It’s a perennial favorite in concerts and has been covered by several friends and other artists. Whenever I perform this song I can pretty much look around the room and identify every person who has a dog at home.
Finally I got around to making a video for “Dog for a Day,” starring Waldo, my labradoodle. Below is the story of how this song came to be.
This song is a testament to how a collaborator can spark your songwriting.
I was fooling around with my guitar in my apartment in San Rafael, California, on a bright afternoon, and I happened upon a way to strum without a pick that I hadn’t used before, dragging my thumbnail and fingernails toward the bass strings. This created a lively kind of bounce—something like an island feel—that led me to string together a simple, happy-go-lucky chord progression in the key of G.
I quickly heard a verse and chorus melody over these changes and started, in my usual fashion, to sing nonsense words and syllables. But I had no words yet or lyrical angle. So I picked up the phone and called my brother, Dru, my music partner since we were learning guitar as teenagers, and played this little piece of music for him.
“What should this song be about?” I said.
He barely paused. “Write about what it’s like to be a dog.”
I laughed, said thanks, and hung up the phone—and proceeded to finish “Dog for a Day” in about 20 minutes.
I didn’t have a dog (or any other pets) at that time, but my brother and I had grown up with lots of them—Moe the pointer, A.J. the miniature hippie poodle, Tatum the massive, drooly Newfoundland. So writing about a dog’s life was easy.
Plus there were dogs in my daily routine, like the golden retriever I often saw in the morning outside my apartment, who inspired the line about “thumping on the sidewalk.” I was in a typical post-collegiate, pre-kids, apartment-renting phase, just beginning to settle into something like a grown-up’s life, so my thoughts naturally went to contrasting a dog’s day with my own.
Soon after I wrote “Dog for a Day,” my brother and I both became parents, and this song became a favorite of my kids and nieces. Once we were all driving out to the coast in northern California and the kids started singing it in the back seat. In the second verse, they sang “You know I’m planning for a kitten for dinner,” and I just about died of laughter. The actual lyric? “You know I’m planning for a kid and for dinner.” This is the best mondegreen I’m aware of for one of my songs.
“Dog for a Day” had been around for six years or so when Waldo came into my life as an impossibly cute puppy. We’ve walked a lot of trails together, and he’s lying at my feet as I write this. Waldo is an old guy now, 12 years old, and his health is ailing, so making this video and revisiting these moments is both sweet and sad for me. As soon as I met Waldo, “Dog for a Day” became his song, and it will forever be his song.
—Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers
P.S. Waldo passed away just a few months after I wrote this post, leaving a big hole in my house and in my heart.
P.P.S. A year and a half after saying goodbye to Waldo, we adopted a beautiful rescue dog named Ezma, brought to Central New York from a shelter in Texas. I wish she could have met Waldo.
P.P.P.S. Here’s a playlist of some of my favorite dog songs.
I’m rushing off into the morning
Eyes hanging down
Waiting for the coffee to slap me around
I hear a thumping on the sidewalk
And look up to see a dog face smile
I’m off to work as he naps for a while
And then I’m planning a career or
I’m planning for play
Planning for a mortgage on some distant day
You know I’m planning for a kid and for dinner
Planning to plan no more
When I hear paws scratching at the door
If I could shed my skin
Alter the shape I’m in
Fill out with fur and grow a long tail
If I could be that way
I would be a happy man
A dog for a day
I’d scare a squirrel to a treetop
And mangle your shoes
Chase a stick into the water or simply refuse
I’d bark my head off if I wanted
Whenever I heard the siren call
Or I would sleep, contented, through it all
So I am stuck inside my body
And with my two feet
But there are human consolations here
In the front seat
No, I never have a collar or dog chow
And I’m allowed on the bed
But I wonder what my life would be instead