The right music can calm your dog

N.H. Sunday News - Dog Tracks Column - 9/26/10
By: Gail T. Fisher


May I say, I despise gas powered leaf blowers. I understand that people may not like raking leaves, and I get that it’s easier to blow leaves from bushes and corners than to rake, but the incessant, intrusive, offensive, seemingly interminable roar of leaf blowers makes my formerly favorite season a cacophonous nightmare. Autumn used to be the time when windows can be wide open during the day with fresh, delightful breezes. Autumn should be a time of year when doors can be left open for the dogs to go in and out at will, without needing a screen door to keep out the bugs. But it’s not. Trying to write at home the other day, my windows and doors were closed up tight to keep out the noise that prevented me from hearing even my own thoughts.

The interminable racket was affecting me physically, and started me thinking about how sounds –both pleasant and cacophonous—affect us, and our pets. As we well-know, music can be calming or invigorating. Active rhythms can excite and energize us, while slow rhythms can calm and soothe. Anecdotal evidence has long demonstrated that music can also be soothing to dogs, and likewise chaotic noise can lead to over-excitement and unruly behavior. We’ve played classical music to help calm the dogs for years, and recent research has shown that there is more to it than simply playing Mozart for the dogs.

In their book, Through a Dog’s Ear, Joshua Leads and Susan Wagner, DVM (Sounds True, Boulder, 2008) describe both the effects of sounds and how to use them to improve dogs’ health and behavior. Leads is a sound researcher in the field of psychoacoustics—the study of the effects of sound on the human nervous system. Wagner is a veterinary neurologist. Together they have written an easy-to-understand book about their research and well-tested hypotheses demonstrating not just the positive effects of music, but just what music is best for your dog.

Many people leave a TV or radio on for their dogs left home alone all day in the belief that listening to something will keep them company, disguise street noises, or perhaps calm them. Leads and Wagner’s research demonstrates that the wrong music can be detrimental, and that dogs need calm and quiet (no leaf blowers!) just as we do.

Leads and Wagner describe psychoacoustically-designed classical music: slow, simple piano pieces without a lot of orchestration and complex harmonies. To quote from Through a Dog’s Ear:
We discovered this by analyzing the behaviors that weren’t there, along with the ones that were. While the more complicated compositions and sequences didn’t calm dogs as much as simplified, slow piano music, it didn’t agitate them either. They didn’t pant more or become restless. In the home studies, the dogs didn’t bold out of the room. Instead the were content to stay with their guardians while the music was playing. In other words, this more complex music may be appropriate for human consumption without a deleterious effect on sensitive canine nervous systems. ... Our clinical testing shows that humans can enjoy uplifting music and know that their canines aren’t going to be negatively affected. If we live in an area with street noise or other pervading sonic issues [like leaf blowers! gtf], we can put on music that allows us to function well while creating a filter that masks irritating sound. This creates a healthier sonic environment for the entire canine household. When experimenting with music, pay attention to your dog’s behavior while you are listening. Most importantly, make sure Rover is able to leave the room if the sounds make him uncomfortable.
There are many CDs available with music for pets, including the companion CD to the Leads and Wagner book. You can learn more about this fascinating, and helpful subject on
Copyright © Gail T. Fisher, 2010. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint this article or suggestions for future topics, please contact us.