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They demand an answer, but offer none. “Who let the dogs out? Who, who, who, who?” ask the Baha Men, four times in succession.
The group’s only major U.S. hit, “Who Let The Dogs Out,” dropped into the new millennium on July 25, 2000, as a cover of a calypso track already popular in the Caribbean. While it would only climb to No. 40 on the Billboard charts, the song became inescapable ― especially if you were a kid, or were raising one, at the time. Or if you often found yourself in sports stadiums.
The track initially sold three million albums, yet its enigmatic refrain remained unresolved. Who let the dogs out? To know that, we first need to answer: Who are the dogs?
According to Anslem Douglas, the Trinidad and Tobago native who wrote the original song in 1996, titled “Doggie” ― which was covered hideously by a British group before the Baha Men ― the dogs are badly behaved dudes.
“It’s a man-bashing song, it is,” Douglas told The Huffington Post, explaining how his former brother-in-law often used the phrase.
“He used to come in and say, ‘Who let the dogs out?!’ And one time he asked me, ‘Why don’t you turn this into a song?’” he explained. “And the rest is history.”
Although we suspected the words between the song’s riotous refrains may actually refer to women ― “dog” can be a derogatory term for either gender ― the lyrics back him up. After their first round of asking who, who, let the dogs out, the Baha Men sing:
When the party was nice, the party was bumpin’ (Hey, Yippie, Yi, Yo)
And everybody havin’ a ball (Hah, Ho, Yippie, Yi, Yo)
I tell the fellas, “Start the name callin’” (Yippie, Yi, Yo)
And the girls respond to the call ― the poor dog show up!
The scene: a party. Douglas, however, explained that the party is merely a metaphor ― another way to say things were going swell, generally, in life. The speaker then calls on his male friends to engage in rude name-calling toward the women partygoers, who respond in turn. According to Douglas, it’s the women who then start calling the men “dogs” in each refrain.
(He also told us the song is chiefly a lighthearted one, and that the lyrics weren’t necessarily meant for extended analysis.)
In other lines, the speaker orders the “ruffy,” “scruffy, “flea-infested mongrel” dogs to “get back,” but at one point changes his tune to defend his terrible friends from “any girls calling them canine.” He vows to be calm in the face of such verbal abuse, prying the “dummy” women to just be chill, gawd. The next stanza, though, seemingly rejects male gender norms to suggest that “a doggy is nuttin’” if he doesn’t have “a bone” ― or a romantic partner. The last bit has the speaker seemingly worrying about a particular love interest in the sea of terrible prospects, ultimately puffing up his chest to call himself “the man of the land” and positioning himself as a sort of alpha. While the song bashes male “dogs,” the speaker admits he’s one of their pack.
So, who let them all out?
We asked Douglas point blank, along with Baha Men lead singer Isaiah Taylor and S-Curve founder Steven Greenberg, who recorded the track.
“I can’t answer that! If I answer that, people will stop asking,” Douglas said, laughing. “100 years from now, I will still not [have] answer[ed] that.”
Greenberg responded similarly.
“I think that’s a question best left unanswered,” the producer said. “Why ruin it? Why get people to stop guessing?”
Taylor, though, had a different answer.
“I always say that that our drummer did that,” he said, explaining how it became an inside joke among the Baha Men to accuse their bandmate.
“We say, ‘Hey, man, you let the dogs out!’”
No one asked us, but if they had, we might have suggested it had something to do with the persistent patriarchal systems that created a culture where men can behave badly with minimal consequence to their reputations or relationships.
But maybe it was the drummer.