How Sound Affects Your Dog's Behavior and Well-being
Quiet, please! This request is not coming from a librarian—but rather from your dog. The vacuum cleaner, the coffee grinder, and even that blaring television can take a toll on your dog’s ears and could be the reason he whines, paces, trembles, or hides.
What a dog hears—and the intensity of the sound—can influence his health and behavior, according to veterinarians and psychologists. On one hand, harsh noises can irritate and unsettle your dog, which can lead to behavioral issues, a problem 90% of pet owners end up discussing with their veterinarian. On the other hand, music therapy can help soothe a distressed dog. Recent “sound tests” conducted in veterinary hospitals, animal shelters, and pet owners’ homes have shown that playing certain types of music can reduce anxiety and speed healing in dogs.
Guy Kantak, a firefighter and EMT for 27 years, has dealt with his share of stressed people and animals. Now a certified professional dog trainer in Worthington, Ohio, he tackles a wide range of canine issues, including aggression, fear, and separation anxiety. Music therapy is one of the tools he uses.
“If the issue is fear based, music therapy is something I definitely recommend,” says Kantak. “Playing CDs designed for dogs can have a calming effect if they are played according to the instructions. I tell people to be patient; dogs need time to associate the sound of these CDs with good times with their people.”
Kantak has also instructed people to record their own voices—in happy, upbeat tones—to play when home-alone dogs are coping with separation anxiety. “These recordings have helped their dogs relax,” says Kantak.
Susan Wagner, DVM, MS, DACVIM, a veterinary neurologist at Ohio State University, teamed up with Joshua Leeds, a psychoacoustics expert from San Francisco, to assess the psychological and physiological effects of sound on the canine nervous system. With the aid of Lisa Spector, a Juilliard-trained concert pianist from Half Moon Bay, California, Leeds and Dr. Wagner rearranged pieces by Bach and Beethoven and tested the music’s effects on brainwave activity and heart rate in dogs. In general, they found that slower, less complex music tends to soothe dogs and reduce their anxiety. They shared their conclusions in a book, Through a Dog’s Ear: Using Sound to Improve the Health & Behavior of Your Canine Companion, and also produced a series of music CDs based on their findings.
Narda Robinson, DO, DVM, director of the Center for Comparative and Integrative Pain Medicine at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in Fort Collins, feels that “music therapy for animals and healing soundscapes for the home and veterinary hospital are long overdue.” When appropriate, she plays calming background music in treatment rooms. She has found that music is an effective tool for lowering the anxiety level in both pets and owners.
“I once had five or six students observing in a room, and the patient, a Labrador retriever, couldn’t get comfortable. Everyone felt on edge,” Dr. Robinson says. “When I turned on a calming music CD, the atmosphere changed almost immediately as the dog and the people began to calm down.”
Allen Schoen, DVM, operates an integrative veterinary practice in Sherman, Connecticut, and has devoted his career to promoting mind–body wellness, including writing a book, Kindred Spirits. He sees music therapy as a treatment tool—as welcome as behavior modification, positive reinforcement, medication, and nutritional supplements.
“Noises are sound frequencies that can stimulate negative responses in us—and in our dogs,” says Dr. Schoen. “So why not do whatever we can to create constructive sound frequencies that instill peace and harmony in our dogs and our environment?”
TURNING DOWN THE NOISE
Dr. Robinson sees the importance of paying particular heed to sound in the home environment. “Sadly, some animals live with a blaring television around the clock,” she says. Adjusting the volume and types of sound that permeate your home can be beneficial for you and your pet. Dr. Robinson offers a challenge to create awareness of the effects of sound on the moods of both dogs and people:
“If animal caregivers can create a two-hour ‘noise break’ for themselves and their animals on a Sunday morning and pop in a comforting CD, they may notice how incrementally distressed they become afterward, as noise reintrudes on their lives,” she says. “When we consider the psychological stress that noise induces, it pays to give noise control and music therapy serious consideration. I think we’d all be happier if we quieted down.”
Take a Sonic Inventory
Is your home too noisy for your dog? One way to determine this is by taking what Dr. Wagner refers to as a sonic inventory—an assessment of the sounds in your home and neighborhood. When you have 30 minutes to spare, grab a pen and notepad and follow these steps:
Write down all the sounds you can identify, including noises emitted by the refrigerator, television, hair dryer, vacuum, computer, stereos, traffic, and street sounds.
Notice your dog’s physical reaction to these sounds. Does he move closer to or away from a noise source, such as the television or stereo? Does he react by barking, such as when you operate the vacuum cleaner?
Rate the sounds on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the most ignored by your dog and 10 drawing your dog’s most intense response.
Identify which sounds in your home you can avoid, turn down, or mask when your dog is present.
It’s All in Your Tone
Voice intonation is important in dog training, according to Guy Kantak. “Lower pitch is more authoritative and better when giving commands; there is no need to yell at a dog. Speaking with a higher, more excited inflection is effective when delivering praise and reinforcing good behavior.”