We Learned the Meaning of “Who Let the Dogs Out” and It’s Not What We Expected

If you’re a ’90s kid, there’s a big chance that you grew up listening to Baha Men’s song “Who Let the Dogs Out.”

The song, released in 1999, is incredibly catchy and repeatedly asks “who let the dogs out?” It also became a hit, appearing in movies like Rugrats in Paris, Men in Black II, and The Hangover. The song also won Best Dance Recording at the Grammys, Favorite Song at the Kids’ Choice Awards, and World Music Artist of the Year and World Music Album of the Year at the Billboard Music Awards. It even sparked the documentary Who Let the Dogs Out, which involved eight years of research.

But one day, we wondered: what does the song even mean?!

Yes, we remember the “who let the dogs out” and the “who, who, who, who” (it’s not “woof, woof, woof, woof”), but it’s strange that some of us did not pay attention to what the rest of the song was saying.

It turns out, the song is a female empowerment anthem.

Anslem Douglas, a Trinidadian and Tobagonian musician who originally recorded the song under the title “Doggie,” revealed it in the documentary. He said he was tired of hearing the term “skettel,” a derogatory term similar to slut. He wrote the song as a rallying cry against misogyny.

Douglas said in an interview on his website, “When I said the word ‘party’ I was being metaphorical. It really means things were going great. The ‘Yippie-Yi-Yo,’ that’s everybody’s happy, right? ‘And everybody was having a ball.’ Life was going great.”

He adds, “‘Until the men start the name-callin’ / And then the girls respond to the call.’ So the men started calling the women ‘skank’ and ‘skettel,’ every dirty word you can think of. The men started the name-calling and then the girls respond to the call. And then a woman shouts out, ‘Who let the dogs out?’ And we start calling men dogs. It was really a man-bashing song.”

Here’s the original song:

The mysteries of “Who Let the Dogs Out” don’t end there. It turns out there was a massive songwriting and copyrighting issue.

Here’s the official story:

Keith Wrainwright, a salon-owner from London, brought back cassettes and CDs of music he heard on trips to Trinidad and Tobago. Jonathan King, a record producer for Genesis, found it and recorded the song under the name Fat Jakk and His Pack of Pets with a fake Caribbean accent. It flopped.

Steve Greenberg, an American record producer known for launching the careers of Hanson, the Jonas Brothers, and Joss Stone saw the potential in the hook. He told Entertainment Weekly, “it stayed in my head, literally for years. Every once in a while it would pop into my head and I’d go, if I can figure out the right way to do this record, I could have a big hit.”

He pitched it to the Baha Men but they said no. Isaiah Taylor, the co-founder of the group, said, “I didn’t want to do it, because at that time, I’m not sure that the song would have even worked for us.”

They eventually said yes. Despite the repetitiveness of the chorus, it took a while to record. According to lead singer Rik Carey, “It was hours and hours of vocals. That’s a huge type of sound to get, a huge vocal delivery. This wasn’t a 15-minute recording process.”

Greenberg tried to sign it to a record label but “they just laughed at me.” He went on to develop his own label, called S-Curve, and signed the Baha Men as its first act. The rest is history.

Interesting trivia: Nickelodeon and Disney had a bidding war over the song. Nickelodeon wanted it to appear on Rugrats in Paris while Disney aimed for it to be played on 101 Dalmatians. The former won after they offered a half-hour live concert special that the network would pay for.

Here’s the music video:

It doesn’t end there.

So many people have claimed that they wrote “Who Let the Dogs Out.”

Douglas is officially credited as the songwriter but he says that he got the phrase from his brother-in-law. Two producers for a Canadian radio show claimed they came up with the tagline for a jingle and it checks out because Douglas’s brother in-law used to work there. Douglas settled by signing a declaration that they came up with the hook of the song.

A legal battle ensued when Ossie Gurley, a music producer who served as the arranger to the album where “Who Let the Dogs Out” is from, used the track when he started working with Wingspan Records. It was eventually settled out of court.

Here are other people who have staked their claim to the song:

  • Club music producers 20 Fingers wrote the song “You’re a Dog,” which had the lyrics “Who let them dogs loose? / Woof woof woof woof” in 1994. This was six years before “Who Let the Dogs Out” was released
  • Joe Gonzalez and Brett Hammock, from Miami Boom Productions, claimed they wrote the hook on a bread bag when they were teenagers in 1992
  • John Michael Davis has a video of his football team in Michigan using the chant in 1990
  • There are also video of other sports team using the chant as early as 1987

Despite the issue, the song would be successful. Greenberg considered the Grammy as a vindication. He told Entertainment Weekly, “it was kind of a joke to people, but I really believed in these guys! So this was big.”

A parade was held in the Bahamas to honor the Baha Men. Greenberg was given a key to the city by the prime minister “as a thank you for my part in making it happen.”

The song also helped tourism in the Bahamas. Carey said in 2019, “People around here in the tourism business will tell you that they had to hire [staff] for all the people who would come looking for the Baha Men. And it’s still like that.”

The Baha Men continued to release albums, the latest being Ride with Me in 2015. The group released the song “Off the Leash,” a celebration of “Who Let the Dogs Out,” in time for the hit single’s 15th anniversary. Their latest song is “Let’s Go,” released in 2019.

As for Douglas, who wrote “Who Let the Dogs Out” as a female empowerment anthem, went on to create more music. A standout song is “Abuse,” which “speaks of social outrage relating to domestic violence.” His latest song is “Break the Cycle,” which aimed to “to heighten awareness surrounding the issue of domestic abuse and the need to ‘break the cycle.’”

What do you think? Share your thoughts below!

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