Written by Ella White
Ever put the radio or your favorite album on and noticed that your dog responded? They might howl or bark, or they might appear to be more relaxed than they were before. These reactions have led many owners to believe that their dogs do, in fact, enjoy music – and might even favor specific genres.
So, is it true that dogs like music? Do dogs like classical music more than other genres? And what, if any, benefits do dogs get from listening to music?
As anyone who has played music to their dog will tell you: dogs do like music. What music they like can depend entirely on each unique dog and the associations they have formed with the genre.
Dogs have a much better sense of hearing than humans, with an ability to hear between 47 and 44,000 Hz compared to humans’ 20 to 20,000 Hz. This means they might prefer music that is played more quietly, leading some owners to think their dogs prefer calming, classical music that lends itself to lower volumes.
A number of recent studies have been conducted to help us understand more about how dogs respond to music and why. Psychologist Deborah Wells of Queens University in Belfast, for example, looked at how dogs react to different genres.
She found that pop music elicited no clear reaction, heavy metal music caused agitation and barking and classical music calmed some dogs. Her conclusion was that music can influence the mood of a dog similar to how it can influence emotions in humans.
Artist Laurie Anderson also experimented with dog’s reactions to music by hosting two concerts played in a frequency that could only easily be heard by dogs. The concerts, in Sydney, Australia and New York City, prompted positive reactions from dogs in the audience.
However, some experts believe that projecting human emotions onto dogs doesn't necessarily reflect their true feelings towards music being played for them.
The one genre that almost all studies agree dogs respond positively to is classical music. Most studies show that dogs appear calm and relaxed when classical music is played – so while we can’t say for sure that they actively enjoy classical music, it doesn’t seem to do them any harm either.
Another study by Bowman et al suggested that there are other genres that can be just as calming for dogs. For example, reggae and soft rock music seemed to indicate lower stress levels than dogs listening to classical music, and that individual dogs will have mixed reactions to different types of music – just like people.
If your dog suffers from anxiety that is triggered by specific situations – like thunderstorms – they could have their nerves soothed by calming music. Up to 40% of dogs are afraid of noises, with some being triggered by negative associations from traumatic events and others being scared by one-off sounds like fireworks. Others become anxious when they know they’re going to the vet or are about to have a bath.
If your dog is panting, pacing around, trying to hide, licking their lips, or appearing distressed in any other way then they might be anxious. If you want to try playing music to calm their nerves, start with quiet music from a genre that’s proven to be relaxing for dogs, like classical or reggae.
Another common response when dogs have music played to them is howling. Maybe you’ve witnessed your own dog do this, or seen one of the thousands of online videos of dogs howling along to a song their owner has put on.
This ‘singing’ can sound sad and almost painful to human ears. But for dogs, this is a form of communication. Dogs understand pitch, and wolves will deliberately howl in a note that is different to the other howling wolves as a way to stand out.
Many dogs have these same instincts, and enjoy ‘singing’ along in a different pitch to the music they can hear. So while it might be disturbing the neighbors, the good news is it's not a sign that your dog is agitated or upset!