Species-Appropriate Music for Your Pet

Species-Appropriate Music for Your Pet

Story at-a-glance -

  • Research reveals animals prefer species-specific music with pitches, tones and tempos that are recognizable to them based on their own vocal ranges and heart rates.
  • Most animals probably find human music unfamiliar and grating, with the exception of large dogs, whose vocal ranges are very similar to those of adult male humans.
  • There’s nothing wrong with leaving soothing music playing for your dog or cat while you’re away from home … it just may not have the calming effect you assume it does.

By Dr. Becker

If you assume your dog or cat enjoys your taste in music – or if you put classical music on to calm your pet when you leave the house – the following may surprise you.

Appreciation of Music is Species-Specific

Charles Snowdon, an animal psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says animals march to the beat of their own drum. More precisely, they respond to species-specific music – music that uses the pitches, tones and tempos that feel familiar to them.

When a piece of music falls into our acoustic and vocal range, has recognizable tones and a tempo similar to the rhythm of a human heartbeat, we appreciate it most. Music that falls outside those general parameters feels unfamiliar and tends to grate. We want to avoid it.

To animals, music created by humans for humans is foreign. Your dog’s vocal range is very different from yours. A cat’s heartbeat is also very different from a human’s. So it stands to reason pets don’t appreciate human music. In fact, studies show animals have a total lack of interest in it.

Snowdon worked with composer and cellist David Teie to try to create music that would appeal to dogs and cats. The two paired up for a similar experiment with tamarin monkeys two years ago.

Composing Music for Cats and Dogs

Snowdon and Teie have composed music in the frequency range of the sounds cats make, and using their resting heart rate (which is quite a bit faster than a human’s) to set the tempo.

Based on feline reaction to their compositions, Teie has started selling cat songs through a company called MusicForCats.com.

Currently there are three styles of songs for cats:

  • Playful and quick “Kitty Ditties” to arouse a cat’s interest and curiosity (this one got a definite reaction from one of my own kitties)
  • “Cat Ballads” with sounds of suckling that are restful and pleasant
  • “Feline Airs” based on the pulses of a kitty’s purr

According to Snowdon and Teie, creating music for dogs is more complicated because there are so many breeds and they vary greatly in size, vocalization sounds and heart rates.

But since large breed dogs actually have vocal ranges similar to adult male humans, the researchers hypothesize that big dogs are probably more interested in human music than smaller breeds.

According to Deborah Wells, a psychologist at Queen’s University in Belfast who has researched canine response to human music, dogs do have emotional responses to human music. They behave differently when they hear different types of music. Soothing music (typically classical) tends to create relaxation in dogs, where heavy metal tunes often result in agitated behaviors.

Humans Have an Edge Over Other Animals When It Comes to Music

Unfortunately, no matter what advancements are made in creating species-specific music for pets, according to Charles Snowdon, dogs and cats will never be able to appreciate music the way humans do.

This is because while animals have very good absolute pitch, they lack relative pitch -- which is the ability to recognize a sequence of musical notes no matter what key it’s played in. Animals can recognize a sequence of notes, for example, in the key of F, but if the same sequence is played in a different key, it no longer resonates with them.

Possessing relative pitch seems to give humans the ability to understand and therefore appreciate music in a different way than animals do.

Is This Dog Singing Along or Trying to Drown Out the Noise?

This is a video of a dog “singing” to Sweet Escape by Gwen Stefani. I think the dog’s reaction probably means the tune is annoying him. And he’s not alone.

If you have a few minutes, visit youtube and do a search for dogs sing Gwen Stefani. There’s something about “Sweet Escape” that seems to bring out the crooner in dozens of dogs …