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Roll Over for Beethoven

Begone, heavy metal, pop, and chatter—shelter dogs prefer the classics

Begone, heavy metal, pop, and chatter—shelter dogs prefer the classics

© Carrie Allan
If you’ve ever been worried about the Iron Maiden riffs that fill your kennels at cleaning time, you were right to be concerned: Turns out that dogs may be lulled by classical music, but other kinds of music can have the opposite effect, driving kenneled dogs to pace, jump, and bark more often. If your shelter is full of canine jumping beans who hover in a state of perpetual agitation, a new study reveals that you may want to examine what sort of auditory stimulation your pooches are being exposed to.

Conducted in an animal shelter in the United Kingdom and published in the journal Animal Welfare (Vol. 11, No. 4), the study investigated the behavior of dogs in response to five different types of aural stimuli: heavy metal, pop music, human conversation, classical music, and no music (the latter served as the control group). Knowing that research has already established the influence of music on human psychology, scientists D.L. Wells, L. Graham, and P.G. Hepper were interested in determining whether certain sounds had the potential to relieve the stress of dogs in a shelter setting.

Fifty male and female sterilized dogs were used as subjects. Most of the dogs were mixed-breeds—thus preventing any valid analysis of whether Chihuahuas are more partial to scampering Mozart and Dobermans to thundering Wagner—and all were housed singly. Researchers placed a CD player/radio at the center of the kennels and monitored decibel levels to ensure even distribution of sound to all the dogs. The researchers then exposed the dogs to each condition (no music, pop, heavy metal, conversation, and classical) for four hours over the course of five separate days. To control for possible interference from other stimuli like kennel cleaning and feeding, the sound was always provided at the same time of day, and music was played in different order each time to ensure that the order played had no effect.

Each dog was observed every ten minutes during the four hours of stimulation, and at each observation researchers recorded where each dog was in his kennel, what he was doing (standing, sitting, resting, sleeping, or moving), and whether he was vocalizing (through barking or other noises).

Researchers found that the dogs did not tend to seek out the source of any of the auditory stimuli conditions, and did not seem to care whether they were closer or farther away from the radio. However, the type of sound was significantly related to both activity and vocalization of the dogs. The dogs spent much more time resting when classical music was being played than they did during any of the other conditions; those results were the same for the control group, to whom no stimuli were provided. The dogs also vocalized far less during the classical music than during the other conditions; the heavy metal music provoked more barking than other sounds.

“Neither pop music nor human conversation had any apparent effect on the dogs’ behaviour,” the researchers wrote. “It may simply be the case that dogs are more accustomed to these types of auditory stimulation than others. Shelter staff ... regularly listen to radio ... involving a mixture of human conversation and pop music whilst undertaking their husbandry duties. Very few, however, listen to classical or heavy metal music within this particular working environment.”

Playing classical music in shelters may create an environment less stressful for dogs, the researchers concluded. It also may have an indirect benefit, since “visitors are often deterred from adopting a dog from a rescue shelter because they consider the animal’s environment off-putting.” Calmer dogs who bark less and the presence of classical music may get visitors to spend more time looking at the dogs and may result in an increased number of adoptions, the researchers wrote. Shelters should take the negative effects of auditory stimuli into account, too, since adding “further auditory stimulation ... of the type that causes agitation or increased stress” to the already boisterous environment “may actually do more harm than good and should ideally be avoided.”

On a final note, with regards to the finding that music is more calming than conversation: Since the human conversation part of the study was provided via a talk radio station—rather than the conversation of dogs’ companion humans—it remains to be seen whether classical music is more calming to dogs than murmurs like, “Yes, oh yesssss, who’s a cutie, who’s a goooooood dog.” Further study of the effects of babytalk on a lonely pooch might reveal an ecstatic happiness even Mozart could not match.

 

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