Music is recognized around the world as a universal language – that is, even though one country may speak a different language than another, the emotional content transcends any linguistic barriers. Different feelings can be conveyed through song – sadness, happiness, joy, triumph, loneliness, even anger – but many dog parents may wonder: how does music affect my pup? Research has shown that music does indeed impact animals – in fact, studies indicate that classical music typically has a calming effect on canines, whereas certain types of hard rock music may make some dogs anxious. Read on to discover how music affects dog behavior – and how it may even benefit our canine companions.
A Heightened Sense Of Sound: Dogs & Music
As most pet owners know, dogs have an acute sense of hearing. In fact, canines are not only capable of detecting sound frequencies almost twice that of human beings, but they can hear sounds almost four times further in the distance! Did you know that a puppy begins to hear at two weeks of age – almost at the exact same time that their eyes open? By four weeks, his inner ear has fully developed, and he can hear frequencies twice as well as his human counterparts. Subsequently, this highly-evolved sense of sound allows dogs to hear – and react – to even the smallest of sounds, enabling them to communicate with humans and other animals alike, detect an intruder from breaking into his family’s home, or alert parents to a child who may have fallen in the next room.
Keeping all of this information in mind, it’s important to remember how this heightened sense can impact a dog’s behavior. Between their ultra-sensitivity to sound and having such little control over their environment, it’s no wonder that music has been scientifically shown to have a fairly profound effect on dogs of all shapes, sizes, ages and breeds.
Does Music Affect Dogs? The Experts Weigh In
According to an article published in the American Kennel Club, some dogs may not only enjoy listening to music, but be affected by different genres. For example, psychologist Deborah Wells of Queens University in Belfast conducted various experiments with dogs, monitoring their behavior while playing an array of musical styles – including classical, heavy metal, and modern pop. Her studies showed that the pooches listening to the pop music showed a neutral reaction, whereas heavy metal music elicited agitated behavior, including barking and restlessness. However, classical music appeared to have an overall soothing effect on the canine participants. Another similar study showed that in addition to classical music, some soft rock and reggae also seemed to reduce dog stress levels and elicit a calming effect on the dogs.
There is a science behind the effects of calming music on dogs, although experts do not fully understand all of the subtle nuances as far as how it affects the canine brain. However, one thing is certain: according to Dr. Christie Cornelius, DVM, president and founder of Lastwishes.com, relaxing music and sounds affect physiological processes in the autonomic system. She adds, “The autonomic system controls both the fight-or-flight response and the rest-and-digest response. Relaxed dogs, in general, have slower heart rates, rest more easily and are less vocal—similar to what the brain experiences during a rest-and-digest situation.”
So what does this research mean for pet owners? For starters, using music can be beneficial in many ways, including but not limited to training purposes, as a therapy for anxious dogs, and even as a way to keep dogs calm when they’re home alone.
The Benefit Of Music & Your Dog
Think of music and how it affects humans – when stressed, it can provide a source of relaxation. In other instances, it can provide an emotional comfort, such as during times of sadness or depression. As many people can attest, music has gotten them through some of their most difficult times of their life – during a break-up, losing a job, mourning the loss of a loved one, and so on. Whether a person is listening to their favorite band on the radio, performing with a group of musicians, or singing in the shower, music can truly be a form of melodic therapy, through good times and bad. So it’s no wonder that man’s best friend can also benefit from some choice tunes, too. Here are a few instances where music can be a balm to a dog’s frazzled nerves:
- At home: Many dogs get anxiety from fireworks in the neighborhood or a loud thunderstorm has him hiding under the sofa. To ease his anxiety, consider playing some classical music to calm him down and reduce his stress levels. Pet folks may also want to consider the benefits of canine products such as the ThunderShirt, as well as natural supplements for dogs that are formulated to reduce nervousness.
- At the vet: Most fur baby owners will attest that the vet is a stressful place for pets – and their dogs aren’t a huge fan of visits. In some instances, there are veterinary offices who use music to keep dogs calm during routine exams and certain procedures. In order to help dogs feel less scared or agitated during the next trip to the vet, ask the office in advance if playing calming music is an option.
- During training: Whether a doggie parent or a professional trainer is coaching a dog, research has indicated that playing soothing music while training can help him adapt to new routines or changes. Essentially, the logic behind this theory is that it’s much easier for a canine to learn new things during training when he’s in a relaxed state of mind.
What Types Of Music Should I Play For My Dog?
Just as humans have their preferences when it comes to music, dogs do, too. Some pooches may respond favorably to Mozart, while other dogs might love relaxing to Bob Marley. Each dog is unique, and therefore will have his own distinctive likes and dislikes – so how do pet parents figure out the best type of music to play for their favorite four-legged friend? This can actually be a bonding experience for dog owners and pups alike, since the most effective way to find out is to simply listen, watch and and learn. Here’s a few tips to get started:
Research: Although it might seem adequate to just turn on the radio to any old station when leaving the house, the loud rock music blasting out of the speakers might invoke more harm than good. When there’s adequate time, sit with the family dog and play a variety of different musical genres, including jazz, classical instrumentals, children’s lullabies, soft rock, reggae, and even environmental sounds, such as a gentle rain. YouTube is the perfect place to poke around, since there’s virtually every type of music and soundscape available – including videos made especially for dogs.
Observe: Carefully observe the pup’s reactions to each type of music or soundscape – does he seem stimulated/agitated/sleepy/anxious/relaxed etc.? Based on his reactions, dog owners will know the best type of music to play for their pet when he’s anxious, agitated, lonely, and so on. Some experts recommend making a compilation of soothing music (versus just turning on Spotify or the radio) to calm anxious dogs. Once you’ve made a mix of classical instrumentals by a few composers (such as Mozart, Vivaldi, Beethoven, Handel, Chopin, Bach, Debussy, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, or Dvořák), it will be easier to tell which songs/composers the dog responds to the most positively. For a list of timeless classics, click here for a great playlist of songs.
Monitor: In addition to monitoring the dog’s reactions, it’s crucial to monitor the volume of the music, too. As stated, dogs have an incredibly sensitive sense of hearing, so in order for music therapy to be beneficial – and not harmful – it is essential to play the music at a safe volume level to ensure their comfort and safety.
Did You Know…
Music that is slower and features notes that are drawn out has shown to be more calming and can help to induce relaxation and sleep, since the tempo and rhythm is closer to a dog’s breathing/heart rate. According to Dr. Cornelius, dogs tend to relax when exposed to songs with a tempo of 50-60 bpm (beats per minute); such music includes classical music, reggae and certain types of soft rock. On the other hand, music that is very fast with repetitive notes or heavy rhythms (such as heavy metal or hard rock) tends to stimulate dogs and make them more agitated and/or restless.
White Noise & Your Dog: How (The Right) Sounds Can Help
As many pet owners know, dogs tend to fare better when there’s some kind of sound – either from the radio or the TV – when left home alone. Just like humans, most pups are able to relax a bit more easily when there’s either music or talking in the background (similar to when people use ‘white noise’ to go to sleep). Leaving on the radio or the television can help dogs to tune out all of the other external sounds and random noises they may hear – such as firecrackers, a thunderstorm, a car screeching, an ambulance siren, and so on – which in turn may help them to chill out. Essentially, these aids can make it more difficult for dogs to isolate external noise, thus allowing them to get a break from their highly-evolved sense of hearing.
However, as dog parents, it’s important to play the right types of music – opt for calming tones with slower rhythms, and avoid speedy melodies, particularly for panicky pups. Experts also recommend avoiding TV programs that feature loud or startling sounds (such as action movies), or the sounds of animals or dogs barking. For pet owners who like to provide the comfort of the TV for their dogs when they’re not at home, it may be worth considering videos for dogs. There are numerous DVDs available for purchase, as well as videos on YouTube that are made especially to help calm pups and prevent canine separation anxiety. Such videos typically include relaxing music or soundtracks that are geared towards canines, who have a shorter attention span. Ultimately, finding the best forms of music and white noise for an anxious dog can make all the difference in his daily routine – and yours.
- “How Does Music Affect your Dog.” EntirelyPets.com, (no publish date), https://www.entirelypets.com/how-does-music-affect-your-dog.html#:~:text=They%20also%20found%20that%20music,effect%20on%20dogs%20concerning%20behavior. Accessed July 30, 2020.
- Donovan, Liz. “Do Dogs Like Listening to Music?” American Kennel Club (AKC.org), https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/news/do-dogs-like-listening-to-music/. Accessed July 30, 2020.
- “Music and Its Effect on Your Dog.” HealthyPetsBLOG (blog.healthypets.com), (no publish date), https://blog.healthypets.com/informative/music-and-its-effect-on-your-dog/. Accessed July 30, 2020.
- Schwab, Samantha. “The Science Behind Calming Dogs With Sound.” PetMD.com, August 27, 2018, https://m.petmd.com/dog/science-behind-calming-dogs-sound. Accessed July 30, 2020.