There are many studies on the effects of music, from what kind of music will make us spend more time and money in shops to the effects that learning to play an instrument has on our brains. Now, scientists at Colorado State University have turned their attention to what kind of music dogs might prefer to listen to in kennels.
The study, by Lori Kogan and colleagues, took place at a kennel that housed rescue dachshunds (generally long-term) and also boarded dogs while their owners were away. Being in kennels can be a stressful experience for dogs as they are kept in a small space with limited access to outdoors, and limited human and canine company. Kogan et al wanted to know if music would help to make the kennel environment less stressful.
They compared three different kinds of music: classical music (4 tracks), heavy metal (3 tracks), and some music that was specially designed to be relaxing for dogs (1 track). A period with no music was used as a control. The music was chosen as the most popular in those genres (e.g. Beethoven’s Für Elise, Motorhead’s Ace of Spades). In general, the heavy metal had the highest beats per minute and the psycho-acoustically designed music had the lowest bpm.
In total, 117 dogs took part, of which 34 were rescue dachshunds/dachshund crosses, and the remainder were a range of breeds that were at the kennel for short-term boarding. Although many dogs took part in all conditions, some did not, depending on the length of their stay.
The kennels were set up with speakers so that all of the dogs would be able to hear. The music was played in the mornings on days when the kennel was relatively quiet. Each time, the auditory stimulus (music track or silence) lasted for 45 minutes, followed by a 15 minute period of silence.
The dogs’ behaviour was rated every five minutes during auditory presentations. The researchers assessed whether or not the dogs were sleeping, if they were shaking or not, and if they were making a noise. Initially they had intended to measure barking vs other vocalizations, but in practice it was sometimes difficult to tell e.g. a bark from a yip, and so they just recorded whether or not they were vocalizing.
There were no differences between the rescue dachshunds and the dogs there for short-term boarding in terms of their responses to the music, so the results were combined for analysis. Dogs spent significantly more time sleeping during the classical music than during the other types of music or no music. There was no difference in sleep time between heavy metal, psycho-acoustic music, or no music. In terms of shaking, the dogs shook significantly more during the heavy metal than the other types of music. The results for vocalization were more complex, and showed less vocalization during some of the classical music, and more vocalization when there was no music at all.
The researchers suggest that dogs might be less stressed in a kennel environment if they were played classical music. They were surprised that the psycho-acoustic music did not seem to affect behaviour, but we cannot draw a general conclusion since they only used one track; it could be that other tracks would have an effect. Similarly, since only a few tracks were used of classical and heavy metal, it’s too early to draw conclusions about the genres as a whole. However, this study does suggest that future research, using a wider range of music, could be very interesting.
Future studies could also play different tracks in succession, since the mode of presentation used here (one track repeated for 45 minutes) might not be appreciated by shelter staff. Whether or not dogs prefer repetition is another empirical question. But this study certainly suggests that kennels could consider the use of music to help dogs relax. Some boarding kennels and cat hotels already use music and TV to keep their clients happy.
How does your dog respond to music?