Can music help your dog?

Henry Thoreau, a poet from the 1800s, once said: “When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe.” Could it be that music potentially has the same effect on dogs?

Why do we love music?

A lot of research has gone into the subject, but scientists aren’t completely sure why music is so special to many of us. Our brains release ‘happy hormones’ when we engage in activities that ensure our survival. A very simple example is enjoying a satisfying meal. It makes you feel good, so you will do everything in your power to do it again. Therefore, you won’t starve.

Interestingly, we don’t need music to survive, yet it has the same effect on our brains. There are various explanations for why this happens, but we need more research to be completely sure.

There are conflicting opinions about whether music has a similar effect on dogs. It’s unlikely that your dog will get highly emotional, the way you do, when REM belts out Everybody Hurts.

Metalhead Marley?

There have been reports of dogs responding differently to different genres of music. Irish psychologist Deborah Wells observed the reactions of shelter dogs upon hearing different types of music.

Popular music, such as that of Britney Spears or Bob Marley, didn’t elicit any reaction from the dogs, just like with human conversation or nothing at all in the background. Heavier sounds, such as Metallica, saw the dogs becoming agitated, with an increase in barking. Classical music seemed to calm the dogs – they barked less and settled down.

“It is well established that music can influence our moods,” said Wells. “Classical music, for example, can help to reduce levels of stress, while grunge music can promote hostility, sadness, tension and fatigue. It is now believed that dogs may be as discerning as humans when it comes to musical preference.”

Music therapy for dogs

A study published in 2020 states that music therapy is being used more and more by vets, and there is an industry growing around the phenomenon, which sees people developing music specifically aimed at dogs and helping them to relax.

This is based on the observation that classical music tends to lessen anxiety in dogs, but the study states clearly that there isn’t enough scientific evidence to support this.

Interestingly, the study mentions that we need to take into account that all dogs are individuals and, therefore, music might have a different effect on different dogs. Factors that could influence the way your dog experiences music could be his size, the shape of his head, the shape and range of movement of his ears, and his learning history.

How can you help your dog with music?

You can experiment at home with your dog’s reaction to music. Do this in such a way that you don’t harm him in any way. Remember that he has super-sensitive ears… do not blast Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ to your dog, no matter how much you might enjoy it! Start off with something soothing, at a low volume. Then watch your dog’s body language. If he gets up and leaves, it’s a sure sign that he is not enjoying what you are doing. If he barks or seems agitated, rather stop. But if he seems to calm down or settle in for a snooze, you might be on the right track (pun intended).

YouTube has a large selection of music especially for dogs – just search ‘music for dogs’. You can select from various playlists, some of which continue for many hours. There are even a variety of music apps you can download, for example Relax My Dog.

On a final note

Letting the music play softly when you leave the house might help your dog to cope, or it might not. It all depends on your dog, and music should not replace proper treatment if your dog really battles to be alone. If this is the case, it is very important to consult a behaviourist who can help you and your dog to cope with his separation issues.


Interesting: Why do some dogs howl along to certain music?

We’ve all seen those cute videos of dogs ‘singing’ along to someone playing the piano. But no, your dog isn’t really doing his best Whitney Houston impression. Dogs tend to howl in response to certain high-pitched noises, such as certain musical instruments, sirens and other howling animals. It is thought to be a means of communication: ‘I hear you out there; I am here too!’ The dog is connecting the sound to the one other thing he knows that makes the noise – other dogs. Being animals, dogs don’t know much about the concepts of music and singing.

WARNING: It is not a good idea to make your dog wear earphones, as you don’t know for sure what volume his delicate ears can handle.


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