There are many animal metaphors in K-pop, from the metamorphosis of butterflies to the flight of birds to the dangerous ferocity of predators like alligators and wolves. But one of the most ubiquitous creatures used to paint lyrical pictures in K-pop is also one of the most beloved animals around: dogs.

K-pop acts love comparing themselves to these beloved pets. Canine companions are not just cute — they can actually convey a wide variety of meanings. Dogs can be cuddly and sweet, or they can be aggressive and wild. They have specific traits associated with their personalities, such as unwavering loyalty. Having a wide variety of universal meanings makes dogs an ideal shorthand in lyrics.

In K-pop lyrics, man’s best friend serves two main functions that seem to contradict one another. Dogs can signify both obedience and domesticity, as well as aggression and independence, depending on who’s wielding the imagery.

K-pop rappers love a good dog metaphor. Brash dog barks kick off Mino‘s swaggering solo anthem “I’m Him.” He compares himself to a big dog on the block as a way to illustrate his freedom from limits and his single-mindedness on the path to achieving his dreams:

Say ho ho ho bow wow
I took off and threw away my leash
I’ll dig only at one spot, I’ll be a star in the sky now
You’ll uselessly dig, lay down and just count the stars in the sky

Other MCs have compared themselves to tough, unleashed dogs, including Mino’s YG labelmate Bobby on his solo track “Holup”:

This is my voice
Polar opposite of silence
A dog is on stage
Barking passion and fighting spirit
A crazy rude dog’s animal instinct takes over my body

While claiming to be a dog can be empowering, it can also be a way for rappers to express feelings of being controlled, neutered, and domesticated. Mino turns the dog metaphor around in “Fiance,” singing: “I’m like a dog that’s fallen down, give me some water.” In iKon‘s “What’s Wrong?,” B.I. raps, “Am I a dog? Do you only feel ok if you have a leash around my neck?” And Agust D, also known as Suga of BTS, says in his solo track “Give It To Me”: “I can’t live like a dog when I’m born to be a tiger.”

Instead of being powerful, dogs in these lyrics are shown as helpless and meek, easily ignored or contained. While the men of K-pop wallow in this image, the women of K-pop weaponize this depiction of dogs to dismiss the weak men in their lives. Some dogs are “all bark, no bite,” as the saying goes.

For example, in Black Pink‘s “See U Later,” Jennie compares an empty apology to background noise like a dog barking. In “Ah Yeah,” the ladies of EXID liken a pathetic suitor to a “desperate dog.” And Hwasa‘s “Twit” is all about the power imbalance in a relationship in which the man is pathetically devoted to her:

I make you patient
I make you puppy
I make you hungry
I don’t give anything but why am I unhappy too?
Don’t just breathe for me
You look so lonely

In these romantic scenarios, dogs are characterized as unable to be happy without the presence of another person. In these songs, this quality is framed as a negative or weakness in a relationship, but in others, it’s a strength. At times, it is shown not just as a strength, but as something to aspire to. The dedicated dog and owner dynamic seems to be one that’s idealized in cute K-pop love songs. This around-the-clock devotion is at the heart of 10cm‘s “Pet,” as well as “Cat & Dog” from Big Hit rookies TXT:

Feel like I’m your cat I’m your dog
With my two eyes, I can only see you
Our relationship isn’t serendipitous, but indistinct
If I just have you, purr purr purr
I don’t wanna be just friends
I don’t want to leave you, can I be a pet
For 24 hours, without interruption, at your side,
Clear space for me

They might be paragons of loyalty, but dogs’ adorable, goofy energy makes them the perfect basis for playful, silly concepts as well. One of the most iconic novelty songs in K-pop is Shinee‘s “Woof Woof.” The members infamously performed this jazzy track dressed as dogs with bone-shaped microphones, singing about being eager, lovesick pups.

Recently, Mamamoo followed in Shinee’s footsteps — or paw tracks — with their dog-themed song “Waggy,” which they performed on MCountdown in dog and cat kigurumi suits, and on Yu Huiyeol’s Sketchbook in full dog costumes, singing: “Bark bark bark follow me upstairs puppy / When you follow me around, you’re seriously so cute.”

Idols and songwriters love their pet dogs, with some bringing them to the studio or even opening Instagram accounts for their four-legged friends, so it’s no surprise that they would take inspiration from them. Dogs are as diverse in appearance, attitude and personality as people, making them perfect stand-ins for expressing human emotions in a fun and nuanced way. That’s why across a wide variety of genres, K-pop has really gone to the dogs.

(YouTube [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13]. Images via RBW Entertainment, Big Hit Entertainment, YG Entertainment, Mnet. Lyrics via Color Coded Lyrics [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10], Lyrics Translate.)