Music to Soothe the Savage (Canine) Soul?

Dog Looking at and Listening to a Phonograph, ...

Dog Looking at and Listening to a Phonograph, "His Master's Voice", The Original RCA Music Puppy Dog Logo Symbol for Advertising (Photo credit: Beverly & Pack)

Do you leave music on when you leave home, thinking your pooch will enjoy it, that the music will fill some of the emptiness he or she might feel in your absence?  Well, you might be right – or wrong, depending on the music you select and the dog(s) you have.

As mammals, it’s understandable that dogs might like music just as we do.  A number of animal shelters now use music to reduce the stress among the animals in their care. But the type of music is just as important in alleviating the tendency for shelter dogs to bark or behave excitedly, with classical seeming to have the greatest impact.

As we learn more about this phenomena, the research of animal psychologist Charles Snowdon (University of Wisconsin-Madison), found that dogs and cats literally “march to the beat of a different drum.” They enjoy what he calls “species-specific music” that is music specifically designed with the pitches, tones and tempos familiar to their particular species.

But dogs don’t quite fall into the “species-specific” musical bracket (if you’ll excuse a pun).  Since dogs vary greatly in size and vocal range, different breeds will respond differently. For example, large dogs have vocal ranges similar to male humans, so they seem to respond best to music in our frequency range as compared to smaller dogs.

Other researchers have also been “fine-tuning” the research in canine reactions to human music. Deborah Wells, a psychologist at Queen’s University Belfast, found that dogs respond differently to various types of music with, as we might expect, softer, classical music appearing to promote relaxation while heavy metal promotes agitation.  The level of sound also has an impact on dogs, just as it does on us, with louder music (regardless of the type) creating more excited, agitated behavior.

In the end, however, it is unlikely that your dog will appreciate the score of Beethoven’s Pathetique as much as you do since, according to Snowdon, dogs lack an important musical ability of humans – relative pitch.

Still, given the success noted in animal shelters in this country and abroad, maybe putting on a CD when you leave, with soft, lovely music, might be a nice addition to your home’s atmosphere. And even if the dog doesn’t appreciate it, what a lovely sound to  greet you when you return home (if you can hear it over the excited barking of your own dogs who will undoubtedly be over the moon to have you back.)

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3 Responses to Music to Soothe the Savage (Canine) Soul?

  1. Marie Grime May 26, 2012 at 1:15 pm #

    My Timon recognized the Jay Leno theme song. Before the days of DVR’s, I didn’t watch much TV, but after puttering around all day, I made it a habit of stopping on a dime at 11:35 pm to watch Jay.
    Timon was an ancient rescue Chihuahua, a really quiet little thing that always hid under covers. We seldom knew where he was, but we didn’t dare sit on a throw, towel, blanket, etc. until we located him.
    Hubby watched the 11 o’clock news then retired. I would be either cleaning up the kitchen or muddling up my computer, but when I heard that theme song of Leno’s, I’d drop what I was doing and head for the living room couch.
    Kevin’s high-pitched guitar notes (in those days) always led the way, so maybe the author was right, the guitar suited Timon’s high-pitched Chihuahua voice and hearing. It was a race between Timon and I to see who reached the couch first. He always snuggled against me for the whole show, and I always made sure a “blankie” was there.
    It was our special, relaxing half hour, and he knew the music that started it.

  2. Hemlata Vasavada May 27, 2012 at 6:43 am #

    The photograph of the dog and the gramophone reminded me of my childhood in India where my sister and I tried to train our dog to pose as “His Master’s Voice.” I’m positive good, soft music provides company to humans and animals and has calming effects on both. Great article, Patricia.

  3. Ann June 6, 2012 at 4:33 pm #

    I have no doubt that music sooths dogs. Our Buster Brown had surgery for IVDD in November. He’d always suffered from separation anxiety, but after the surgery, his anxiety increased. We were worried that he would reinjure himself during one of these episodes. Then I read a post on Dodgerslist about leaving a radio or TV on to sooth dogs. Figuring it couldn’t hurt to try, we left a radio playing (smooth jazz) the next time we left the house. When we came home, neither of our dogs even woke up. They were both sleeping totally oblivious to our arrival until we were in the house! They were calm. No barking, no jumping or signs of stress at all. We were amazed. Now when we have to leave them alone, the music is on and everytime we come home our dogs are calm. I wish I’d learned this trick years ago. FYI, we tried leaving a TV playing and it wasn’t as effective as the music.

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