Fido may never produce a gold record or appear on "American Idol," but you can teach him how to "sing," more or less. Certain canine breeds possess a natural talent for song, such as the New Guinea singing dog, a wild dog that is related to the dingo. The singing dog alters the tone of his voice to a howl and communicates with other dogs through a type of song. Most dogs aren't related to the singing dog but still have a form of singing in their blood -- they're descendants of wolves who naturally communicate by howling in unison.
There's no accounting for taste. Perhaps your pooch never sings because he hasn't felt particularly inspired by the music you play around the house. Play a wide variety of songs and observe which, if any, he barks or howls to. If he's silent while you play Elvis or the Beatles, he might respond more to opera or classical fare. Or, he may be partial to country music and howl to Johnny Cash. Keep playing various songs until you get a response from him, such as howling, barking, whimpering or other vocalizations. After he sings, give him positive reinforcement by rewarding him with praise and a treat. You might say, "Nice singing!" followed by, "Good boy."
Your pup might prefer to sing to a guitar rather than a violin, or to a drum beat rather than a piano. Play different recordings of instruments to see if he responds with howling or barking to any specific one. Once you've learned that Fido barks or howls when a saxophone blows or a cello is played, issue the "sing" command immediately before playing a recording of that instrument. After he begins singing, reward him with praise and a tasty treat so he learns to associates the "sing" command and his singing with tasty rewards.
You're the pack leader; when you sing, your four-legged best friend will succumb to his natural instinct to howl along with the pack. Now that you've learned his favorite songs and instruments, start singing one of the songs he responded to and hope he joins in with howling, barking or other vocalizations. If he doesn't immediately respond, prompt him by giving the "Sing" command and playing the recorded version of his favorite song, while you continue to sing along. Turn off the recording once he begins barking or howling, and see if he continues singing along with you. Always reward your pup with praise and treats after he successfully sings.
Practice Makes Perfect
Fido has sung to records, instruments and with you, but now It's time for him to take center stage. Issue the "Sing" command without singing yourself or playing his favorite song, and see if he's able to howl on his own without further help. You might say, "Sing!" and then name one of his favorite songs. If he doesn't respond, sing a few lines of the song until he joins in, and then remain silent. If he also becomes silent, issue the "Sing" command again. Keep plenty of treats handy so you can reward and praise him after he successfully vocalizes. Don't become discouraged -- practice will help your dog become more skilled at singing on command.
By Liza Blau
About the Author
Liza Blau received a B.A. in English from Columbia University. Her writing has appeared in fiction anthologies from Penguin Press, W.W. Norton, NYU Press and others. After healing her own life-threatening asthma by switching to a whole, natural foods diet, she founded the NYC Asthma Wellness Center. Blau counsels individuals on healing their own asthma and allergies with dietary and lifestyle changes.