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.
Jenny Wall says
My dogs hear music pretty much from the minute we get up to the time we go to bed. We always leave the radio on when we go out and we are always playing different types of music. The main thing I have observed is that my dogs do seem to dislike heavy metal. I am a fan and so do play some very heavy albums sometimes. both dogs look distinctly unimpressed if heavy metal is playing.
Although my rescue dog has separation anxiety and generally follows me round the house like a shadow, if I put on some metal she will sometimes go into another room, as if to get away from it. That then makes me feel guilty so I usually change the CD! And we leave a mainstream radio station on when we go out!
Julia H. says
I have used Through a Dog’s Ear for about two years with my two Beagles. My middle aged, reactive girl is super-attuned to sound – sometimes this is positive for her – she can hear a yogurt open from 3 rooms away and arrives in time to lick the empty (not interested in feedback on this practice!), but it often means she is nervously trying to source the sounds in her environment, and she exhibits true panic at times. Her pal, a younger male, is a jolly little loudmouth who is her opposite. I often play TADE when I sit down at my desk in the AM, and I believe it helps them transition to relaxing/sleeping while I work. When I saw that it was triggering ME to be calm, too, I did wonder if it was the habit or the actual tones, but since the result is so positive, it hardly mattered. I also play it in the car for them as sort of an aural suggestion to chill out. I believe it is effective. Worth noting: my girl knows so many environmental sound cues it shocks even my neuroscientist spouse — maybe TADE works best for her sort of supersonic nervous system?
I have tried numerous methods( alone and in combination) to calm my dog, including the Dog’s Ear CDs. I had two of them. After playing the music during relaxing periods when I was home (in order to help her associate the music with good, calm behavior), I played them while I was gone. I used the CDs for almost a year, but honestly they did not seem to help her at all. The music was tolerable for me, a human, but I donated them a month ago.
I was very curious about the results of the study too and wondered a bit about the methodology. It would be interesting to see if the full cd was played if the results would be different. I did find that when my puppy was an adolescent, Through A Dog’s Ear didn’t seem to have an effect (mind you she’s an Aussie so few things other than 4 hours of play, mental games & hiking seemed to chill her out at that age).
In my sample size of 1 however, since she was a puppy I’ve played folk/surfer music. If I play that artist’s music when she’s a bit anxious, it calms her right down (less so during thunder storms, but that’s another matter). Even when driving if I play the cd, within the first song she chills out (it works for me too). I wonder if the effect I am seeing is because that music was first played when she was calm & quiet anyways (from classical conditioning -not plannd but very welcome), and thus has more effect when re-introduced during more stressful circumstances?
A key question for any study is “has it been replicated?” That takes nothing away from the authors which sound like they did some great work. But science rarely marches forward with a single step. It is well known in science that replication of even highly controlled studies (and reported in peer reviewed papers) between labs is …well challenging.
Thank you so much for this great post! I am also super interested in this topic and hope to be exploring it more in graduate school. I was wondering about your thoughts on the selections. Perhaps I read the study incorrectly, but was the classical music chosen and the psychoacoustic classical music (Through a Dog’s Ear) the same selection? I didn’t think they were, and this surprised me. If the selections were the same pieces, I think we would have been able to compare the simplified, less beats per minute song to the original song and have a better opportunity to understand, beyond the TADE pilot study, if modified the songs make a difference. Further to your point, I too recommend TADE with my clients and have seen it work well for some and not for others. Understanding, on the larger scale of a study, which dogs sleep (and those that don’t) could provide some really helpful insights on why and how music/sound can relax dogs and help use create less stressful environments for better behavior.
I regularly play the classical music NPR station while my dog is at home and I’m away at work. I just recently used Volume 1 of “Through a Dog’s Ear” cd on New Year’s Eve. My dog hates fireworks. Sometimes we slightly sedate him, but I hate doing that. He usually does a lot of panting, pacing, and trying to climb all over us during the fireworks. This year, every time he barked at the fireworks, we redirected him to something else, usually a treat or a toy. When they started getting more frequent, we played Volume 1 of “Through a Dog’s Ear” and let him lie with us on the couch or bed. He stayed calm mostly through the night. When the loud fireworks went off, he still barked, but didn’t even get up. This could have also been due to the fact that he was tired becasue he had been busy all day long. I think the music had an effect on him, but I’ll need to try it more to be sure. I was also thinking of suggesting to the humane society I volunteer at that we play it in the main kennel for the dogs.
Amy @ True Dog says
We have the entire collection of Through The Dogs Ear, and I can’t say that my dogs are more or less relaxed while listening to it, but it does seems to mask the scary noises of life outside the house. They also know when the music turns on that it is time to go to their “beds” and they will receive a Kong or some other treat.
Over the holidays we did some traveling with the dogs, I didn’t have my CD’s along, and wasn’t in an area that had internet connection. I have issues sleeping at night and use a App called “Sleep Pillow.” If you purchased the App for $1.00, there is an extensive list of songs and sounds. I used the guitar strumming sound and piano sound for hours while my dogs were crated away from a hectic holiday party. The neat thing about the App is it can be set on a timer. As the time goes on the sounds slow down. The dogs seemed to respond very well and didn’t bark knowing there were missing all the holiday action. If you have a smart phone, the app is worth the small purchase. I’ve used multiple times since and had the same success.
Donna Hixon says
We play music in the kennel for the boarding dogs and in the groom room to help the dogs relax.
I have noticed it definably maters what I am playing on the piano if the dog leave the room. When I play the violin they always leave and the cat comes and sits right by me.
Millie Williams says
I played music continually (or the tv) in my boarding kennel for 27 years. The dogs liked talk shows, very much, they would go right to sleep. I can only think that their response was the same as mine, when I was a kid going to sleep at night, my bedroom was next to the kitchen. My parents would sit in the kitchen and converse with each other and it put me right out, my parents were there, I was warm and safe….in the kennel, the music they preferred the best was gospel, new or old. Followed by country, better the regular kind of older country than the rock and roll type. I couldn’t listen to much classical myself, there are so many kinds and there would be a couple of songs that I liked and then some that I didn’t like, so can’t speak on that.
Martha G. says
We live out in the country and have quite a few dogs (rescues or inherited). Especially because we have so many dogs, we have regular routines. One of them is to play Through A Dog’s Ear CDs every night at bedtime. We have two different CDs, and we change from one to another every so often. We’ve been doing this for almost three years now. Though I can’t say with any authority what bedtime would be like without this music, my gut feeling is that they perceive the music as a signal that it’s time to go to sleep and that it also helps them relax. Rarely does anyone rebel and want to stay up. In addition, it also helps to calm me down, so when we have our “goodnight routine,” with each dog getting a a bit of focused personal attention, my heart rate is slower and I get into the flow of saying goodnight to them and giving them their scratches and rubs. I’m not trying to hurry and I’m not thinking about what I have to do next. I think this is good for all of us and I am really, really glad we have these recordings!
Bonnie H. says
Gorgeous photo of the cardinal!
Interesting information. Have to say, heavy metal music makes ME nervous, so I’m not surprised it has that effect on animals. I liked the samples from the TADE site, considering buying at least one of them (for me AND my furbabies). So relaxing. Usually when I’m home alone with the dogs (no husband or daughter), I have no TV or music going, and I like it. I work in Surgery, so my day is generally filled with a lot of noise (it really is a loud environment, lots of background noise). Soothing music like that would be nice sometimes.
Phyllis McDonald says
A couple of personal observations about music and dogs. For a few years now I have used : Music dogs Love: While you are Gone with my dogs. I originally got it when I was fostering an extremely reactive dog who also had separation anxiety. I found that the music did help to take the edge off a bit with this dog. With my own dogs it also seems to help a bit, though they are not reactive, nor do they have separation anxiety. It is nice background music for in the house while I am at work and limits the “watchdog” type activity that sometimes goes on. However, I also feel that after awhile they, like myself, are able to tune it out.
On another musical note: I raised a litter of puppies several years ago for which I left the radio on during the day to get them used to noises while I was at work. At first I left the radio tuned to NPR, but then thought that they might get used to the routine of that format and started using a different station each day. With NPR, the country station, and the pop station, I noticed little difference in the behavior of the pups when I came home from work, but when I left the radio tuned to the Spanish music station, which also had very animated DJs, I found that the puppies were very wound up by the time I got home from work. I attributed this to the constant upbeat tempo of both the music and the DJs on that station and soon eliminated it from their routine as they were really “bad” puppies when I got home on those days.
Other than doing my best to remember that long duration sounds eeeeezzzzzeee are going to work better to settle my fearful, reactive Finna we haven’t done much with sound. She has a whole raft of triggers and bad associations that we’re working on and the things that seemed to help her the most when we adopted her 13 months ago were lack of activity and silence. She finds the noisy neighbors, the ones that can’t have a conversation at anything volume less than shouting and like to dismantle worn out appliances with sledge hammers, distressing but frankly, so do I.
Initially car rides were very traumatic for Finna. The trainer we work with is about a 40 minute drive and to keep our sanity while poor Finna barked and cried in the back my daughter and I would sing along with classic rock and roll on the radio. Finna now settles in the car when we start singing. I’d assumed that it was due to association rather than any soothing qualities in the music. In other words Finna learned to associate car rides where we sing along to the radio with Finna going to a place where she gets lots of treats and praise. We’d also sing along on the five minute car rides to the nearest McDonalds where I’d park, run in and purchase a plain double cheese burger that Finna would get pieces of in a steady stream all the way home. Today Finna handles car rides well although the radio has to be on and she settles best if we sing. I’m going to have to bring some CDs along next time and see if type of music matters.
Jeni Grant BA, CPDT-KA says
Thank you for this. I will have to change my materials now. This is the cd I use in Fearful Dog Class Baroque for Beauty Sleep – Sweet Dreams for Beautiful Dreamers by Philips I just preferred it myself. Glad to know I made a good choice and that I have been correct in recommending soft classical music but I did often mention Through A Dog’s Ear too so will have to rethink that. 🙂 Jeni Grant BA, CPDT-KA
Colleen Bublitz says
I also have tried “Through a Dog’s Ear” cds and have not noticed any effect. My one year old dog got car sick as a puppy and now has anxiety and drools in the car. I do not see any improvement whether I am playing the cd or not. I do enjoy the music though so I often let it play in hopes that it will help him.
It sounds like I should buy a classical music cd and try that.
I have used Through a Dog’s Ear for a while now (two years maybe?) and both my Belgians, not to mention myself, fall asleep with it.
I think an interesting test would be to get “normal” recordings of the pieces used in Through A Dog’s Ear, and study the effect the normal recordings have vs. the modified versions.
Louise Kerr says
I have a reactive poodle and two hyper sensitive Belgian Shepherds and live on an Australian rural property where it can be very quiet 24/7. Over the Christmas break I spent a lot of time at home and found that having the radio on ( easy listening classic pop rock station) seemed to calm these dogs. The white noise effect that muted other sudden environmental noises is my theory. But to be fair I was also using food stuffed toys at the same time.
Daniel Davis says
This post is not about the cd but might contain something of interest on the subject.
In the early 90’s I started singing on a Kiowa drum. We practiced in the backyard usually, and sometimes in the house during rainy weather. That same year we had a pack of stray dogs that had been formed on the reservation. Many people would abandon dogs there, I guess with the assumption that because we are Natives we will take care of the dogs… When that happens it will not bode well for the dogs when the pack turns feral and starts to hunt the pack will be eliminated. One of the dogs in the pack was a female, possibly Anatolian Shepherd mix that kept staring at us and would stand about 50 yards from the house, obviously hungry and unknown to us – pregnant. We decided to take her in. She was very,very skittish and it took a couple of weeks of feeding at a distance and closing the distance until she was comfortable enough to adopt us. I was very concerned that the drum, singing and constant coming and going of newcomers would be hard for her to take.
Over the first couple of months she was indeed concerned about all the people and noise and would patrol the perimeter of the yard but not come closer than 30 or 40 feet. Apparently it was not the drum that scared her but the amount of people and goings on that happened weekly (at least) in her backyard.
Gradually she would come closer and closer to us and within two months or so began to lay down a few feet from the drum right after we got settled and started playing. She would fall asleep within minutes and stay there until we were done. Or practice sessions were usually about two hours long.
Our drum was about 3 feet in diameter and very loud, but had a deep rich tone and our beats and songs usually mimic the human heart beat. The reverberations from the drum can be felt (by a human) for several yards at least and heard by the human ear over quite a distance (half a mile at night easily).
I had made several practice tapes for myself of us singing, they seemed to have no positive effect whatsoever on her and she would usually get up and leave the area if I put the music on. Same with other genres of music played through the same player.
We also sang medicine songs routinely using a small kettle drum filled with water, a rattle and voice. The beat is much faster though still rhythmic and mimicking a heart beat. She didn’t seem to mind the sound but did not stay or lay down in the room.
This went on for years, we had her until she passed, she was at least 15. Her reactions never changed much after the first few months.
It brings to my mind several questions.
Did the length of the tone make the difference between a sound she found so soothing that she would fall asleep and a shorter tone that had no relaxing effect? The big drum, having a larger head, would make not only a deeper tone, but a much longer tone which also reverberated within the drum stretching the tone out. The length of the tone was much longer and more rounded if viewed as a wave in a recording program than the tone of a beat from a drum with a much smaller head.
Did the slower,lower pitched steady beat have a soothing effect as compared to a faster and higher pitched steady beat(also live and not amplified)?
Does a recording change the reverberation and depth of the tones enough on it’s own to cause the dog to have an indifferent reaction when listening to the same music as played live or are there other factors involved in a recording that a dog might hear or respond to that humans cannot hear – as opposed to the same music played live and not amplified (even though the live drum was much louder than I would ever play a recording)?
Note: This was a dog who was terrified of thunder but otherwise a very calm and easy going dog.
When our dog was a puppy and we had to leave him alone during the day and while we were training him to sleep in a crate at night, we played Enya’s album “Shepherd Moon.” It definitely seemed to reassure him. I think he liked the soothing tones of her singing and the low, long notes. That’s an album that I tended to put on when I was in a quiet, reflective mood, so it’s also possible that he was picking up on my calmer mood when that particular album was playing and then associating that general feeling with the music when it was playing when he was alone.
Oh, I forgot to say that we hardly ever listen to that album now. Since that dog, the best dog in the whole world, died, the music that was playing so often during his puppy years is too sad and strong for us. It’s not calming or reassuring anymore–just sorrowful.
Eileen Anderson says
I have another hypothesis about why the music from TADE was not found to have a significant effect in the study. The piano is a percussion instrument. When a note is struck on the piano, there is an initial impulse, then the sound decays. For a graphic representation of this see http://www.jiscdigitalmedia.ac.uk/audio/advice/the-physical-principles-of-sound/ Diagram 5. This is different from the sound of a voice or an instrument that can sustain a tone at a constant level. The piano would be one of the last instruments I would choose to produce a “long, soothing tone.”
If the tempo of a piano piece is greatly slowed, the bloom and decay of each note is more obvious. We hear a series of impulses, rather than the blend that ensues if the previous notes are still sounding at a moderately high amplitude when the next note is played. I would wager that when played at the normal “human” tempo there is less variation in the amplitude of the sound. I have noticed this effect with some of the TADE pieces.
This could explain why the piano pieces in the “classical” group may have fared better than the TADE piece. At the human tempo, although there are more notes being played per second, the result may be a more constant level of sound. Both Fur Elise and the Moonlight Sonata have consonant arpeggios and fairly slow harmonic changes at the normal tempo.
I’m glad you pointed out the problems with the term “classical.” This term can mean, “Western art music written from 1750- 1820 (which would exclude two of the pieces chosen by the researchers),” “all Western art music written to this day (which definitely includes some music as strident as heavy metal),” or, as in the study, “a subset of Western art music that is easy listening and pleasing and popular with humans, harmonically conservative and fairly homogeneous in amplitude.” And just as you pointed out that classical music can encompass a broad range, likewise the characteristics we think would appeal to dogs can be found in other types of music. This terminology unfortunately engenders no small amount of snobbery. If you instead compared reactions to playing, say, Peter Paul and Mary vs Stockhausen, I don’t think the classical music would fare so well.
I would love to see some research like Dr. Snowdon’s done for dogs. It would be great to be able to separate out the variables and find out exactly what dogs may find attractive in sound and music, rather than jumping into entire pieces of Western music. (I keep saying Western because there are other cultures with classical music; yet another application of the term.) But I applaud anyone who is seeking to make an environment more soothing for dogs, and I get it that the findings of this kind of study might have immediate practical application.
My dogs seemed to settle nicely the afternoon that I put on TADE, but I can’t separate out the fact that I had also settled myself on the bed and let them get up there with me…. They are regularly exposed to all sorts of music, both live and recorded, but I’ve not noticed any particular response except the occasional startle at the beginning when I put on a Taiko recording a little too loud.
Eileen Anderson MM, MS
Amber Burckhalter says
I have th CDs played in my kennel of over100 dogs. Combining the music with low lighting seems to really calm the dogs. The CD alone works, as the creator states, progressively. From my experience the CD is effective which also leaves me confused? Perhaps! Like people dogs simply have different “taste” in music?
I purchased the book/cd about 4/5 years ago when I had an extremely anxious golden. He would never truly sleep when we were all home bopping around because he wanted to know what we were doing at all times. I popped the cd in & went on as usual. Well, it was the first time he actually slept in that situation! So I feel it did help him. Unfortunately in stressful situations (thunder, fireworks etc) it didn’t aid at all.
After he passed, I got my Cavalier puppy. I put the cd on every night when we went to bed (loop), and every time he was crated. 3 years later, I only use when crated/leave. As soon as that cd is in, he runs to his crate & his eyes get heavy.
I will always recommend adding it to a prevention program or aiding in anxiety. Can’t hurt, right?
I’m sorry to say that I haven’t yet heard, Through A Dog’s Ear, but I do have definite opinions on the subject of music for dogs. I’m a professional classical musician, and at home I use music purposefully, to inspire different states in myself. I use very different music for housecleaning than I do for helping myself fall asleep, for instance. Even within the category of classical music, there’s such a broad range (as noted above) that the emotional effect (and probably the physical effect, too) varies so widely as to necessitate further breakdown, or so I’ve believed (this study will make me think about it more). If I have the radio playing a Mozart symphony for an easily stressed dog while he’s eating breakfast, I’ll turn it off if a piece by Tchaikovsky comes on, because I know that the dynamic range of that piece is going to be much bigger, and there’s going to be a lot more inherent tension in it. I wonder frequently if I’m projecting, though, because if I’m driving in nasty traffic I will turn off a late Romantic-period symphony, but will be thrilled if a nice Classical-period thing is on, something with symmetrical phrases and almost no dissonant harmonies. When I’m comfortably ensconced in a chair at a concert, I very much enjoy listening to dramatic music, but I’m ALWAYS happy to hear stuff from the Baroque and Classical periods, and also from what I think of as the New Age. I don’t find piano music particularly soothing, no matter from what compositional period. I believe it has to do with the fact that notes played by a piano cannot be sustained, and so what I think of as the, ‘om’, effect doesn’t happen. But I know that it’s not that simple, because the sound of classical or folk guitar (acoustic guitar, in other words) is something I find unfailingly soothing, although you can’t sustain a guitar note, either. I’m still trying to watch and learn about the whole subject, as it relates to my dogs. I found out by accident that dogs DO respond to music. I have loads of natural sound CDs, some with music to back up the recorded sounds and some without. One is called, “Sleep”, and it has beta waves mixed in with the music and water sounds. I used to play it when I needed to fall asleep quickly, and I would loop it. One morning I didn’t bother to turn it off when I got up and began tending to the dogs. It took me a little while to notice that they were unusually calm, but I did, after they ate their breakfasts and almost immediately went back to sleep. Since then I have used that CD many times, especially when I leave the house, and I’m pretty sure I’m not projecting when I say that it affects them. I THINK that the effect is enhanced when multiple dogs are listening to the same soothing sounds, but I’m still trying to figure that out. It could just be that the group of my dogs who stay together all day long is naturally calmer anyway, in comparison to my very reactive dog who has his own bedroom for eating and other quiet times. Or it could be that the ones who pile together have been here longer, so they’ve heard more music, period, than the newer dog. But I would say pretty confidently that some dogs are much more affected by music coming out of a speaker than other dogs (I have yet to meet a dog who wasn’t fascinated by a live cello first being played right next to him/her, although once they’re used to it, they often lie down next to me and sleep). I’ve seen a wide range of reactions. I’ll never forget three dogs I rescued from a rural shelter in Kentucky, whom I picked up at a transfer point along their transport journey. I loaded them into my car and turned on the carefully-chosen CD I’d brought along to help them be calm–Baroque cello music. One of the dogs did a perfect imitation of that little Jack Russell, Nipper–‘His Master’s Voice’. She was wide-eyed, cocking her head repeatedly and pricking up her ears. Another dog seemed almost as interested. The third had no reaction that I could see. It’s possibly relevant that the third dog was extremely stressed and fearful. Of my two most recent additions, one (not fearful exactly, but hypervigilant) had no reaction, and one (a physically affectionate goofball here, but said to be very aggressive in the shelter) did the Nipper imitation. I find it all very fascinating, as you can see by how much I wrote here. I don’t often get a chance to compare notes on this. I have a dream of owning a place with a few acres, where stressed shelter dogs can come to relax and get help with their behavioral challenges, and one of the things I plan for them is that they’ll have the option to have individual music specially chosen for them, or be part of the, ‘communal soothe’. I do think that unless you’re trying to use music as white noise to mask more stress-inducing sounds, it’s important to allow a dog access to a good amount of what passes for silence, so I try to provide many hours of that for my dogs, too. I would under no circumstances play heavy metal music (or even loud rock) in front of my dogs, and I had that policy long before I read this post. Thanks so much for all you do for dogs.
P.S. Although this isn’t about music, I wanted to say that, based on our reactions to a recent habit I’ve developed of listening to a book on CD at bedtime, I would theorize that the most soothing sound of all for a dog (and a human?) is to listen to someone with a pleasant, calm voice reading aloud.
Ellen B says
A sound comment (that might help Daniel): I haven’t played music specifically for my service dog so haven’t noticed any pro or con reaction on his part. But what I HAVE noticed is that, although he is constantly ‘on alert’ to help me, I have never seen him sleep so soundly as when we are on a commercial airplane. Shortly after climbing to cruising altitude when the vibration of the plane levels off, he puts his chin on his backwards front paw and snoozes. Then, he gets so relaxed that his head will fall limply over to the side as if he is in a narcotic state, staying that way through most of the flight unless I have to leave my seat, and I actually have to rouse him if the altitude descent noise and wheels being lowered doesn’t wake him. I think it is the combination of the ‘white noise’ and the low-tone vibration that calms, relaxes, and sends him off to Dreamland.
While I haven’t noticed any difference in my dogs while listening to Through a Dogs Ear, a friend found she was able to reduce, then cut out Valium for her dogs during thunderstorms if she played it. We both listen to a lot of classical music (we have a classical music station in Australia), so for her the difference with Through a Dog’s Ear was really noticeable. Personally, I often have background noise on – TV or classical music, and haven’t noticed any difference for my anxious dogs – the value seems to be in blocking the noises from outside, rather than any response to the inside noise. That said, I don’t like heavy metal, and I don’t think I’ll try it!
Life with Riley & Stella says
I travelled this fall to a competition with my young vizsla girl who did not handle the hotel room noises very well and barked/alerted to any sound for two nights. It made for a very long weekend and certainly didn’t impress my hotel roommate. In november I had to travel again to have my other dog get specialized spine surgery and my vizsla girl travelled with me. Knowing I was going to spend a week in the hotel room I loaded the three TADE cds onto my ipod. I played the music at home the week before during periods where the dogs were quiet and crated. When it was bed time in the hotel I placed the ipod recordings on a loop and played them all night. She settled very well and rarely reacted to any noises in the hotel even though our room was very close to an entrance and the vending machines. Also important was the fact that although I am not a fan of classical music it was easy music for me to sleep to. I don’t know if it was the actual recordings that helped or just that it helped to have consistant noise to help offset strange sounds. I also gradually lowered the volume of the music over the nights and found by the end of the week it wasn’t needed. I plan to try the same thing when I travel this month to clicker expo.
Interestingly I also found that the first volume of TADE was much less consistant for level of recordings. Some tracks were much louder than others when transfered to my ipod. I ended up just using the 2nd and 3rd cds which I assume were recorded later using higher quality.
Kathy, I have loved the Enya music for chilling out so I will add that to my selection and see how it works.
I am perhaps unusual in that I dislike background music, don’t have a radio, and rarely play CDs at all these days! I live in a quiet rural courtyard development of around 15 houses, and my dogs do tend to bark at the comings and goings of my neighbours, but for the most part they are walking, playing, eating or dozing. I do wonder if the masking effect of music would keep them even calmer, but as it would irritate me and thus increase the overall stress levels in the house it would probably be counter productive …
It strikes me that this sort of study has an awful lot of variables to control for – the acoustic effect of the environment (eg hard surfaces v soft furnishings), effect of the music on the mood of human carers, dog’s previous history and possible associations of certain types of music with certain moods, etc, etc.
Kathy – I hope that in time the sadness will ease, and the album will resonate with the happiness he brought you rather than the grief of losing him.
Fascinating discussion. Three anecdotes to toss into the mix. My grandmother was an accomplished pianist. When she would play my cat would curl up against her and purr. When my daughter began learning piano this same cat would jump up beside her and bite at her hands to make her stop. For years he had to be locked away while she practiced. Although when she became proficient he stopped objecting to her practicing.
When I was in college my roommate was a harpist. One summer she decided to master the concert harp (as opposed to her lap harp) Our cat would run at top speed the instant the first string sounded in order to sit on the base of the harp.
Our dog Finna was raised in the backyard by animal hoarders. Life in a household was almost constant exposure to new sounds for her. The first time she heard my daughter practicing the piano she didn’t react at all, no going to investigate, not even any ear twitches. The first time she heard my son practice his guitar she was all ears and insisted on sitting with her nose only a few inches from the strings. With repeated exposure she lost her rapt fascination with the guitar but when he practices she will join him in that room. I haven’t noticed that she reacts at all to guitar music being played on the radio or CDs.
All this makes me wonder how much it is the vibrations that matter rather than the actual tone. Given how much more sensitive they are to environmental factors that humans tune out as a matter of course it opens up some fascinating speculations.
What an interesting topic. I haven’t ever systematically tried using music to calm my dogs, mostly because they are both very calm in the house normally- particularly Otis- looking at him right now, if he were any more relaxed, he’d be comatose. Sandy too, spends most of the day very quiet, snoozing or drifting around behind me as I go about my tasks, lying down and curling up wherever I am . Bedtime has never been a problem for us- if anything, getting Otis UP for his last pee in the evening is a labor of Hercules. Sandy is excitable outside and on outings- she MUST be made to lie down in the car, or she will bark and bounce around being annoying. Once she is lying down, though, she does relax and turn off her “looking for trouble” mental state.
Otis has always been extremely relaxed and quiet in the car-he used to be asleep within five minutes, every time-now he stays awake, but spends most of our trips gazing calmly out the windows. I’ve always played the radio in the car, sometimes NPR, sometimes classical, sometimes rock or (lately) Christmas music and never observed any appreciable difference in the dogs’ behavior (unless something on NPR gets me worked up- if I get agitated, irritated, or upset, Sandy will whine and stand and try to move closer to me- I attribute that solely to my mood, not to the program 🙂 .
Otis does have some sounds that function as relaxation triggers, though. Mostly it seems to be pure learned association-noises that should be neutral to mildly annoying (I’d figure), like the rattle of washing dishes, put him right out. With that one, I know the association-it’s a two-parter. When he was first adopted, Otis was not a good eater (to put it mildly). He’d give up on his dinner at the slightest provocation including: 1) if we left the room or 2) if we looked at him too steadily, too intently, or if we took a step toward him. This meant that we had a dog who would only eat if I stood in the room, not looking at him. Washing dishes, for whatever reason, did not spook him, so I started saving up the day’s dishes to do while Mr.PickyPants ate his meals. I think he liked being able to hear that I was still there, in the room, but doing something else- it helped him relax and stop worrying about where I was or what I was doing, and it formed an association between dish clanking and dinner. The second part of his positive association came later- now that Otis is a markedly GOOD eater, washing dishes is still associated with a pleasant and comforting time- the quiet relaxing period after dinner when bellies are full and the family is together.
Most of the time, it is hard to separate the sound trigger from the real-time experience of happiness and relaxation for Otis, but a couple of weeks ago, as I was zooming around getting cooking and baking done for the holidays, I looked up from a sinkful of dishes to see Otis, who had been following me around in what passes in him as anxiety (reacting to my rushing and agitation and general pre-holiday stress, no doubt)-passed out cold on his kitchen bed. I can’t complain, at his worst, rather than snoozing the day away on his bed upstairs, he follows me and looks concerned-if I seem really badly off to him, he’ll lean against my hip or press his nose into my side or chest). Most people likely wouldn’t even read it as anxiety, it’s only noticable to me because I’m so familiar with his normal behavior. Still, it’s nice to have an ‘off-switch’ trigger to go to, something that I know is soothing and comforting to him. Fascinating to me that music can work this way without the learned association. Brains sure are neat!
I should probably go ahead and subscribe to the Journal of Vet. Behavior, but did the Kogan study replicate a kennel/shelter environment or use an existing shelter?
I suppose that either way, it boggles my mind how many visual and olfactory stimuli exist for kenneled dogs, and how many variables these other stimuli pose for anyone attempting to single out dogs’ auditory experience among the others.
I wonder about how things like the time of day the music was played (relative down time vs. active) affected the results of study. Or, for example, if new dogs were introduced to kennels in view of resident dogs during the same selections of music over a number of days. What range of dog personalities were present? Were there “fear barkers,” or mostly “demand barkers,” and was their barking contagious? The questions appear exponentially…
My deep admiration for anyone attempting to tackle such a complex but important topic!
Julia H. says
Thank you, Eileen, for that excellent technical explanation of music. I definitely agree that the devil is in the details in terms of defining ‘calming’ music. Eric Satie is classical piano music, and as much as I enjoy it at times, it’s about as calming as a dental drill! Off to buy more TADE – didn’t realize there were multiple discs. I love how many people admit that it calms, them, too — I am not alone ;-).
Never thought much about music and dogs, we do not play music very often, certainly not as ‘background’. I do notice that Spot reacts to ‘it’s getting spooky” music when I am watching films or detective series but that might be because of my response??
They do respond to the churchbells, but not all bells, there is a certain ‘extra bell’ that tolls at noon, six in the evening and seven o’clock in the morning and they start howling. Thank god for forgivig neighbours because I have no idea how to ‘unlearn’ this. They have done is ever since they were pups but our previous dogs did not respond to the bells at all, so they can’t have learned it from them. And when we are walking, they do not howl and as soon as I speak to Shadow (who is the starter) he will stop howling.
Can’t figure out what is going on..
I managed to film it last summer, when Shad was very lazy 😉 http://youtu.be/uwZj1U__0kw at other times he’ll stop as soon as I get a camera out…
Ellen Pepin says
I haven’t tried the music that is specially designed to calm dogs, but my hyper collie does seem to settle when I put some nice, slow tempo violin and orchestra classical music on. She is a very noisy dog who reacts to the neighbor’s six screaming kids. Yesterday, I could not quiet her and I turned on the local classical station. It took a little while, but she eventually stopped barking and lay down. I’m not sure if it was the music itself calming her ( it calmed me as well) or the fact that the kids were harder to hear.
I played the Through a Dog’s Ear for my GSD several times and every time he got up and left the room. It made me want to take a nap, but made him want to be elsewhere. I stopped playing it.
Dave M says
Hello, I help out at a rescue centre that has speakers in each block and a radio tuned to the classical radio station, one of the blocks speakers have been faulty a while and I feel there is a noticeable difference between the noise levels in the blocks, the one with no music is generally louder and more charged atmosphere than the two blocks where there is something else to listen too other than each other, that cycle of repetitive barking doesnt seem to develop.
My reactive BC is amazingly non-reactive to sound. Oh sure, he’ll react to fireworks and thunder but his reaction is no more than a normal alert to a loud sound, although he’ll get mildly anxious if the fireworks or thunder persist.
He seems completely oblivious to whatever music I’m playing on the radio. BUT, he hates when I practice on either my recorder (a medieval wind instrument not a machine) or my harpsichord. Now, I confess, I’m not very good at either but I don’t think I’m all that bad. And it doesn’t seem to matter whether I’m playing a piece I know well or one that I’m just learning. I have to set up the “Manners Minder” or he’ll fuss at me to stop. Don’t know if this is about my attention being on the music and not on him or if it’s the sound that bothers him. All of my previous animals (dogs and cats) have always left the room when I started practicing, so, the latter is likely (though the former might also be a factor). Good thing my self-esteem isn’t closely tied to my musical ability (or lack thereof!)
On the other hand, a friend of mine who is a very good amateur cellist, had a cat who would sit at his feet when he played – even after the cat was old and deaf. I wonder (as other commenters have) if vibration and/or low frequency sounds that we don’t hear are a significant factor that we need to consider.
I am a small animal massage and swim therapist…I work with dogs doing swim/massage therapy here in Seattle. My boss one day told me I should sing to nervous dogs. I am not a singer by any stretch of the imagination, but when I had a very disoriented and anxious senior dog in the pool the other day (she’s suffering from many ailments the latest a bout with vestibular disease and possible dementia), I gave it a try.
Oddly, it seems I only know the tunes to Christmas songs and We Shall Overcome, so I hummed those very very slowly. She calmed right down, was no longer anxious or disoriented. I told the owner (confessed is more like it) and she said that her friend is a jazz musician and often plays the piano at their house. The dog curls right up under the piano when he plays and when they play his CD, she curls up right next to the speaker.
I think music is powerful for all species. How powerful and what effect is fascinating, but clearly, it worked for this dog. Now I better learn some more songs for our next session =-)
Lisa W says
We don’t have classical or specialized music for our dogs, although I will leave NPR on when I go out (the news shows not music). Primarily to try and block out sounds that might make our very noise-sensitive dog bark or get anxious.
Elizabeth’s comment did make me remember that when we first got Olive (semi-feral, anxious, etc), and she and I would go for a walk, if a song popped into my head, I would start singing and Olive would stop, turn back, and stare at me and not move until I stopped singing. I am a very tonally challenged singer but I have never had a dog respond that way. I did a little experimenting, and if I started singing softly, her ears would go back but she wouldn’t stop in her tracks. If I started out at a normal level (not loudly) she would stop and stare and wait for me to cease and desist. The song didn’t matter, the tone and volume seemed to be factors. These days she barely notices but will occasionally give me that look of “don’t quit your day job.”
I love all these observations. What Julia H. wrote I find fascinating, because she mentioned the only composer (Erik Satie) whose piano music I find uniformly soothing. I know Satie intended it to be what he called, ‘musical wallpaper’. Yet to Julia it’s like a dental drill–so interesting. I suppose a dental drill IS white noise, come to think of it. Some of the writers have mentioned a possible fundamental difference of effect between low and high sounds, and I DO think there is at least that possibility. My ex-husband was a violinist (a good one, too–I’m not sure that ability makes a different to pets, because our pets reacted in a parallel way to our music students, even if the kids were beginners), and the dogs tended not to like the sound of the violin, but did like the cello. This reminded me of something that happened with my very first, ‘own’, dog, a long-haired Chihuahua named Pito. I lived in NYC, and the landlord was going to be fumigating our apartment building on the same day I had a rehearsal in New Jersey, so I took Pito with me. We were rehearsing a brand new piece by an avant-garde composer who was going to be in attendance. I felt less than professional, bringing my dog with me, but he was a very sweet, well-behaved little buddy, and he was used to lying next to me when I played (actually right next to the endpin of my cello, that metal spike which anchors it–this is why I think that vibration is a huge part of this equation). I apologized to everyone at the rehearsal, and all were gracious, including the composer. Everything was going well and Pito’s presence had been forgotten, until we reached a part of the music where all of us in the chamber group were supposed to play what are called harmonics. These are frequencies which occur naturally on instruments (the pitches vary from instrument to instrument), and they have an unusually pure, open sound, and give off lots of vibrations. Pito suddenly put his little nose in the air and barked and barked and BARKED! He had never done such a thing. I think it was the clarinet which affected him the most. I was mortified. I got very lucky that day, though–the composer turned out to be a serious dog lover, and not only forgave Pito and me, but ended up lecturing me for keeping a dog as an accessory, after the fashion of movie stars with Chihuahuas in their handbags, instead of giving him a nice house with a yard. I tried to tell him that he had us pegged wrong, and that Pito regularly chased horses in Central Park and made frequent trips upstate, but maybe he thought Pito was neurotic, and that was why he’d barked. In any case, I didn’t argue much, because I was so glad that he didn’t think we’d ruined his rehearsal.
to Daniel Davis and Kat: Thanks for sharing your stories. I found them fascinating
I have several of the TADE CDs. I play them for my dog during the long hours I am away at work. I used to leave on the radio instead: either NPR or a country music station. I have not noticed any change in my dogs behavior for any of the three types of music/noise. Note that my dog is not the anxious type. I was not looking for a different reaction per-say. I am just trying to do everything I can to make his hours alone as pleasant as possible. At lease none of them seem to hurt…
Regardless of the source, I play the sound very quietly so that it is easy for Duke to get away in another room if he decides that he wants a break. I wonder how much volume plays a role in this?
Also note that my CD player has a feature where you can not only play it on a continuous loop, but play random tracks continuously. I choose random tracks thinking that my dog would like the variety. But if the tracks are meant to build on each other, I wonder if I should have them play straight through.
Fascinating comments here. It sounds as though the reactions of the Dog’s Ear music are mixed, that it helps some dogs a lot and not others. What seems to come through loud and clear from the comments is how unique our dog’s responses are to music. I don’t think that there is any question that certain types of sounds are inherently relaxing to most mammals (long slow notes) and others not, but exactly how that sound is presented has a very different effect on different individuals. I love the stories of dogs leaving the room (like some of Elizabeth’s) or barking (like Pito) or calming down to We Shall Overcome like Gretchen’s client.
One comment that Joshua made to me was especially interesting: He commented that he filtered out some of the higher frequencies in the belief that lower frequencies are more calming. However, we know that lower frequencies in canine communication can be threatening.. so perhaps finding exactly the right pitch is essential. I too am curious about piano versus full orchestra…
What is clear from the research and the comments above, I would argue, is that we are wise to attend to our dog’s responses to his or her acoustic environment, and that we might be able to use sound as yet another way to influence behavior and happiness in our dogs. Not to mention us too. . .
I’ve been trying to find the research I read about recently into differing human emotional responses to music. It struck me at the time, because my sister has such a strong reaction to music, and gets huge pleasure from music that to me is simply noise! She is partly deaf, and plays music at a volume, and with a level of bass, that I find physically distressing to my ageing ears, but I think it goes deeper than that. As far as I recall, the researchers found differences in brain structure between people who had a deep emotional response to music and those, like me, for whom it was a more or less pleasant, take it or leave it, experience. Perhaps there is something similar going on with dogs.
I also recall that a teacher of mine had a theory that humans can really appreciate only two out of the three great art forms – visual art, music and literature – and which two varies from one to another. I wonder what dogs would consider to be the most important sensory experiences? Scent, almost certainly, especially if it included appreciation of food. But after that?
After mulling it over for a few days, I think another factor that could influence the effects of sound is the ever-pervasive word in dog training, “context.” Like so many other aspects of behavior, I think context matters here too. First, to compare it to my own experience, there are songs I find relaxing but in specific contexts they have no effect. A song heard at home may have a tremendous effect on my mood, though when heard at the grocery store, the same song barely registers. Second, in my experience with my dogs, I think that in the face of previously established “mega-events,” at least one of my dogs tunes out any sound unrelated to said event. (I used to play music, TADE and others, when we lived on a busy street, and it seemed to have a calming effect on both until the neighbor dog made his daily stop to pee on the bushes. Then it seemed as though not a sound existed beyond the neighbor dog’s jingling tags. Perhaps the dogs resumed a settled state slightly faster because the music was on??) So in the category of easier said than done, I hope we someday have a better understanding of not only the types of animals most influenced by certain types of sounds, but also of the circumstances most likely to facilitate a positive effect.
I wish you would address the effects of sound/ music on brain development/ intelligence of growing puppies. I have always been a big believer in providing a super enriched environment for puppies – tactile, visual, auditory, olfactory. I have used music when leaving puppies alone more for this benefit than the calming benefit, believing that it stimulated their brains in some way. Maybe 10 years or so ago, “research” came out saying that classical music played for babies could “make them smarter”. This idea could have since been debunked, but at the time it came out in the news, I said “aha! that’s always been my belief with dogs.” It has just been a gut feeling of mine, but I have never heard of any studies verifying it, nor I have heard of any followups on the babies/ classical music idea.
I think pitch has a lot to do with it. The dog I sang to needed lower tones, but not too low. Any time I got in a higher register, she squirmed. If I found the right range and sang slowly…drawing out the notes much longer than normal…she leaned her head right into my face. It was fascinating. This whole discussion is fascinating…but maybe that’s because both my parents were music teachers =-)
Kerry M. says
Thanks for this info. I have used A Dog’s Ear twice last year when welcoming a new puppy into my house. Both were on the first week away from Mama, which is a pretty traumatic time for a new pup. And it was played pretty consistently at night when the pups were getting used to being crated. Since I didn’t have any baseline data – I played it from the very first night – I couldn’t say if it helped the pup, but I found it very relaxing so I kept it on for both of us.
For the next pup, I might branch out to full orchestrations. Maybe some cello sonatas given the feedback from others here – and, well, my own personal preference.
Oh, I also played it over Halloween for my reactive dog because all of the fuss out in the neighborhood was kind of upsetting to him.
Pat Meadows says
Dog: about 18 months old, Golden Retriever/Rottweiler mix, altered male. We adopted him four months ago from an SPCA – he had been a stray dog, history unknown. He ‘strayed’ right after school started…hmmm.
Anyway: he has *severe* Separation Anxiety regarding my husband only, so I get to see the effects of it and cope with it. (He’s improving greatly, btw.) We bought ‘Through a Dog’s Ear, Vol. 1’ and I’ve tried it and other music. It seems to soothe him, he calms down considerably.
I play the piano, btw, and can play some of easier pieces on that DVD; they are VERY slow on the DVD, especially the Bach piece it starts with. I’d never play them that slowly ! But even the other things (which I cannot play) are very slow.
Anyway, our dog also seems to be calmed by Gregorian Chant, and other slow and soothing classical music. I cannot tell the difference between ‘Through a Dog’s Ear’ and the other classical, slow, soothing music with regard to their effects on the dog. I would recommend it to dog owners whose dogs have a problem with anxiety. It’s well worth the money, I believe, to have a collection which you know is soothing.
My singing to the dog (off-key though it is) also seems to soothe him. But if my husband will be gone for several hours, I sure don’t want to sing that whole time!
Gina, my lab girl, has a reputation for not being able to give up control, which means she is not exactly cooperating during her physiotherapy sessions. This is why last Thursday her therapist suggested to try some calming music.
I have to admit that I came across ‘through a dogs ear’ but wasn’t convinced, mostly because I myself am not into classical music (and neither heavy metal).
Your post helped me understand what to look for and I actually ended up buying the first volume of ‘through a dogs ear’ but also prepared a playlist of some of my fav music, with your explanation in mind.
The first run had absolutely no effect on Gina, she didn’t leave the room but she was just as nervous as always. My other two dogs went looking for the source of the music and fell asleep in front of it.
Next physiotherapy was scheduled for Tuesday morning, roughly an hour before I started playing my music and this time the boys fell asleep with me on the couch and Gina stayed close and relaxed too. Afterwards I put on ‘dogs ear’ and let it play through the session.
She still tried to avoid the therapist in regions where she really hurts, but all in all she was a lot calmer than in those sessions before.
I personally have the feeling, that technical equipment makes a difference. The first run was on a portable speaker system and Tuesday I used the surround setup in the living room – which also gave the bass-lines of ‘my playlist’ a better setup.
So thanks for your posts but also thanks to the comments, I realised there’s no foolproof technique but it’s always worth a try. And who knows, maybe we’ll get Gina relaxed enough to go through with acupuncture 🙂
My rescue golden Spencer has not been a fan of rides in the car since his initial 4 hour ride to his now forever home. He probably had never been in a car before & after 4 yrs with me, still is intially thrilled to be going with me, but after 10 minutes he’s over it- head hanging down, not always vomiting, but looks queasy, etc. So I decided to try some of the Dog’s Ear CD’s- he was also destructive in the house, so I started with one CD in the house & used the version for the car, paring them as instructed in terms of timing & order of playing them. He did show more relaxed body posture while in the house & a slightly more relaxed approach to the car & then was able to tolerate the car ride for about another 10 minutes. My approach has not been scientific but I have continued to to use both CD’s as indicated & they do appear to put him a better state of mind, so to speak. I have also tried to use more soothing radio stations when I leave to go to work after reading the Through a Dog’s Ear book.
Regarding this conclusion: ‘ “psychoacoustically designed” music, a piano piece specifically designed to calm dogs, resulted in no statistically significant change in behavior from silence.’, I wonder what exactly is meant by “silence”. Was this a total absence of sound?
I live out in the country and there is no such thing as silence! I woke up this morning to a racket of crows cawing. A little later, a gun shot (hunting!).
A few days ago my dog was spooked by a loud thunderstorm. For the next day or two she continued to pace and tremble even inside the house, her ears perked up to any and all noises from outside. She refused to go outside for any longer than necessary. This was a new thing for us; previously she was cautious in some situations, but she was not fearful most of the time.
We tried a few things and they helped, but yesterday when she started panting and pacing again I bought and downloaded the “Through A Dog’s Ear” music. It did seem to soothe her. For the first time in days she was not under my feet as I cooked in the kitchen, and the panting and pacing stopped. Today she seems almost back to normal; she is calm although she still does not go outside as freely as before. I hope that will come back.
I don’t know if it was the actual music that calmed her or the fact that the music muffled the sounds from outdoors, but it doesn’t really matter to me. I will use it as one of the tools to manage her anxiety, and now I plan to buy the Thunderstorm and Fireworks desensitization CDs as well.
Oh yes, as I saw her calm down, I remembered that my previous dog always seemed to calm down when I sat down to play piano. I’m a beginner and prefer soothing sounds, so I play slowly and calmly. At that time I thought it was because my dog saw me sitting in one place and knew I would be there awhile, so that meant she could finally settle down and relax, but now I wonder if it was the actual music that settled her down.
Hi Dr. McConnell,
I came to your article via a web search that is only slightly related, but your research is fascinating and I enjoyed reading about it very much. I know this is a tangent, and perhaps big something you want to weigh in on, but I thought it was worth a try to see if you had any thoughts on my odd problem: my dog, a 5 yr old maltipoo goes to work with my boyfriend daily and he is a tv producer working in post production. As such, regularly she accompanies him to sound stages where she is exposed to extremely loud music and sounds during long playback sessions where they laboriously go over the entire episode in stops and starts to adjust the sound of the show. Surprisingly she doesn’t seem bothered by this but I am very worried about long term effects – are we harming her physically? Emotionally? Could this be ok, since she seems so calm and unconcerned about it?? I just don’t know, and as I find the process startling and it leaves me a bit jangly, I was so concerned that she also has reactions to it that maybe we won’t see until it’s too late – perhaps behavioral problems that won’t come out until they are completely out of control, I don’t know. So as an expert on dogs and music, I thought you might lend us your insights. And I know this is an old post so I don’t hold out too much hope you’re still monitoring it, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed and would be grateful for any thoughts you’re willing to share with us. We love this dog so much and I want to make sure we’re sensitive to anything that might harm her, as that’s the last thing we’d want to do. Many thanks!
Melissa, yay for you for being concerned about your dog’s well being. I can’t say too much, not being there to observe her, but it is possible that she is one of those dogs who truly isn’t bothered by loud noises. Dogs seem to vary as much as people. I’d implode in the environment that you describe. Seriously, it would be like torture to me, and it would be to my Border Collies too. But there are lots of people who thrive on loud music and there are plenty of dogs who don’t seem to mind it at all. She well could be one of those. The only consideration you might think about is damage to her hearing–I’m not an expert but I’d guess that dogs could also have the cilia in their inner ears damaged by loud sounds, just as people can.
Thank you so much for your prompt and thoughtful reply! I guess it’s a lot like people, some of us are fine with things that might devastate others. She really does seem unfazed so I think I’ll talk to my vet about ear protection to help preserve her hearing but other than that, will take her at her word (so to speak!) that she’s fine with all the noise and really not worried about it as long as she gets to be with her beloved “dad” at work. Separating the 2 of them would be far more upsetting I suspect! I really appreciate your input, we try hard to do right by our “kids” and some concerns just don’t seem to have nice clean answers with consensus so I am grateful to have gotten the input of such a specialized professional. Hope you are enjoying the work you do and getting to expand on this important research area – we definitely need help understanding our furry friends better!
janice shepherd says
my dogs like it when I play “enya”.
janice shepherd says
forgot to add…they need peaceful music like lullabies
Certain frequencies have been shown to elicit responses at the cellular level. A musician in Florida name Michael Tyrrell has done extensive research in frequency response. He has created music around these calming and healing frequencies. I have used his 396 Hz song to calm down my Jack Russell Terrier with great success. It is 22.22minutes long and I can loop it to play repeatedly. He is giving this CD away for the cost of shipping. It also puts me to sleep.
cynthia muir says
I believe that we can develop a conditioned emotional response to calm music being played. I think if the dog is in a relaxed state (on your lap or near you) while the music is played it will help later on when the dog hears the music. It might take a while, but it could be worth the effort!
Amanda Gray says
This was very helpful and I didn’t think it was going to be very helpful. But suprize! It was. I can agree with about 98.3% of your opinions.
BTW the picture of your cardinal is beautiful.