When training my dogs, I always have music playing. And, truth-be-told, my personal tastes gravitate neither to easy-listening nor to high-brow classical music. Rather, I am a rock n’ roll gal, all the way home. On a given day, my dogs and I may be training agility to The Who, retrieving to Stevie Ray Vaughan, and practicing tricks to Ray Lamontagne. On days that my feminist freak flag is flying, Janis Joplin, Melissa Etheridge, and Alanis Morissette are on deck. My dogs of course are accustomed to this and (I hope) share my love of all that rocks.
Chip in particular seems to enjoy early Beatles:
So, considering my habit of training to music, I was interested to find a recent study that examined the effects of music on dog behavior. In this case, rather than looking at dogs rocking out during agility training, the researchers were studying dogs housed in a kennel environment (1).
The Study: A kennel setting can be highly stressful for dogs, particularly those who are homeless and residing in a shelter. In attempts to improve their welfare, researchers have studied a variety of strategies for reducing kennel-induced anxiety. These include providing interactive toys, promoting social interactions with people, increasing opportunities for exercise and play, and adding various types of environmental enrichment. Sensory stimulation is a form of environmental enrichment that may use visual, olfactory, or auditory stimuli to induce a more calm and relaxed state. For example, there is ample evidence that listening to classical music has mood-enhancing effects in people and a small amount of evidence showing similar responses in dogs (2). However, the effects of different genres of music have not been studied at all in dogs. For example, are they rockers like me or more into muzak? Recently, a group of researchers at Colorado State University asked the questions “Can exposure to music during periods of kenneling reduce stress and anxiety in dogs?” and “Do dogs react differently to different types of music?”
Dogs and music selections: Two groups of dogs were studied; adult Dachshund rescue dogs (n = 34) and owned dogs (multiple breeds) housed in the same facility for short-term boarding (n = 83). The kennel was a traditional design consisting of a long row of indoor rectangular enclosures that faced each other on each side of a center concrete walkway. Dogs were housed either singularly or in pairs and were walked on-lead outdoors twice daily. Three types of music were tested: classical (4 selections), heavy metal (3 selections), and a commercial dog relaxation track (modified classical music). Music selections were played in a randomized sequence for 45-minute periods, with each period followed by 15 minutes of no music. The control was a 45-minute period with no music. Dogs were observed by a single individual for 5-minute increments throughout each music or control period. Recorded behaviors included the dogs’ type of activity, time spent vocalizing, and the presence/absence of body shaking.
Results: Rescue dogs and boarding dogs did not differ in their response to music, nor did the type of housing (single or paired) influence response. Both the presence/absence of music and the type of music influenced dogs’ behavior and apparent stress levels:
- Activity: Dogs spent significantly more time sleeping when listening to classical music than when they were listening to either heavy metal, the commercial relaxation music, or no music at all. Neither heavy metal nor the commercial relaxation track significantly affected sleep time or activity level. (Contrary to speculation, listening to heavy metal music did not induce hyperactivity; parents of teens, take note).
- Vocalizations: Both genre and song selection influenced vocalizations, although these effects were not dramatic. For example, dogs were silent for 95 % of the 45-minute period while listening to the classical selection, Moonlight Sonata. By comparison, they were silent 86 % of the time when no music was playing. In general, the kenneled dogs barked between 5 and 15 % of the time and were slightly more inclined to bark when no music was playing.
- Body shaking: Dogs spent dramatically more time shaking when listening to heavy metal music (38 to 71 %of the time, depending on the selection) than when listening to classical music (0.5 to 2.8 % of the time), the commercial selection (0.5 %) or no music at all (1.2 %). One particular heavy metal song caused dogs to shake the most – a whopping 71 % of the time. To put this in perspective, this means that, on average, dogs were showing nervous body shaking for 32 of the 45 minutes that they listened to this song.
Take Away for Dog Folks: Music appears to significantly influence the behavior of kenneled dogs, and this includes both rescue (homeless) dogs and dogs who are owned and are being temporarily boarded. This study provides some helpful information for trainers, owners, and shelter/rescue professionals:
- Classical music apparently induces sleepiness in dogs (glad to learn that I am not alone in that respect). A response of increased relaxation/sleep is definitely a good thing, since anxious/stressed dogs are generally more active and spend less time relaxing than do non-stressed dogs.
- Heavy metal music is to be avoided with dogs as it appears to have induced stress, possibly severe stress, in kenneled dogs (again, good to learn, can’t stand the stuff, myself).
- Save your pennies: The commercial selection that was tested in this study was marketed by the company selling it as being “psychoacoustically arranged” (whatever that means) to promote dog relaxation. However, this music had minimal effects on stress-related behavior in this study, performing less well than classical music that was not psycho-babble arranged. While the underlying cause for this difference was not clear, this result illustrates the risk of taking a bit of research (classical music is calming to humans) and applying it to dogs by marketing and selling a track of “relaxation music” without adequate supporting research.
The point should not be lost that the relaxation benefits of listening to classical music that are documented in humans (and now, documented also in dogs) may be of benefit to both shelter dogs and to the folks who care for them. So, even if you are an ol’ time rock-n-roller, like me, consider at the very least, that classical music may be the way to go when you are working with group-housed dogs living in stressful environments.
- Kogan LR, Schoenfeld-Tacher R, Simon AA. Behavioral effects of auditory stimulation on kenneled dogs. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 2012; 7:268-275.
- Wells DL, Graham L, Hepper PG. The influence of auditory stimulation on the behavior of dogs housed in a rescue shelter. Animal Welfare 2002;11:385-393.