Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Music Therapy for Dogs?

My new pup, "Big Al"

By Langley Cornwell

We adopted another dog recently. He needed a home quickly so we are making it work, even though our original plan was to wait until we moved into a house with a yard before getting a second dog. One of our biggest concerns with bringing another shelter dog home was that he might undo some of the work we’ve done with our shy, fearful resident dog, Frosty. In order to get ahead of any potential problems, we immediately enrolled the newest member of our pack in training classes.

Armed with a new harness, a dog mat, a clicker and plenty of CANIDAE TidNips treats, we were ready for training. The first day we worked on basic mat work and name recognition exercises. While practicing having the dog stay on the mat, our instructor had a “stranger” dress up in a crazy outfit and weave through the participants. The dogs were supposed to remain calmly on their mats and not react to the mysterious stranger in the giant sombrero. After that, the instructor pulled out a vacuum cleaner that has to be the loudest one I’ve ever heard.

Happily, our new pooch was unfazed, which is the exact opposite of how Frosty would have responded. She would have tried to eat the sombrero-wearing lady whole, and she would have become completely unhinged by the vacuum cleaner. In fact, several dogs in the training session did not fare well during this portion of the class, which prompted an interesting discussion about the influence of sounds and music on an animal’s behavior.

An article on the WebVet website explains this subject in detail. It starts with a series of questions. I think most dog owners would answer yes to at least one of these questions: Does your Pug pace and whine when the alarm clock goes off? Does your Labrador retriever howl when you run the blender? Does your Australian shepherd bark incessantly when your neighbors mow their lawns? Is your Dalmatian afraid of the vacuum cleaner?

The world around us is a noisy place and it seems to be getting noisier. There are motorcycles, sirens, loud garbage trucks and leaf blowers sounding off in the neighborhoods. There are multiple TVs, computer printers, food processors, noisy video games and loud toys blaring in some households. All of this can cause anxiety in sensitive animals. Because dogs have such an acute sense of hearing, it's natural for them to respond fearfully to such loud stimuli, say the experts. And this stimulus causes some dogs to experience debilitating sensory overload.

Big Al and Frosty
Recent studies show that music (and other soothing sounds) can positively influence animal behavior and counterbalance anxiety producing noises. Moreover, music therapy for animals is a healthy way to comfort a dog with behavioral or anxiety problems.

Of course animals do not outwardly respond to music the same way that people do. But their internal organs do speed up or slow down in accordance with external rhythms, and they respond to the vibrations around them the same way that people do.

What music do dogs like?

Apparently canines prefer classical music. Over 20 years of research in psychoacoustics (the effect sound has on the nervous system) and multitudes of studies confirm that classical music produces the best results. But not just any classical music, different styles of instrumentation and tempo can produce different results.

Researchers experimented with varied principles of tone, rhythms and patterns to determine what was the most soothing. They modified and rearranged traditional classical pieces to create simplified sounding canine music. It turns out that solo instruments, slower tempos, and less complex arrangements had a better calming effect than faster selections with more complex harmonic and orchestral content.

Studies show that 70 percent of dogs in kennels and 85 percent of dogs in households demonstrated reduced stress levels when listening to a music therapy CD. So while thunderstorms, vacuum cleaners, car alarms and video games can prompt undesirable dog behavior, modified classical music can sooth an animal and improve the lives of canines. I’m going to give it a try.

Have any of you tried canine music therapy? Did it work for your dog?

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell


  1. We haven't tried canine music therapy, but music does seem to help the skittish kitties at our shelter.

  2. Interesting article, will have to try it on my sister's pup who hates firework sounds!! Please let me know which cd seems most effective and we'll give it a whirl!

  3. Wow did not know this existed. But I do know for certain that my dog hates Pop music. :)

    My Blog

  4. Loving Max, when I test out the CDs, I'll write about them.

  5. I have heard that dogs respond well to the softer classical music...Debussy, Tchaikovsky, etc. Nice blog! Love your background!

  6. My dog and cats all into,free,nick drake,otis spann,generally if i like it they do,it's easy to see if it's ok with them,and great when they give a big stretch at the end of a tune,as if to say,'mmmmmm that was nice'

  7. It's folk/blues for my dog and cats.


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