I recently read an interesting study about the effect of different types of music on kenneled dogs. (“Behavioral effect of auditory stimulation on kenneled dogs,” by Kogan, Schoenfeld-Tacher & Simon, J of Veterinary Behavior 7, 2012, 268-275.) The authors’ goal was to determine if different types of music, as has been reported in other species, had different types of effects on dogs, and the results indeed confirmed that this was true. The results suggested that 1) “classical music” increases the amount of time the dogs spent sleeping, and 2) “heavy metal” music increased body shaking (or trembling). Surprisingly however, “psychoacoustically designed” music, a piano piece specifically designed to calm dogs, resulted in no statistically significant change in behavior from silence.
First off, I want to acknowledge Kogan et al for doing important research on the effects of the acoustic environment on domestic dogs. We so often focus on other aspects of their environment–Is their dog bed comfy? Does it look pretty to us?–and fail to attend to the impact of sound on our dog’s environment (not to mention our own). This is by no means the first study to look at the responses of dog to sound or music, but it is an important step toward a more complete and nuanced understanding of how dogs respond to different types of sound, a topic near and dear to my heart.
Many of you know that my dissertation research was about the effect of different types of sounds on working domestic animals, and so it’s not surprising that I am especially interested in this topic. My study found that short, rapidly-repeated notes increased motor activity in dogs, and that long, continuous notes were universally used to soothe or calm working dogs and horses (Perspectives in Ethology, Vol 9, 1991). In another study, Wells found no observable changes in behavior in shelter dogs listening to human speech, “pop music” or no music, but increases in resting postures and decreased barking to “classical music,” while heavy metal music elicited increased barking and rising to a stand (2000, 2002, Applied Animal Behavior Science).
Kogan’s research replicates those findings (with an exception discussed below), but a conversation with Primatologist Charles Snowdon, PhD and an expert on animals and their responses to sound, reminded me of an important point. Kogan refers to “classical music” as resulting in more frequent observations of dog sleeping, but as Dr. Snowdon reminded me, “classical music” includes a broad range of pieces, from soothing selections like “Moonlight Sonata” (one of the pieces played to the dogs in Kogan’s study) to the 1812 Overture, which one would hardly describe as “soothing,” at least not to humans. Thus, it is not the classification of the music that matters, but the features of each piece that make the difference. Leave it to some monkeys to emphasize that point for us . . .
In one of the decade’s most innovative pieces of research, Snowdon used his knowledge of Cotton Top Tamarin vocalizations to ask what effect human music would have on another primate species. He first found that “human” music had little observable effect on the monkeys, but when his collaborator, cellist and composer David Teie, modified the music based on the pitches and tempos of the vocal repertoire of the tamarins, they discovered that the monkey’s responses followed what appear to be common, if not universal, mammalian responses to certain aspects of music. Here’s a link to samples of the modified music.
Snowdon’s & Teie’s work reminds us that what is important is not whether the music is “classical” or “heavy metal,” but whether it includes a set of acoustic features that appear to be universally associated with soothing or stimulating internal states. Those features include:
1) Longer notes tend to be calming, staccato (short, repeated) notes stimulating (think saying “Sta-a-a-a-a-y” to a dog versus “Pup-pup-pup-pup” when calling to come).
2) Pure tones & regular rhythms are associated with positive states, harsh, noisy ones & irregular rhythms with negatives states (think about a high, clear repeated whine from a puppy who wants attention versus a low, “noisy” growl from a dog warning another off a bone.)
3) A tempo matching an animal’s resting heart rate (or respiration) tends to be calming.
All of this suggests that it can indeed be valuable to play certain types of music to individual dogs or dogs in kenneled situations. However, if you recall, Kogan’s work did not find that the “psychoacoustically designed” music had an effect on the dog’s behavior when compared to other pieces or to no music at all. The particular piece of music used in the study was a section of Music to Calm Your Canine Companion, music included in the book Through a Dog’s Ear. We sell it on our website, and is also available separately as a CD.
Although I’m not qualified to analyze all the acoustic changes Leeds and Wagner made to make music especially soothing to dogs, the basic principles followed what we have learned about how sound effects the animal who hears it. The music (all piano played by musician Lisa Spector) is modified from “classical” pieces that follow the criteria above, so why wouldn’t it be equally effective at soothing the dogs who heard it?
I talked to Kogan about her results, and she too was surprised by the dog’s responses to the “Dog’s Ear” music. She felt confident that the results were robust, in that they made thousands of observations and the results were consistent. For example, during the presentation of “classical music,” (Fur Elise, Moonlight Sonata, Blue Danube Waltz & Air on a G String) the dogs were observed sleeping 3.7 to 6.0 % of the time. That compares with 1.1 % of the time during periods of no music and 1.4 % of the time during the presentation of the Dog’s Ear music. (On the other hand, she reported that in as many as 71.2 % of the observational periods a dog was observed shaking (as if visibly nervous) during only the heavy metal music, a fact which makes me want to run back in time, turn off the music and give the dogs a belly rub.)
What could possibly explain these results? After all, the Dog’s Ear music is sold as having proven effects on dogs, and large numbers of people have reported that the music is helpful to their dogs. You can listen to some samples here. It also follows many of the criteria listed above. I spoke to author and musicologist Joshua Leeds about Kogan’s results, and he too admitted to being surprised at the outcome. His best guesses as to the lack of effect of Dog’s Ear music were 1) Acoustics: Sound is conveyed differently by different types of equipment and through different environments. Perhaps the speakers used conveyed the music of a full orchestra better than simple piano music? However, two of the “classical” pieces used in the Kogan et al study were also piano music, so that’s probably not the answer. However, his pieces are ‘simplified,” they have fewer notes and perhaps might be differentially affected by the speakers and room acoustics. 2) His pieces are designed as progressions, but in the study a short section of “Dog’s Ear” music was put on a tape loop and played repeatedly. Leeds modifies three factors in his music for calming dogs: tone (resonance), tempo (entrainment) and pattern. He modified the music he selected by eliminating certain frequencies, “simplifying” the music to make it more relaxing to the brain, and decreasing the beats per minute, and it is designed to be played in full, not in small, repeated units. To his credit, he and his colleagues did a pilot study that was supportive of the desired results (calmer dogs) but as is true for all pilot studies, it had some holes and wasn’t by any means the “definitive study.” But all we can do is speculate about the lack of effect of the Dog’s Ear music in Kogan’s study. It may be that the music truly doesn’t have any calming effect on dogs when tested objectively, but it also may be that there are other factors we don’t yet understand that are skewing the results.
What about you? I’m truly curious about your experience if you’ve tried any of the CDs from Through a Dog’s Ear. Have you tried it? If so, what was your experience? Katie here at the office saw no observable effect when her Dogo was an adolescent, but found that Lily dozed off as if on sleeping pills not too long ago when she heard the Dog’s Ear CD play. I tried it with Willie during acupuncture, and found no observable change in his behavior, but Lassie seemed to relax especially fast during acupuncture treatments if I played it to her. These are of course, only anecdotal reports, but all of our observations can still be extremely valuable. I’d love to hear about your experience.
Here’s what we do know for sure: Some kinds of music or other sounds do indeed seem to have a positive effect on kenneled dogs, especially sounds with long, extended notes, pure tones and relatively slow tempos. We also know, from Snowdon’s research, that we need to look at the acoustic range and vocal repertoire of each species before we make too many assumptions about what kind of sounds have what effect. Here’s what we don’t know: exactly what are all the best acoustic features to calm and soothe dogs in over stimulating environments? How effective is music “simplified” and modified based on theory but not yet a lot of data? I’ll leave you with one very important comment made by Lori Kogan when I interviewed her about the study: It’s not just the dogs we want to think about. If the people who come to visit a shelter are in an attractive, pleasing environment, one that is playing pleasant, soothing music, surely they would be more likely to stay longer at minimum, and perhaps more likely to adopt? A great point I think, and another reminder of the importance of the acoustic environment around us and our dogs.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Tootsie has been learning that leaping up and pawing at the gate to Willie’s crate is not the way to get a treat in her own kennel. Last week I realized I was mindlessly (but gently) pushing her off of Willie’s crate as I was closing his door in preparation to taking Tootsie to her own crate. Willie would enthusiastically run into his crate, Tootsie would dance and leap as I shut his door in excited anticipation of what was to come (a treat for her in her own crate.) Ah, a perfect opportunity to let Tootsie figure it out on her own. This week when she leaps up I simply stand up and go still. I reinforced her for standing four on the floor by moving one step toward her crate and sure enough, the leaping and pawing is almost gone. I’d say we are half way to her linking my shutting Willie’s crate as a cue for her to run into hers. I’ll keep you posted.
Winter is certainly here, it was quite a bit below zero (Farenheit) here a few mornings ago. The kitties are staying warm by cuddling together in a dog bed I bought for Tootsie (who still has more than she needs, believe me) which is placed inside of blankets and cardboard boxes in the garage. Not very fancy, but toasty warm and makes for one very adorable picture every morning when I open the farm house door to see Nellie and Polly cuddled up together. Tootsie has become one very hardy little Cavalier, she pounces around in the snow like an Arctic fox, although if it’s below 10 degrees I don’t take her out for long. Willie, not surprisingly, is oblivious. He’ll hold up a paw if it is truly bitter after we’ve been out awhile, and I am careful to avoid the potential of frost bite, but he basically adores cold weather and snow and probably thinks it was all created just for him.
Photos of Cardinals in winter are so common they are trite, but they are common for a reason. There’s little more cheerful than red birds with a background of evergreens and white snow. Most of the photos are of the strikingly colored males, but I have a soft spot in my heart for the females, their colors are so nuanced. Here’s one this morning:
And here she is flying to the feeder, directly toward me and my lens.
These photos are okay, but I can’t wait for my new camera! I’m counting the days til it arrives.