Old-School Earworm: Do Any Other Gen Xers Sing That ‘Hard-Workin’ Dog’ Song From 1970s ‘Sesame Street’ to Their Pups?
I was born just about six months after Sesame Street premiered, so I was in that initial generation who grew up watching the beloved series. And I sometimes don’t fully realize just how much it influenced me then, and has continued to, unless I stop and think about it a little.
Certainly, in terms of learning basic things like the ABCs or counting, the show was a key factor for me, especially before I began school. My mom, who I guess should know, has told me that I was able to count to 10 in Spanish before I could in English from watching Sesame Street.
And, of course, when it came to counting in English (at least up to the number 12), I couldn’t help but love, and learn from, those classic animated pinball machine segments accompanied by the funky and catchy Pointer Sisters-performed tune, which I still hum to myself probably more often than I’m aware:
But there were other things from the 1970s era of Sesame Street I grew up on that have remained with me that weren’t necessarily educational, but simply fun, funny and/or joyful. All of the Muppets segments, of course, especially those featuring my man Grover, but also some less-famous things.
One of the biggest of those for me was a filmed segment, a couple of minutes long, that I remember always looking forward to, though I’m not sure when I first saw it, or how many times I did.
This short followed a little dog enjoying his or her busy day on a ranch herding cows. It was accompanied by a twangy tune with lyrics sung from the dog’s point of view that has proven to be even catchier for me than the Pointer Sisters one.
The film appears to have first aired on Sesame Street in 1975. Its tune, written and performed by Fred Wardenburg, is, I think, officially called “Cow Dog Song,” but I’ve always just known it as “Hard-Workin’ Dog” because of its refrain, which is the part of the song that has stuck in my mind the most:
“I’m a dog, I’m a workin’ dog, I’m a hard-workin’ dog … [brief burst of banjo music] … hard-workin’ dog”
It apparently has remained in other people’s brains, as well, as I happily learned when I found a video of that segment in places like the Internet Archive and YouTube:
These lyrics stayed with me well before I could rediscover them on the internet, and for a long time before I had my own dog. They popped into my head more often, and found more frequent vocalization from my lips, when I did finally bring a pooch into my life.
I had this rescue mutt for a little over 12 years, from my mid 30s to late 40s, and throughout my time with her I would frequently find myself singing that “hard-workin’ dog” refrain, even though she wasn’t particularly hard-working.
I would also sometimes rhyme words with “dog,” like “hog” and “frog,” when just being silly and speaking to her. Hearing the full song again now, I wonder if that unwittingly came from a part of my brain that remembered portions of one of the tune’s verses:
“Now, I never said I was a *hog*, and you can see I’m not a *frog*; I’m tryin’ to tell ya: I’m a *dog*. I’m a *cow* dog. [refrain]”
So, I guess the song was not only fun but educational in its own way after all; like in showing how some words can rhyme with “dog” in that verse, for example.
Other verses mention various types of dogs and breeds from around the world: lap dogs, house dogs, show dogs, Russian wolfhounds, German shepherds, French poodles (of course, the pooch singing this tune makes it known that he or she is just an A-merican cow dog).
Check out newsreel and TV footage from roughly the past 70 years of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
Depending upon when I first saw this film and heard the song, and had it register with me (probably around age 5), it was likely the first time I had heard about different dog breeds like those, even if I wasn’t aware of it in the moment.
I still think of and hum “Hard-Workin’ Dog,” even though I said goodbye to my mutt a few years ago. The song now not only has nostalgic and sentimental value as something from my childhood, but also through its association with my beloved dog, and the years she put up with me singing it to her during quiet moments at home, just the two of us.
For various reasons, I have not yet brought another dog into my life, but I am eager to soon. And — whether it’s a lap dog, house dog, show dog, Russian wolfhound, German shepherd, French poodle, A-merican cow dog or anything else, and whether it’s hard-working or not — you can bet that I will be singing “Hard-Workin’ Dog” to that pooch.
Thanks again, Sesame Street!
The natural history series, narrated by William Conrad, had opening and closing themes that were among the funkiest grooves of the '70s. The show itself was also interesting and informative, as were its accompanying books from Time-Life.