Recent research shows that certain types of music encourage calmness more successfully than others do for our pets. As a result, music composed solely for dogs has become a surprising new genre within the industry—and a welcome relief to pet owners dealing with separation anxiety.
The Calm of Classical
Professor Deborah L. Wells and her colleagues at the Canine Behavior Centre in Queen’s University embarked on groundbreaking research regarding dogs and music in 2002. After exposing dogs in various settings (shelters, at home, in veterinary clinics, etc.) to different music genres, she found that they, like humans, have emotional responses to music. Listening to heavy metal like Metallica made them stand up and bark more, which indicated increased stress. Pop music and recording human conversations didn’t make any noticeable difference. But when the dogs heard Beethoven and Vivaldi, they appeared much more relaxed.
A few years later, music producer and sound researcher Joshua Leeds conducted a study of his own (with his company, BioAcoustic Research & Development) inspired by Wells’ results. His two pilot studies in 2004 and 2005 used 150 dogs and two types of music: classical and a specialized genre of classical incorporating characteristics dogs were shown to favor in previous research: solo instruments and soothing tempos. Over 70 percent of the observed dogs in kennels and 85 percent of dogs at home became much more relaxed upon hearing the dog-specific classical music. They weren’t as anxious in usually stressful situations like bad weather, visitors ringing the doorbell, and owners leaving.
Watch Out for Those Whale Sounds
Since the findings demonstrated so clearly that music therapy works for dogs, too, Leeds collaborated with concert pianist Lisa Spector and veterinary neurologist Susan Wagner to create Through a Dog’s Ear, a book and CD tailored for our canine companions. But theirs isn’t the only CD of its kind; now that pampering pets is so trendy, most owners want to do everything they can for their four-legged friend, and that includes attending to his emotional needs. In response to the interest, researchers continue to seek out the best possible sound mix for dogs. In fact, Teikyo University’s Department of Animal Science worked with the music label Hats Unlimited to create what they believe is the ultimate relaxing mash-up: classical music combined with ambient noises like talking and barking. The CD is called "Dreams for Dogs" and went on sale in 2010.
Music for dogs isn’t limited to the therapeutic realm, though. After all, we humans listen to music for all kinds of reasons; why shouldn’t our pets? In June 2010, musician Laurie Anderson actually put on a concert outside of the Sydney Opera House in Australia specifically for dogs. There were a few songs thrown in for humans, but most of the twenty-minute set was filled with high-pitched sounds—including ones perceptible only to a dog’s ear, since they hear at a higher frequency—deep beats, and even a few whale calls (which made some dogs a little agitated, according to reports). Anderson came up with the idea during a conversation with fellow musician Yo Yo Ma about how fun it would be to play for an audience of dogs. Luckily, the world’s first outdoor dog concert seemed to be a good time for all involved—though I’m betting most dogs relish any opportunity to frolic outdoors with their furry friends.
Buying a CD for a dog or taking him to see a concert might seem strange or even ridiculous to some, but not to anyone who’s dealt with pet separation anxiety. After all, whatever the music costs is surely less than the damage inflicted on a couch or a pair of glasses by an anxious, unhappy dog. It will ease the dog’s stress, and it might ease the owner’s guilt about causing the separation in the first place. And as anyone who’s closed the door on a pet with shame-inducing puppy-dog eyes can attest to, that could be worth more than gold.