example, this video of a dog singing along with a toddler who is playing a harmonica.
The dog is not imitating the toddler's harmonica. Instead, the dog is creating its own melody to accompany the child's tune by articulating some syllables longer than others, incorporating pauses in the syllables, and using pitch to emphasize specific syllables.
According to Matzinger, this is the basic physiological and cognitive process responsible for both the production and perception of melodic patterns.
Why dogs sing
Let's return to the differences between howling and singing.
Dogs howl as a form of communication. This behavior can be traced back to their wolf ancestors. When one dog hears another howling, then it may also join in as an evolutionary response triggered by pitch.
Similarly, your dog howls or vocalizes, to tell you how they feel. Perhaps your dog wants you to know they are bored, feeling territorial, or experiencing separation anxiety.
By contrast, dogs sing along in social situations as an intentional response to humans who are also producing melodies.
Dog songs are likely the product of parallel evolution between canine and human.
What makes dogs sing
We know that your dog enjoys your singing — which is why they often sing along with you!
Dogs also like to sing along to music, and according to a hopelessly cute study from the Scottish SPCA, we know that reggae music "showed the highest positive changes in behavior" amongst shelter dogs.
On a side note, in a previous study by the Scottish SPCA, dogs thought classical music was the — wait for it — cat's meow.
So if you want to hear your dog sing, try playing Bob Marley or Bach and see what happens!
Which dog breeds sing the most
All dogs sing, but some dogs howl and sing more than others.
In his 1956 hit single, "Hound Dog," Elvis pretty much identified one major group of dogs that are "crying all the time." But in addition to the hounds, these breeds are known to sing more than others:
- Alaskan malamute
- Siberian Husky
- American Eskimo
Up until recently, biologists maintained that dogs howl, they don't sing. The popular theory was that dogs did not have the cognition required to sing as humans do.
But new research in the emerging field of animal phonology suggests quite the opposite — that dogs are not only able to process melodies sung by humans, but they can produce melodies of their own.
When you really think about all of the advanced cognitive processes your dog is performing when they sing along with you in the car, it highlights just how closely entwined we have evolved with our best friends.
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- Dog sings Whitney Houston | Belgium's Got Talent | VTM
- Chili, the singing French Bulldog