How Does Music Affect our Dogs?
Music can have a powerful effect on us all. Whether it be pumping adrenaline from your favourite rock anthem, some soothing relaxation from a classical number, or a little lift from a bouncy country tune, music can really affect our mood and behaviour. Studies suggest that music can even help to aid individuals with Parkinson's or after a Stroke due to the potential to help stimulate lost neurological deficits such as verbal control. Whilst we know the powerful effects music can have on humans the question arises, what about our furry companions? Can music have the same effect?
Sound certainly is of great importance to canines. Dogs have much better hearing than us. In fact, they can perceive frequencies almost twice that of humans and can hear sounds approximately four times farther away. Ever wondered why your dog bizarrely runs to the front door frantically whilst you do not hear a sound? What could they possibly have heard that you didn't? Well turns out a lot! Whilst humans are able to perceive frequencies of sound waves between 20 to 20,000 hertz and from about 20 ft away, our dogs can hear hertz up to 40,000 and can hear sounds up to 80 feet away. It can be easy to forget how this may affect our dogs. As they have little control over their environment and with their increased sound sensitivity, music may have a greater effect upon dogs than we ever imagined.
Dog behaviour does appear to be affected by music. Classical music has long been a genre found to have a positive effect on canine behaviour. Research by veterinary neurologist Susan Wagner determined that classical music had a calming effect and lowered the heart rates and brain activity of dogs in her study. Deborah Wells, a psychologist from Queens University played music for shelter dogs in different genres and also found that classical music provided the most soothing effect. Then a study in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour also looked into dogs in kennels and found that the dogs were most likely to sleep when listening to classical music.
You don't have to look far to see the effects of classical music on dogs for yourself. A popular video that went viral in 2017 showed a stray dog in Turkey appears out of nowhere in the middle of an outdoor classical concert. The elderly dog proceeded to stroll into the middle of the musicians playing and lay down next to a very surprised looking violinist. The dog appeared to have simply come to lay in amongst the music. An entirely voluntary decision, the dog with no connection to any of the human participants was displaying fascinating canine behaviour. One can only assume that the dog wanted to be near the music purely for its own enjoyment or relaxation?
But is classical they only musical genre that dogs have a preference for? Bowman and the Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in collaboration with the University of Glasgow think not. Their study found that reggae and soft rock were actually more calming than classical music. They also found that music such as rock was found to increase anxious agitated behaviours, including increased body shaking, and physical signs of nervousness. In all cases documented the genre of pop was found to have the least effect on dogs and behaviours were found in all cases do not change. Sorry Ed Sheeran but dogs do not appear to think your songs are as "perfect" as us humans.
Just a quick google search and one can find many delightful videos of our doggy pals singing, talking, barking and more. Whilst many of today's domestic dog breeds have little resemblance or characteristics of their ancient wolf ancestors – they do still retain some traits. One of which is the use of sound for communication. What is even more interesting is how many of these videos are accompanied by music. It appears as though music creates some kind of response in dogs that encourages them to "speak". Perhaps music really does sooth the doggy soul. Scientific analyses have even provided evidence to suggest that canines have a sense of pitch. Through recordings of wolf ancestors, we can see that different members of a group will change the tone of their "singing" when joining in a chorus. They all appear to want to sing in a slightly different pitch that goes along with the others. This is similar to what is observed in the many videos found on social media of our furry friends singing along to the latest chart hits.
This uncanny ability to determine pitch and tone in songs has proved useful to musicians across history. In fact, some of the most influential artists have their dogs to thank for some of their best work. Richard Wilhelm Wagner, used to play alongside his Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Peps. He noticed that Peps would respond differently to different melodies depending on their keys. This led him to the discovery of the concept of matching music to emotions. The result was how he described his work, such as the opera Tannhauser. Within Tannhauser, the key of E-flat major is linked to the concept of holy love and salvation whereas E major is tied to the feelings of sensual love and debauchery. Peps little tail wags and barks led to some of the most amazing musical performances. Similarly, Dr George Robinson Sinclair, the organist at Hereford Cathedral in London, had a Bulldog named Dan. Dan was responsible for keeping participants of an attending choir in tune. When they sang out of tune he would growl at choristers. The love of musicians for their dogs even led to musical performances being dedicated to them. Composer Nurock created many performed including Howl in 1980 at Carnegie Hall, Sonata for Piano and Dog in 1983, and the Expedition in 1984. All of which were arrangements for both Siberian Husky and Jazz Trios. In each of the pieces dogs howled, barked and yipped along to the music.
So can we use music to help our dogs? The answer may well be yes! Behaviourists suggest that music could benefit our dogs during training and other situations. Playing music has long been thought of as an effective method to calm dogs during what can be a stressful situation such as fireworks or travelling in the car. A newer suggestion is to play classical music during a doggy training session. As you are teaching your dog a new trick play some calming music and it is suggested to help your dog concentrate more.
If you're not sure what to play to your dog then do not worry because fellow dog enthusiasts have done this for us. In recent years scientists such as veterinary neurologist Susan Wagner have developed albums specifically for our fluffy friends. You can play these tunes as suggested in times you think your dog may need them. In the case of "Through a Dogs Ear" one of the most popular dog musical albums the idea actually came to pianist names Lisa Spector in 2003. Lisa had been raising guide dog for the blind puppies for years and one day noticed something fascinating. As a concert pianist for years the piano was a natural place for Lisa, but little did she know it was for the puppies as well. Six fluffy golden Labrador pups tumbled under the piano as she played and were lulled into a sweet slumber. Lisa phoned Susan Wagner to tell of the interesting behaviour and came up with the idea of an album of classical music for dogs. This led Susan and Lisa to the creation of their album.
So music really does affect our dogs, their advanced hearing anatomy and inherited traits have led to this species having an important connection to music. Whether it be to communicate with their companions, ease their stress or to help write the next famous symphony, dogs and music appear to have a symbiotic relationship. Throughout history dogs have helped in making music, perhaps now it's time to focus on using music to help our dogs. Maybe try playing classical music, reggae or soft rock to see what happens with your dog at home?
Bowman, A., Dowell, F.J., Evans, N.P. and Scottish, S.P.C.A., 2017. The effect of different genres of music on the stress levels of kennelled dogs. Physiology & behaviour, 171, pp.207-215.
Kogan, L.R., Schoenfeld-Tacher, R. and Simon, A.A., 2012. Behavioural effects of auditory stimulation on kenneled dogs. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 7(5), pp.268-275.
Wells, D.L., Graham, L. and Hepper, P.G., 2002. The influence of auditory stimulation on the behaviour of dogs housed in a rescue shelter. Animal Welfare, 11(4), pp.385-393.
Bowman, A., Scottish, S.P.C.A., Dowell, F.J. and Evans, N.P., 2015. ‘Four Seasons' in an animal rescue centre; classical music reduces environmental stress in kennelled dogs. Physiology & behaviour, 143, pp.70-82.
Spector, L. (2018) Through a Dogs Ear. Accessed at: http://throughadogsear.com/about-lisa-spector/. Accessed on: 21/08/18
I Calm Pet. (2018). Accessed at: https://icalmpet.com/product/through-a-dogs-ear-book-plus-starter-cd/. Accessed on: 21/08/18