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.)