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Natural Awakenings Twin Cities

Finding the Right Tune for Pets: Music Calms the Animal Soul

Aug 31, 2020 08:30AM ● By Julie Peterson
Pet Lover Playing Calming Music to Dog


Sometimes it takes a little dog to bring about a big truth, as Cheryl Christine, a professional musician and composer in Ridgeland, South Carolina, learned. “I was playing the piano at a party and the owners had a hyper little dog. After a while, I started playing some of the music from my CD and the dog stopped, turned around and came up to me, and just sat there and listened. The owners were shocked.” 

The mood of dogs and cats can be improved by hearing the right kind of tunes, but it’s important to choose their music wisely, because they are more highly attuned to sensory cues than humans.

Resounding Research

The nicest notes for animals have been well studied, especially dogs. Colorado State University researchers found that auditory stimulation with music can be helpful or detrimental. Results of a study in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior suggest that dogs sleep more and bark less when they listen to classical music; and they shake more and rise to their feet when exposed to heavy metal music, possibly from nervousness.

Patricia McConnell, Ph.D., a zoologist and certified applied animal behaviorist in Wisconsin, wrote her dissertation on the effect of different types of sounds upon working domestic animals. “What is important is not whether the music is ‘classical’ or ‘heavy metal’, but whether it includes a set of acoustic features that appear to be universally associated with soothing or stimulating internal states,” states McConnell in her blog.

McConnell explains that, “Pure tones and regular rhythms are associated with positive states.” On the other hand, harsh, noisy tones and irregular rhythms are linked with negative ones. She adds, “A tempo matching an animal’s resting heart rate (or respiration) tends to be calming.”
Composers and musicians are currently writing music specifically for animals with the aim of reducing stress from noise or separation, assisting with healing, controlling overeating and soothing irritability.

Compositions for Cats

Christine was volunteering at a local animal shelter that played country music for the cats. “I wondered what their reaction would be if I wrote some meditative music with different tones—beta/alpha waves—to present to them alternative sounds,” she says. She composed some music and experimented with it in the cat room, noticing that the animals reacted positively to certain tones. That eventually led to a CD for cats, and then one for dogs, with the proceeds donated to the ASPCA and the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation, in New York City. 

Harmonies for Hounds

The Rescue Animal MP3 Project, an organization that has donated free MP3 players filled with music to more than 1,420 animal shelters and sanctuaries, was founded by Pamela Fisher, a holistic veterinarian in North Canton, Ohio. Calmer animals are more likely to be adopted, and the music is designed to provide a relaxed environment for animals so they can better cope with stressful housing conditions. The MP3s contain a variety of music and artists, including selections like Canine Lullabies, by Terry Woodford, therapeutic music expert; Pet CalmPet Healing, by hypnotherapist Rick Collingwood; and Harp Music to Soothe the Savage Beast, by Alianna Boone, who states, “The structure of the harp is considered to be the most healing instrument next to the human voice.”

Pet owners may need to listen more closely. “We so often focus on other aspects of their environment—Is their dog bed comfy? Does it look pretty to us?—and fail to attend to the impact of sound on our dog’s environment (not to mention our own),” writes McConnell about new animal-music studies. 

There are many melodic medleys for pet parents, but buyer beware. “If you’re to spend your money on this, make sure you are looking at music backed by research,” advises Christine.

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Julie Peterson writes about wellness for people, animals and the environment. Reach her at [email protected]