This depends on what we mean by “understand.” Dogs can certainly hear music and seem to be able to tell the difference between music and other common household sounds. Our canine companions certainly react to music. Many dogs start howling when they hear reed instrument solos, such as the clarinet and saxophone. They also seem to be very sensitive to long single notes produced by the violin or human voice.
Dogs can detect changes in pitch. Researchers have found that wolves change their pitch when others join in with the howling. Unlike human choirs, who try to stay in the same pitch so that they sound the same, dogs and wolves do their best to be out of tune with companions. They love the discordant sounds!
Do Dogs Like Music?
Music can have a beneficial effect on dogs so, in that sense, they do like music.
Dogs have more sensitive hearing than humans. We’ve all seen our dogs react before someone knocks on the door or rings our doorbell. Our dog heard the visitor approaching a long time before we did! They hear at higher frequencies than we can, so their listening experience may be very different from ours. Dogs can detect sounds with a frequency between 47 and 44,000 Hz but humans hear frequencies between 20 and 20,000 Hz.
This may explain why dogs appear to prefer some genres of music to others. For example, when grunge and heavy metal were played to dogs in dog shelters they became agitated. They seem to prefer classical and look at this in more detail later.
The Science of Dogs and Music
Scientists have examined the effect that different genres of music have on dogs. One study measured the stress levels of 38 kenneled dogs over five days as they listened to soft rock, Motown, pop, reggae, and classical. Stress levels were assessed by recording the time interval between their heartbeats (heart rate variability). A longer interval means that the dog is less stressed. Their visible behavior was also observed.
The study found that all types of music made the dogs lie down more which indicates that music relaxes them. They also started barking when the music ended. Perhaps this was a protest? The researchers also found that some dogs took a dislike to some types of music. However, if you mixed that track in with other types of music they soon became desensitized to it. This is termed habituation.
Another study by Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine looked at the effect of music on 117 kenneled dogs over four months. The dogs relaxed and were more likely to sleep when classical music was played. In contrast, heavy metal made their stress levels rise and several dogs began to tremble.
These studies, and a lot of personal experiences reported by dog owners, indicate that music can change your dog’s mood. Volume is also important because dogs have more sensitive hearing than humans. They can get upset by very loud volumes.
Choosing Music for Your Dog
The best person to choose the most appropriate music for your dog…is your dog! A good plan is to try playing several different types of music and watch their reaction. They may howl along to the song if they like it! Or, it may make them relaxed. If they become stressed and anxious, however, change the music or at least turn down the volume. Here are some suggestions for calming your dog down and drowning out loud noise such as fireworks.
Best Music to Help Dogs Calm Down
Many dogs suffer from anxiety. Separation anxiety is very common and some dogs can get stressed if you simply leave the room without them. There are some things that you could try which may help. Interactive toys can be a great distraction or you could try some calming CBD treats.
Calming classical music could be a natural alternative to medication or hiring a dog sitter. Spotify has an excellent calming dog playlist. It features Air on G String, Preludes, and Waltzes. It may also help with sleep problems and will help your pooch settle in with their pet sitter.
Best Music to Drown Out Loud Noise
Fireworks and thunderstorms can make dogs very afraid. You may even see your dog visibly shaking as the ‘fight or flight’ reflex kicks in. You can mask out the noise by playing soft rock or reggae. Our own dog is a huge fan of the Reggae for Dogs playlist on Spotify. We have been playing it to him since he was a pup and it helped him to adapt to all the new household noises. The volume needs to be slighter louder than the noise you are trying to drown out.
Taking Dogs to Music Festivals
Some music festivals are now allowing dogs to attend. You should think very carefully before taking a dog to a music festival because most dogs will not enjoy it at all. The crowds, lights, loud music, and vibrations can be very alarming to many dogs.
Having said that, if you have a super-chilled dog that you know will have a good time at the festival – go for it! Don’t forget that you will need a lot of supplies to keep your pooch happy and healthy. These include water and a water bowl, a strong leash, portable shade, and plenty of food and poop bags. Be prepared to stay in the quieter areas of the festival where it is cooler and less stressful for your dog.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © ESB Professional/Shutterstock.com
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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Why do dogs howl to music?
When dogs hear a certain type of music, they recognize elements in it that sound like howling. Wolves howl to communicate and joint howling is a way of assembling the pack. As far as your pooch is concerned, they are simply joining in with a pack of howling dogs!
Should I take my dog to a music concert?
Most music concerts do not admit dogs and this is for very valid reasons. The loud noises and vibrations can be very alarming for dogs and could even damage their sensitive hearing. They can also get distressed by the lights and the sheer number of people.
Are there music concerts for dogs?
Believe it or not, there has been a special music concert for dogs. It was held in 2010 in Sydney, Australia. The artist was Laurie Anderson and she held a similar concert in New York that could only be easily heard by dogs. Apparently, it was well-received by her canine fans.
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