Do Different Types of Music Affect a Dog's Behavior?

"Do you think you could play some Mozart on that thing?"
i David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images

Music can easily affect your mood. Listening to your favorite rock anthem gets you pumped up for the day, and a soothing melody can help you relax. Sound is important to canine communication, too, and different types of music can affect Max’s behavior.

Significance of Sound

Whether it’s a bark, yip or howl, your pup uses sound to communicate. When one dog starts howling, you’ll likely soon hear a chorus of howls from all the dogs in the neighborhood. That's because howling is one way that dogs can “talk” to each other. Your dog can tell one dog from another by the tone of his howl, even if it just sounds like puppy pandemonium to you. Dogs can differentiate pitches and can hear at a much higher register than you can. They use their powerful hearing not only to communicate with other canines, but to hear the sounds their prey makes when hunting.

Different Tunes

Since sound is so important to a dog, your music can affect his mood in much the same way it affects you. Deborah Wells, a psychologist at Queens University, played different types of music for dogs in an animal shelter. When she played classical music, like Beethoven or Vivaldi, it had a soothing effect and relaxed the pooches. Loud, thrashing heavy metal like Metallica got the dogs riled up, making them anxious and agitated. When Wells played Top 40 tunes, the dogs didn’t act any differently. Music on the far ends of the spectrum, soothing or aggressive, will affect your dog's behavior, but middle-of-the-road pop hits won't change his mood.

Howling Effect

Sometimes dogs listening to music will start to howl. While it may seem like Max is trying to harmonize, he’s howling because the music reminds him of this form of doggy communication. Songs that have woodwind instruments, like a flute or clarinet, are the most likely to elicit a howl from your canine. A long note on a violin or even a human singing can inspire a wail. It’s not only high-pitched music that can get a dog howling, but high-pitched sounds like sirens have also been known to have a similar effect.

Music Therapy

Susan Wagner, a veterinary neurologist, has developed sound therapy for dogs by studying the affect calm music had on a dog’s heart-rate and brain activity. Wagner found that classical music piped in for puppies can calm them down in stressful situations. It’s being used by some veterinarians to keep dogs from getting anxious in the high-stress environment of the vet’s office. You can employ the same theory for your dogs. If a noisy thunderstorm or simply being away from home causes your pal to stress, play some Bach or Beethoven to ease his nerves. Keeping the noise level in your home to a minimum, like shutting off the TV, will keep your dog from getting anxious.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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