The minds of science have a new theory in entertaining your dog while you aren’t at home. Make them a mix tape. Baha Men, anybody?
It’s an age-old suburban truism: the leaving of the television on to create the illusion of life inside the house. It’s an effective tool for everyone from the elderly to the very young, the prospective thief (hello, Kevin McAllister) or a gang of youths. But most of all, it works for our dogs.
But if we’re looking for our pooch’s ideal state of being, a simple episode of Days of our Lives in the background simply will not do.
A study by the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals at the University of Glasgow has found listening to reggae and soft rock to have a calming effect on a dog’s heartbeat.
The intensive and incredibly adorable study involved playing six-hour Spotify playlists from five genres of music to shelter dogs. Music ranged from classical, to the aforementioned soft rock and reggae, to pop and Motown.
The dogs’ heart rate variability and cortisol levels were measured, along with behaviours such as barking and lying down, which are indicators of stress levels in our canine companions. This was done both on days when music was and was not played.
On the whole, dogs were “less stressed” when listening to music in general, with Neil Evans (Professor of Integrative Physiology) saying they showed an ever slight preference to the fields of reggae and soft rock.
He notes, however, that like human beings, dogs had a mixed range of responses to the types of music.
“What we tended to see was that different dogs responded differently. There’s possibly a personal preference from some dogs for different types of music, just like in humans.”
More importantly than the discovery of a diverse range of flea-bitten music aficionados, the study backs up the benefits of playing music in animal shelters – places that would ordinarily be quite scary for dogs.
That fear can lead to dogs cowering, barking loudly, shaking or behaving in ways that are otherwise detrimental to their being adopted.
“We want the dogs to have as good an experience as they can in a shelter,” Evans said, adding that people generally “want a dog who is looking very relaxed and interacts with them.”
Further research is set to look into just what aspects of music appeal most to dogs, along with the effects on cats. Cats, however, are not known for cooperation and have shown little interest in wearing the heart rate monitors that their canine counterparts would happily don.
Previous research by the Physiology and Behaviour journal showed that shelter dogs hearing classical music would bark less and lie down more. That study, however, found that by the seventh day of Mozart, all benefits had worn off.
This habituation with music could be avoided by a good variety in music styles.
Prior studies have found that music has benefits not limited to our four-legged furry friends, with captive elephants and dairy cows also being relaxed.
Those studies found that dogs generally were not fans of heavy metal, which induced body shaking. Audiobooks also were soothing, though presumably only if that audiobook is of significant literary quality.
Further research is set to look into just what aspects of music – be it tempo, repetition or otherwise – appeal most to dogs, along with the effects on cats. Cats, however, are not known for cooperation and have shown little interest in wearing the heart rate monitors that their canine counterparts would happily don.
This means that, due to being “slightly more difficult to work with”, physiological testing will have to focus on cortisol levels.
In the meantime, keep in mind that any new playlists you craft are not just for your audio enjoyment: your pooch pal gets just as much from it as you do!
If that’s not enough to help you purge Meghan Trainor from your library, nothing is.