MP3 Players Bring Anxiety Relief to Shelter Dogs

Story at-a-glance -

  • Shelter dogs exposed to classical music show lower levels of stress and anxiety
  • Calming music reduces barking and increases restful periods among shelter dogs
  • The Rescue Animal MP3 Project has brought calming music into more than 1,100 U.S. animal shelters to help lessen anxiety among the animals

By Dr. Becker

Music pre-dates language and speaks to us on a primal level. Even if there are no words, a melody can make you feel happy or sad, and it's not only humans who appear to have this musical appreciation. Music is a universal language that animals also enjoy.

This is backed by accumulating scientific research as well as by efforts like the Rescue Animal MP3 Project.

The project, founded by Dr. Pamela Fisher, a holistic veterinarian in North Canton, Ohio, has brought calming music into more than 1,100 U.S. animal shelters to help lessen anxiety among the animals. It even reduces barking, as evidenced in the video above.

Music Helps Calm Anxious Dogs and More

Dogs detect sounds in a much broader frequency than humans (from a low of 16 to 20 Hz to a high of 100,000 Hertz [Hz], compared to 20 to 70 Hz up to 20,000 Hz for humans).

They're also capable of moving their ears in ways humans can't (tilting, rotating and raising, for instance), which helps them to determine a sound's location rapidly as well as detect sounds from much father distances (up to four-fold farther than humans can).1

In many ways, dogs are built for listening, so it's not surprising that music has such dramatic, science-backed effects on them. Among them:

Classical Music Calms: In a comparison of different sounds (human conversation, classical music, heavy metal music, pop music and a control), classical music was the clear winner when played in a rescue shelter.

The dogs spent significantly more of their time quiet and resting than when other types of sounds were played (including heavy metal, which led to increased barking).2

Harp Music Decreases Restlessness and Discomfort: Among dogs in a veterinary hospital, harp music led to a decline in respiration rates and other visual measures of discomfort, such as restlessness and anxiety.3

Classical Music Reduces Environmental Stress: Classical music led to reduced stress levels in shelter dogs, as evidenced through assessment of effects on heart rate variability (HRV), salivary cortisol and behavior.4

Classical Music Lowers Anxiety: Classical music led to kenneled dogs spending more time sleeping and less time vocalizing than when they were exposed to other music types or no music.

Heavy metal music, compared with other music types, increased body shaking, which is suggestive of nervousness. "It is suggested that playing classical music in a shelter environment may help mitigate some of the stress inherent for many kenneled dogs," the researchers concluded.5

MP3 Players Reduced Barking by Half

The non-profit Rescue Animal MP3 Project asks artists to donate pet-friendly music and then donates MP3 players packed with about 30 hours of the compilations to animal shelters, animal sanctuaries and clinics.

When Fisher surveyed 500 shelters that had been playing the calming music to their residents, barking had been reduced by half and the animals were described as more relaxed. The music benefits dogs and people alike, and one of the goals of the project is to get the animals adopted faster.

This works in two ways: the dogs are calmer, which allows more of their real personalities to shine through, and potential adopters may also find the experience more favorable. As written in the journal Animal Welfare:6

"This form of music [classical] may also appeal to visitors, resulting in enhanced perceptions of the rescue shelter's environment and an increased desire to adopt a dog from such a source."

Cats Like Music Too

Your kitty companion also likely enjoys listening to tunes, especially when the music is feline-centric. In a study published in the journal Applied Animal Behavior, the researchers hypothesized that in order for music to be effective for other species, "it must be in the frequency range and with similar tempos to those used in natural communication by each species."7

They then composed two samples of cat music along with two comparable samples composed for humans and played them for a group of cats. As you might suspect, the cats responded more to cat music than to human music, with the researchers concluding, "Species-appropriate music is more likely to benefit animals than human music."8

For instance, one cat song composed by musician David Teie is "Cozmo's Air." It includes "a pulse related to purring of 1380 bests per min[ute]," along with regular "melodic sliding frequencies." Such frequencies are common in cat speak but not in human language.9

Playing Music for Pets

While dogs would likely enjoy specialized canine-centric music, they may be able to appreciate human music more so than cats. Why? Possibly because they have vocal ranges similar to humans (at least among large dogs). Since dogs vary widely in terms of size, vocal range and heart rate, designing music to appeal to a wide variety of dogs may pose some challenges, but it's relatively easy to determine your dog's favorite tunes.

You can experiment at home by softly playing a variety of calming sounds, from classical to nature sounds (like ocean waves) and observing your dog's (or cat's) reaction. You'll likely find that he responds to the music much like you would, calming down in response to gentle music and getting more agitated if the music is loud or fast.

You may want to keep your dog's favorite on hand during times of stress, such as thunderstorms of fireworks. You can even play it in the car if you're on your way to the vet, and consider leaving some playing softly if your dog will be home alone for a few hours.

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