If you tend to leave the radio on for your dog when you leave the house, listen up: Some music can be more stressful than being left alone.
While studies show that dogs are tuned into some of the same sonic landscapes as humans, their vocal ranges and heart rates are very different from ours. That means their wiring doesn’t necessarily help them appreciate songs that might please our ears and heart zones.
For more than a decade, sound and behavior researchers have been looking into the therapeutic effect of music on dogs. Some of the leading research originated at the Canine Behavior Centre Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland where Professor Deborah L. Wells and her colleagues looked at the effect of different genres of music on dogs in a variety of typical settings (homes, shelters, veterinary clinics) and discovered dogs indeed have emotional responses to different types of music.
Mozart or Metallica?
Dogs that heard classical music tended to relax, while dogs exposed to hard rock (think AC/DC and Metallica) were more likely to bark and get agitated. Their research also found that dogs react indifferent to Pop music and recorded human conversations. Inspired by Wells and her colleagues, music producer Joshua Leeds conducted a study of his own under the auspices of his sound research company, BioAcoustic Research & Development. His research showed that dog-specific classical music was especially beneficial in helping dogs get through stressful events and situations like thunderstorms and doorbells, and being left alone.
Leeds would later go on to collaborate with concert pianist Lisa Spector and veterinary neurologist Susan Wagner to create dog-specific music under the name Through a Dog’s Ear—a series of CDs that offer therapeutic playlists. All this research has inspired others: Tokyo’s Teikyo University Department of Animal Science collaborated with music label Hats Unlimited to create a CD called Dreams for Dogs that combines classical music with ambient noises like barking and human voices.
And the beat goes on. More collaborations have followed all that original research, including one between classical pianist Yo Yo Ma and musician Laurie Anderson, who even went so far as to perform a concert in Australia outside Sydney Opera House—specifically for dogs. Bradley Joseph released a number of CDs and DVD’s aimed at creating peaceful environments for dogs left home alone. Entitled "While You Are Gone,” the series produced on the Robbins Island Music label, features instrumental music mixed with short stories, and soft animal and nature sounds
Simpler is Better
So it seems dogs can be entrained—the process whereby our internal pulses will match a periodic external rhythm (heart rate, brain waves, and breath slowed or accelerated)—just like people. The science also shows that the simpler the sound, the greater the relaxation response. Further studies have gone on to show that internal organs also accelerate or brake to match external rhythmic stimuli. But it will be awhile before you see dogs wagging their tail to a beat.
As Joshua Leed explains at his website Through a Dog’s Ear, “Over the last fifty years…we’ve learned to play the human body in a purposeful way. By adding the natural processes of resonance (the ability of one vibration to alter another), entrainment (the effect of periodic rhythms to speed up or slow down the brain, heart, and breath), and auditory pattern identification (determining when it is conducive for the brain to be in an active or passive mode) to the musical palette of harmony, melody and form, it is now possible to create potent soundtracks for specific purposes.”
But keep in mind what Charles Snowdon, an animal psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has to say about this to LiveScience. While "…research has shown that while dogs behave differently in response to different types of music,” like showing “behaviors more suggestive of relaxation in response to classical music and behaviors more suggestive of agitation in response to heavy metal music,” dogs will never be able to appreciate music the way humans do. They’re more likely to respond to species-specific music—music that uses the pitches, tones and tempos that feel familiar to them.
Some Tried and True Options
With all that in mind, reconsider putting on the droning NPR talk show or blasting your dog with the Sound of Music or Gwen Stefani’s Sweet Escape. Instead, check out here a few of these more scientifically proven recommendations for soothing your agitated canine companion:
Through a Dog’s Ear Series
-Music to Calm Your Canine Companion, Volumes 1, 2 and 3
-Driving Edition – Music to Calm Your Dog in the Car
-Music for the Canine Household
-Music to Comfort Your Elderly Canine, Volumes 1, 2 and 3
-Music to Calm Your Puppy, Volumes 1 and 2
Music Music Pets Love
-While You Are Gone (series 2004-2008)
-The Holiday Edition (While You Are Gone) (CD) (2008)
The Divinity of Dogs—Music to Calm Dogs and the People Who Love Them by George Skaroulis (CD and MP3s)
Jo Ostgarden is a former Dog Life columnist, and has helped vet and foster more than 100 dogs with a rescue group in Oregon for the last 15 years. She has a fur child named Nik, a tri-color English Springer Spaniel, whom she walks or runs daily, rain or shine.