Ever wondered whether dogs enjoy listening to music, and if so, which kind of tunes they respond to most? We get the facts about dogs and music.
If you put a playlist together for your pet, what would it include? A bit of folk, maybe? Some blues (by Howlin’ Wolf, of course)? Classical, jazz, pop or metal? But how do we know what music dogs like – and whether our four-legged friends share our own particular taste?
Can dogs hear music?
Whether or not dogs hear music in the same way we do is not fully understood. Dogs certainly hear sound, but due to their hearing range, they may not be as perceptive to notes on a scale. As dogs can perceive a much wider range of frequencies than people, the subtle differences between 440hz and 490hz (the middle keys on a keyboard) may not be as obvious to them. Humans, on the other hand, have a much narrower frequency range, and so these subtle differences are much more obvious to us, allowing us to hear the melody being played.
Do dogs like music?
So, can dogs enjoy music in the same way a human can? ‘As yet, it’s not clear,’ says Petplan dog behaviourist Nick Jones. ‘Dogs sometimes howl at the piano or when a tune is on TV – and that’s not always a sign of distress. Howling can serve a social function for canines, joining in with the call-out to the “pack” (ie, your family).’ In other words, they may be making their own sounds to be sociable. ‘Whether dogs react to rhythm or melody, we don’t know,’ adds Nick. ‘Most likely, any benefit is holistic.’
A 2020 review of 29 research studies into dogs and music concluded that of all genres, it’s most often classical music that appears to soothe our canine pals. In boarding kennels, rescue shelters or at the vet, where the studies took place, dogs were significantly less agitated and stressed with a bit of Mozart wafting through the air. They spent more time sitting or lying down, resting and sleeping. By contrast, rock and heavy metal produced more vocalising and standing.
Nick cites research that indicates classical music can help dogs with separation anxiety. Owners regularly played classical tracks to their dog – about three times a day for 20 minutes. ‘The aim was for the dog to gradually become more tolerant of being left on their own by associating the owner’s departure with feeling calm,’ he says. Anecdotally, he has also had positive results with this technique.
‘We want our dogs to be relaxed and happy so they can enjoy their activities, are open to learning and are happy to follow our commands,’ Nick says. ‘Especially for rescue dogs, gentle classical music can really be a valuable part of the healing process.’
So why might our dogs find some sounds soothing? One theory that emerged in a Scottish SPCA/Glasgow University study is that a certain tempo of beats mimics a heartbeat, and reminds the dog of snuggling up to its mum as a pup.
Nowhere understands the benefits of the sound of music better than Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, where on an average day, 240 dogs are being looked after. Several genres are broadcast daily to enrich the lives of the animals in its care. Nathalie Ingham, Battersea’s canine behaviourist and training manager, explains: ‘In the morning, when there is more activity with staff coming into work and dogs being taken for walks, we play some upbeat music. Later, we switch to tranquil classical and soft reggae tunes to help them settle.’
The Scottish study backed up this varied musical diet, finding that the positive effects of only one type of music can wear off if played too often.
It’s possible that music may have the potential to boost animal health in other ways, too. Studies suggest that classical music enhances the immune function of mice and rats, and cows are less stressed and more productive when there’s a bit of Chopin being streamed in the milking hall. Piglets, too, have responded differently (resting versus exploring), according to the instruments and tempo of the classical music they’re listening to.
Choosing music for dogs
Type ‘music for dogs’ into Google, Spotify or YouTube, and you’ll find that plenty of compilations pop up. To the human ear, much of this dog-friendly music sounds like the soundtrack to a massage. RelaxMyDog claims there’s a musical formula behind its mix of ambient melodic themes, beats and birdsong that makes it appeal to both dogs who have a much broader spectrum of hearing, as well as humans.
Nick suggests putting your own classical playlist together to try out with your dog, but if you’re not sure what to select, Classic FM has produced a doggy playlist. It includes Elgar’s touching ‘Mina’, dedicated to his Cairn Terrier; Gershwin’s jaunty ‘Walking the Dog’ and a Wagner piece for soprano voice. His Cavalier King Charles, Peps, was reputed to have an ear for a good tune, and the composer closely observed his reactions – sometimes a gentle tail wag, sometimes a more excited response – to help develop his musical themes!
Music to protect your dog
There’s one date in the UK calendar when all dogs could do with their own pair of ear defenders, and that’s 5 November. The sound of fireworks piercing the night can cause terror in even the most well-adjusted dog. But if your dog responds well to music, it may provide a calming alternative to all that noise going on outdoors.
‘In this situation, I’d choose something that can block out the external noise,’ says Nick. ‘It could be classical, but the important thing is to ensure the music distracts your dog, so they are less impacted by the bangs and whizzes outside.’ Don’t miss our other tips on helping your dog cope with fireworks.