Should I Play Music for My Anxious Dog?

About five years ago, an interesting study regarding the effects of auditory stimulation on kenneled dogs was released by a team at Colorado State University (Kogan). Its findings were compatible with a similar study released in 2002 from Queens University in Belfast (Wells). Both teams found that different types of auditory stimulation indeed has an effect on our dog’s behavior and more specifically the type of stimulation given can have either a negative or positive impact.

One of the objectives of these two studies was to examine what impact they might be able to have on shelter or kenneled dogs. It’s well-known and not surprising that shelters can be stressful places for dogs. They are in a strange environment, maybe after being lost or separated from their families. They might even be sick. The shelter is noisy, chaotic and it activates their stress-responsive systems.

A common objective for the shelter staff is to reduce the dog’s anxiety and hopefully enhance the likelihood of adoption for the kenneled pets. These studies offer some insight on environmental enrichments including auditory stimulation that can be provided to improve the welfare and behavior of the kenneled dogs.
The 2002 study examined five different types of auditory stimulation including human conversation, classical music, pop music, heavy metal music and no music. The 2012 study focused on classical, heavy metal and music specifically designed for it purported calming influences on canines.

They each measured results by examining the sleep habits, activity levels of the dogs, their vocalizations (barking, howling) and body shaking. Both studies found an increase in the amount of time spent resting or sleeping when classical music was being played and an increase in body shaking, barking and other activity when heavy metal was being played.

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Logically the more relaxed, calm behaviors are more desirable, especially to potential adopters who may stay at the shelter longer if the dogs aren’t barking and carrying on. Longer visits lead to more adoptions.

Interestingly, the Kogan study showed that classical music was more beneficial than music said to be psychoacoustically designed with the specific goal of creating calm, soothing music for dogs – a musical genre that gained impetus after the 2002 study (Through a Dog’s Ear).

The team wasn’t specifically able to identify a cause for this, but something noted by the scientists was that it’s not necessarily the genre of the music but other factors that impact the sensations on the dogs. They found these to include:

  • Longer notes tend to be calming
  • Pure tones & regular rhythms are associated with positive states
  • A tempo matching an animal’s resting heart rate (or respiration)

These factors may have more impact than the music itself.

You can use music to the same effect on your dogs at home if they have anxiety or separation issues. You can also play calming music in the car if they are averse to travel or during thunderstorms or fireworks when many dogs get anxious and over-excited.

You might try your own experiment to see what music genre your dog responds to best.

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