Music to Soothe the Domesticated Beast

Thursday, February 16, 2012 - 01:38 PM

In recent years a small but surprising cottage industry has emerged of recordings focused on calming, entertaining and uplifting pets. The projects have names like “While you are gone: Music Pets Love,” “Music for Pet Stress and Separation Anxiety,” and the multi-CD series “Through a Dog’s Ear.” The latter was released in 2008 but it suddenly reappeared at number 19 on the Billboard classical chart this week.

The creators of these collections have drawn on a mix of research and anecdotal evidence suggesting that dogs who are agitated by thunderstorms, fireworks or absent owners can be mollified by a soothing dose of Chopin or Debussy.

“Through a Dog’s Ear" is the brainchild of Joshua Leeds, a San Francisco-based authority on psychoacoustics (the study of the effects of music and sound on the human nervous system). As Leeds discussed on WNYC's Soundcheck in 2008, the canine nervous system reacts in similar ways as humans to rhythms, tempos and patterns. Slow, simple piano arrangements of Bach, Rachmaninoff and Chopin "had the greatest effect on calming the dogs,” he said. Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries -- not so much.

Academic studies on music’s effects on domesticated animals are relatively few but there is some evidence to support Leeds's point. A 2002 study on dogs in animal shelters by Irish researcher Deborah Wells found that classical music created notable relaxation in canines, while heavy-metal music resulted in more agitated behavior.

Dr. Barbara Pezzanite, an animal behaviorist in Farmingdale, NY, expressed skepticism about the application of that study. In an interview, she noted that shelter dogs are in an unnaturally stressful environment to begin with, and are more predisposed to auditory stimulation. What's more, there are many external factors that can influence how a dog receives music: Did they get enough sleep? Did they just eat? Is there a stranger nearby?

Dr. Pezzanite added that turning on the stereo for dogs with separation anxiety could create a negative association. Your dog thinks: "Every time my owner leaves the music goes on," she said.

Still, there are some devotees of the dog music recordings. One commenter on Amazon.com wrote: "Within 20 minutes of putting this [CD] in, all three dogs -- even the hyper puppy -- are laying down and chilling."

Have you played music for your pet? Did you find it has a calming effect? Take our poll and leave a comment below:

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Comments [20]

Neil from NJ

Fish love music too. The day we left WQXR on all day while we were at work, we came home to find them all floating at the top of the tank, obviously the better to hear it.

Feb. 21 2012 04:08 PM
Phyllis from new jersey

My Maltese Rose loved the classical music on WQXR radio. I don't have to guess about her reaction because when certain pieces were played she would actually move to the music, soaring gracefully around the room.

Phyllis

Feb. 20 2012 02:36 PM
Renate from NYC

My beloved Scottish Terrier, Misty, particularly loved one piece of music.... Aldo Ciccolini and Jean Martinon's recording of Debussy's "Fantasie for Piano and Orchestra." The moment that beautiful fantasy came on, Misty would run into the living room, sit by my side ... all ears... and listen to the first movement with utter concentration. After that he was not quite as interested in the rest of the piece.
Frankly, I don't know who loved it more. Misty or I.

Feb. 20 2012 12:02 PM
Mary Heller from Poughkeepsie

All day long from sun up to about 2 AM our dog Loki listens to WQXR. Actually he is our 5th dog to listen exclusively to this station, continuing the tradition from 55 years ago when we moved to the Bronx from the midwest and discovered WQXR.

Feb. 18 2012 09:52 PM
Bob from Once Brooklyn Heights, now Sarasota, FL

This may have been a great program; I don't know, because when a dog started barking on the soundtrack, my dog would bark back and go looking for the intruder.... I had to turn the sound off until it was done.

Good thought anyway....

(I voted that dogs like classical music in the poll. I really don't know for sure, but I always leave it on for him when I leave. I imagine it makes him feel better, since it's on all the time I'm here. Do we read too much into our dogs? Nah.)

Feb. 18 2012 09:49 PM
Anne Phelan

We do play "Through a Dog's Ear" for our dog when he's alone (though usually WQXR seems to do just as well). We played two pieces from "Through a Dog's Ear" for dinner guests, and it definitely started putting them to sleep.
Our dog has had the clearest reactions to Shostakovich's Horn Concerto (listened incredibly intently- could it be his beagle blood?), and Dr. Atomic (absolutely hated it, with all those sirens).

Feb. 18 2012 07:35 PM
Gabi from Syosset

My horses love music. They move to the rhythm. That's why it's easy to ride a horse to music. They don't have to have music lessons. The best example: the spanish riding school in Vienna, they ride to Johann Strauss. The Olympics now have freestyle dressage to music - all kinds of music are good. At that level, the music is especially put together to fit the choreography, a bit like ballet music. Music for relaxing is enjoyable for them too, of course.

Feb. 17 2012 11:49 PM
David from Flushing

By the way, that actual quote is:

"Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast"---William Congreve, in The Mourning Bride, 1697.

Whether it was the Victorians who became concerned about a possible anatomical reference or not, the verse has often been misquoted as "beast."

Feb. 17 2012 08:12 PM
Cathryn D'Arcy from Chattanooga, TN

Sasha, my beloved first cat, would sit in front of my old speakers and listen to Maria Callas! I'm not kidding! We discovered her together.

Feb. 17 2012 06:14 PM
David from Flushing

My limited experience with dogs suggests that they do not consider music relevant to their lives. A recording of dogs or animals, or their image on TV provokes far more response than those of people. Dogs might appreciate ultrasonic music.

Perhaps we should have an inquiry as to what kind of music makes elevators run better.

Feb. 17 2012 04:28 PM
Karen Ann from Morristown, NJ

I do play music (mostly WQXR) for my cats. I think it helps them feel less alone when I'm away. However, when a waltz is played, I like to pick up and dance with one of them, but he does not approve. When he hears 3/4 time, he now makes himself scarce.

Feb. 17 2012 04:24 PM
Virginia from nyc

well I guess there is something to the old cliche music soothes the savage beast...

A few years back while learning the Choral parts to Verdi's Requiem I had an orchestral recording that featured one of my favorite sopranos Leontyne Price...

My border collie listened to most things classical by just lounging about but someting in Ms Price's vocal timbre would set the dog to singing along with her..
Thinking it perhaps was something about the piece ... we tried several other of her recordings... nope the dog just liked to sing along with Ms Price.

Feb. 17 2012 12:11 PM
JimC from DC

My dove (she passed away a few years ago) loved the sound of soft violin. She would suddenly lift her head alertly, and give a short excited "coo," with an inquisitive look of "what is that beautiful sound?"

Feb. 17 2012 12:08 PM
George

My pointer loves classical.When we both crash for the night I leave the music on and there's not a peep from him till daylight.

Feb. 17 2012 09:58 AM
Nancy from Denville,NJ

My entire kennel hears WQXR from 7AM till 10PM every day along with me. Bedlington Terriers and Vizslas.

Feb. 17 2012 09:26 AM

Ad hominem attacks have no place here.

Feb. 17 2012 04:42 AM
Joshua Leeds from Ashland, OR

Joshua Leeds here, producer of 50+ therapeutic soundtracks used by 2- and 4-leggeds, including the Through a Dog's Ear music series and co-author of the book by the same name.

I used to live in NYC. My auditory x-species work is greatly impacted by living the extreme lifestyles necessitated by the greatest city in the world. Yet, I am once again caught short, as I was in the 2008 WNYC interview referenced above, by the insistence of the journalists in enrolling animal 'professionals' who present tired, whining viewpoints. NYC does better than that! How about noticing that tens of thousands of dogs with severe anxiety issues have been helped with a $15 modified classical piano CD with no side effects? Or that Through a Dog's Ear is played in over 1400 shelters where the adoption rates continue to rise. It would serve the animal behaviorists in both these 'articles,' and their clients, to look more deeply into the positive therapeutic effect of sensory integration tools rather than dumbing it down through cynicism and doubt.

Feb. 17 2012 03:50 AM
Bernie from UWS

So Raul, I take it you're not a pet lover either.

Life's too short to take such a sacred attitude towards classical music. At the end of the day, it's a form of entertainment. Classical music fans can sometimes be it's biggest enemy by treating it like it's some kind of religious experience to be untouched by the real world out there.

Feb. 16 2012 10:48 PM
Raul R Nunez from NY City

WQXR, previously known as a Classic Music station, is successfully on its way of becoming a tragic joke. Long live Pet Music, mediocre film scores,and lots lots of Ravel's Bolero and Concert of Aranjuez. And how about giving a long long vacation to a far distant place to Terrence and Garland and Nimet?

Feb. 16 2012 07:50 PM
TJ Harvey from Huntington, NY

I always play music for my dog. His favorite is Poochini.

Feb. 16 2012 06:24 PM

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