Over the past decade, science has shown that dogs and cats tend to relax when listening to certain music.
Classical music, especially Mozart compositions, has been the primary focus of these earlier experiments. The so-called “Mozart effect” seemed to soothe toddlers, dogs, and cats, at least temporarily.
The Scottish SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and University of Glasgow wanted to take these findings a step further and determine if dogs preferred certain types of music more than others. They also wanted to investigate whether changing the channel could extend the effects of music therapy in dogs.
Do dogs prefer a certain type of music?
Bob Marley and Air Supply fans rejoice; reggae and soft rock topped the canine chill out charts.
That’s good news for shelter dogs and Rastafarians everywhere. “Lively Up Yourself” while I “Stir It Up” and decipher if “One good thing about music – when it hits you, you feel no pain” is as true for dogs as it is for us.
Music therapy for animals is nothing new. Researchers have studied shelter dogs and proven music, especially classical compositions, could lower heart rate and visible signs of stress in hospitalized and shelter animals.
One problem with canine music therapy, or “auditory enrichment,” is that dogs tend to get used to the music quickly, reducing the stress-busting effects after just a few days.
This team of Scottish scientists set out to determine if shuffling a playlist of different genres could extend the chillaxing consequences of auditory enrichment in a shelter. Pass the patois; would reggae rule the dog runs?
Thirty-eight shelter dogs heard five different genres of music over a five-day period. Soft rock, Motown, pop, reggae, and classical were used to determine if varying the types of music could prolong the calming results.
The scientists’ first important finding was that dogs spent more time lying and significantly less time standing whenever any type of music was played. This observation suggested the dogs were more relaxed when any of the five musical genres was played.
Playing music did not significantly reduce barking behaviors, although an increase in vocalizations was noted immediately following cessation of music. In other words, the dogs seemed to be saying, “Hey! Who turned off the music?”
The dogs were also wearing special heart rate monitors to measure heart rate variability (HRV), an indicator of stress. HRV in the shelter dogs was found to be significantly higher, indicating lower stress, when soft rock and reggae was played.
I guess “Even the Nights Are Better” when Air Supply croons in the kennel.
The experiment also measured urinary cortisol:creatinine levels (UCCR) in the period before music was played, throughout the five days of music therapy, and a for few days after the study was concluded. UCCR results indicated lowest stress levels in the dogs when soft rock was being played.
Changing the tune
These results offer insight into how we can enhance the quality of life for dogs in shelter, kennel, and hospital environments. Something as simple as mixing up a playlist between classical, soft rock, and reggae may extend the soothing effects of music during stressful periods.
If you work or volunteer in an animal shelter or veterinary clinic, I’d encourage you to explore adding auditory enrichment to your protocols. Research and my 25 years of clinical experience conclude both dogs and cats benefit from relaxing music.
I’ve observed the best success in my patients listening to classical and electronic chill out music of 60-80 beats per minute (BPM). Based on this research, I’ll be adding some down-tempo reggae.
Sorry, Air Supply, I don’t see myself downloading “Now and Forever” anytime soon. After all, I’ve got to listen to it, too. And, no, I’m not “All Out of Love.” I find Bob Marley to be more my idea of “Sweet Dreams,” “Come What May.”