Dogs & Music: Do Dogs Like Music?
By Dr. Carly I. O'Malley January 14, 2020
Dogs have lived besides us for a long time and have evolved along with us as we have transitioned from nomads to settlers. The dog’s role in the house has continued to change even as recently as the last couple of decades. A couple of decades ago, it was common for dogs to sleep outside and live off of our leftover food. They would be allowed to roam neighborhoods which gave them an endless supply of mental and physical stimulation. More recently, dogs have moved into our homes full time and spend most of their day lounging on beds and couches. Dogs may be much comfier in this lifestyle, but they also may become bored. Boredom can lead to destructive behaviors such as chewing, digging, and excessive barking. To prevent boredom, implementing an environmental enrichment program is recommended. Environmental enrichment programs should aim to stimulate all of the senses, including their auditory system (Kogan et al., 2012). One great way to stimulate the auditory system is through music.
Do Dogs Like Music?
Yes, there is evidence suggesting that dogs do enjoy listening to music, and that playing music can provide dogs physiological and psychological benefits. The benefits of listening to music expand to plenty of other species as well, including humans, dairy cows, Asian elephants, and gorillas (Bowman et al., 2015).
While the evidence suggests that dogs do respond to music in positive ways, providing your dog auditory enrichment by playing music may be more complex. You cannot just play your dog your favorite album and expect them to appreciate it as much as you. It appears as though dogs have specific preferences for music which may vary by individual. Let’s learn more about how dogs experience and respond to music.
Do Dogs Benefit From Listening To Music?
A study by Bowman and colleagues (2015) on shelter-housed dogs demonstrated that music positively benefited dogs both physiologically and behaviorally. The dogs were monitored for salivary cortisol, heart rate variability, and behavior. While there was no change in salivary cortisol in response to the music, measures of heart rate indicated that the dogs were less stressed when music was playing. In addition to heart rate, the dogs showed calmer behavior. They spent less time standing and barking in their kennels and more time sitting and lying down. This study is promising in showing that music can be a positive enrichment item for dogs, although the study suggested that dogs quickly habituate to the same music being played. It would seem that the results of this study suggest that dogs like variety when listening to music (Bowman et al., 2015).
What Type Of Music Do Dogs Like?
Multiple studies have shown that classical music decreases anxiety and stress in kennel-housed dogs (kennel-housed dogs refer to dogs housed either in a boarding facility or animal shelter). The researchers of these studies reported that kenneled dogs who are provided classical music spend more time resting and less time barking than dogs listening to other types of music or no music at all (Kogan et al., 2012; Bowman et al., 2015). Kogan and colleagues (2012) found that classical music had a calming effect on kenneled dogs, while heavy metal music caused the dogs to exhibit more behavioral signs of stress, specifically body shaking. Similar results were found in a previous study by Wells and colleagues (2002), who also showed that classical music was the most calming while heavy metal was the most agitating. Pop music and talk radio had no effect on dog behavior. Because of the results of these studies and others, many animal shelters only allow classical music to be played in areas where animals are housed.
Another study conducted at an animal shelter widened the variety of music genres dogs were exposed to, including classical, pop, soft rock, Motown, and reggae. In this study, soft rock and reggae were shown to have the biggest positive impact on dog behavior, but any music of these five genres showed a positive, calming effect on the dogs. The researchers of this study suggested that the dogs showed individual preferences for music (Bowman et al., 2017).
It is important to note here that these studies were conducted on dogs housed in a boarding facility or in an animal shelter. Dogs in these environments are exposed to a wide range of stressors. Classical music was shown to be calming to dogs in these environments and has also been shown to be calming to humans as well (Kogan et al., 2012). Less is known about the music preferences of dogs in less stressful environments, such as in a stable household.
Do Dogs Like Human Music?
Based on the results of the previously mentioned studies, it would seem as though dogs do like human music. However, it is important to remember that dogs hear the world much differently than we do. Dogs can hear sounds at much higher pitches than we can. Humans can only hear up to 20,000 Hertz, whereas dogs can hear 47,000-65,000 Hertz. Dogs can also hear sounds at a lower decibel than we can (Gibeault, 2018). These differences in hearing may cause dogs to hear human music differently. Some of the sounds in our music may be too high pitched for them, which could hurt their ears. There may even be parts of the music that dogs cannot hear.
There are many factors that go into whether an individual will respond positively to a piece of music, therefore preferences may vary between individual, and individuals may even vary based on their mood. It has been hypothesized that music has to have acoustic and vocal range, tempo, and tone that matches the individual listening to it in order for them to enjoy it. The tempo and tone have to be similar to the rhythm of the individual’s heartbeat as well. When you take these factors into consideration, it may seem as though human music would be foreign to dogs and therefore that they may not like it or respond to it in the same way we do (Snowdon et al., 2015).
Are There Sounds Dogs Prefer Or Specific Music Created Just For Dogs?
Conducting research on sound preferences in dogs is difficult because of the wide variety of breeds and purposes dogs have been bred for. Small dogs and large dogs have different vocal ranges, heartbeats, and hear sounds differently. If you look for dog-specific music on YouTube or Spotify, there are playlists available, but there is limited research on the effectiveness of dog-specific music. More extensive research has been done on cats, including research on cat-specific music and how cats respond. This research has revealed that cats respond positively to cat-specific music and prefer it over human-specific music (Snowdon et al., 2015). Some of the sounds incorporated into cat-specific music are purring and suckling sounds (Hampton et al., 2019).
How Can You Tell If Your Dog Likes A Tune?
Most of the studies conducted on musical preferences in dogs have used heart rate variability and behavioral responses as indicators of positive response. Heart rate variability is difficult for pet parents to monitor at home but understanding dog behavior and body language can help you decipher how your dog is responding to different music. Signs of a calm or relaxed dog include more time resting, playing, or maybe even chewing on a favorite bone. Signs your dog is agitated by music could be restlessness, barking, or hyperactivity.
Should I Leave Music Playing For My Dog When I’m Gone?
A number of studies have shown that certain types of music have a calming effect on dogs. Animal shelters regularly keep music on during the day to help dogs relax during their stay. Playing classical music while you are gone may help provide calming effects to dogs with separation anxiety. Leaving a radio on while you are gone may also just help provide some auditory enrichment to your dog during the day. Some studies have shown that dogs habituate quickly to the same music being played on repeat, so leaving on the radio may provide better benefits than playing the same CD or playlist every day (Bowman et al., 2015).
There is evidence to suggest that dogs do like music. Numerous studies have shown that certain genres of music have a calming effect on dogs in a boarding kennel or animal shelter. Classical music is one genre that has been noted to reduce heart rate variability and promote positive behaviors, such as resting more and barking less. Other studies have shown soft rock and reggae to having calming effects on dogs, although it appears as though individual dogs vary in their musical preferences. Researching dog-specific music is difficult due to the wide variety of dog breeds out there. Regardless of the specific benefits music provides to dogs, playing music or talk radio for our dog can be an important part of an environmental enrichment program designed to stimulate all their senses. To stimulate your dog’s auditory senses, you could leave the radio on during the day while you are at work. This can help anxious dogs calm down or just provide new and interesting sounds while they are home alone.
Bowman, A., SPCA, S., Dowell, F.J., and N.P. Evans. 2015. ‘Four Seasons’ in an animal rescue centre; classical music reduces environmental stress in kenneled dogs. Physiology & Behavior 143:70-82.
Bowman, A., SPCA, S., Dowell, F.J., and N.P. Evans. 2017. The effect of different genres of music on the stress levels of kenneled dogs. Physiology & Behavior 171:207-215.
Gibeault, S. 2018. Dogs don’t have a sixth sense, they just have incredible hearing. American Kennel Club. Accessed on January 10, 2020.
Hampton, A., Ford, A., Cox III, R.E., Liu, C-c., and R. Koh. 2019. Effects of music on behavior and physiological stress response of domestic cats in a veterinary clinic. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery 1-7.
Kogan, L.R., Schoenfeld-Tacher, R., and A.A. Simon. 2012. Behavioral effects of auditory stimulation on kenneled dogs. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 7:268-275.
Snowdon, C.T., Teie, D., and M. Savage. 2015. Cats prefer species-appropriate music. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 166:106-111.
Wells, D.L., Graham, L., and P.G. Hepper. The influence of auditory stimulation on the behaviour of dogs housed in a rescue shelter. Animal Welfare 11:385-393.