Can playing music or audiobooks really help to settle your dog?
We’ve written quite a lot on the blog about lockdown puppies and the rising number of dogs in the UK that have separation anxiety or simply hate being left home alone. So this week we were very interested to learn of a study by researchers at Queen’s University in Belfast which examines what dogs prefer to listen to when they are alone.
According to the freshly-published paper classical music may help dogs to settle when they are separated from their owner, but playing audiobooks had no effect. The findings report that classical music had a ‘moderately-calming effect’ when played to dogs that were separated from their owners and summing up, they suggest that music and audiobooks have ‘little value to dogs in situations of short-term acute stress’.
However these findings are at odds with other research from Scotland that found that classical music had a calming effect on dogs in rescue kennels and subsequent research that found that dogs particularly enjoyed reggae and soft rock music – but this could of course be down to the nature of the study? The previous research was performed on dogs at rescue centres rather than those that had been separated from their owners, and the conditions under which the study was performed and the sample sizes probably differed too.
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What really settles a stressed dog?
The new research by the Animal Behaviour Centre at the University's School of Psychology specifically examined whether classical music or audiobooks reduce stress for pet dogs that are separated from their owners for a short time.
This could be helpful information for owners who tend to leave the TV, radio or an audiobook on for their dog as a source of comforting background noise when they leave the house. So what really settles a stressed dog?
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Harry Potter or Mozart?
The study examined the reactions of 82 dogs to a Mozart Sonata and an audiobook version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. They also played no audio as a control condition. The dogs, consisting of a variety of breeds were left on their own in a research room at the University for the study and their behaviour was observed and recorded on video whilst they were played one of the three different types of audio.
The study found that the dogs which were exposed to classical music were significantly faster to lie down than animals in the audiobook condition and quicker to settle than animals in the audiobook and control conditions. Although many of the dogs who listened to the audiobook cocked their head or gazed at the speaker that was playing it, the researchers reported that it did not appear to reduce the short-term stress that the dogs experienced in being separated from their owners.
"Overall, findings point to only a moderately calming effect of classical music, and no apparent welfare benefits of an audiobook, on dogs separated from their owners," the paper, entitled ‘The effect of auditory stimulation on pet dogs reactions to owner separation’ reported.
"There was nothing to suggest that human conversation in the form of an audiobook led to any welfare advantages."
"The research points to auditory stimulation having little value to dogs in situations of short-term acute stress."
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Looking at the findings of this study, we don’t think that the conditions of the experiment were particularly robust. The dogs would have been better off being tested in their home environment as it is highly likely that any dog left alone in a strange environment such as a University research laboratory is unlikely to relax – and is Harry Potter the most soothing story that they could have used? There seems to be some evidence to support the theory that audiobooks do help dogs to relax, in certain contexts.
The spy who came in from the kennel
Last month RSPCA Stubbington Ark made a public appeal for audiobook as they found that they did help to soothe the dogs in their kennels. They’ve also found ‘live reading’ to be extremely beneficial to the dogs welfare too.
Talking to Metro, Charlotte Jones, behaviour and welfare specialist at the centre said:
“We’re looking for audiobook CDs to play over our sound system in our kennels. We recently started a reading club – where volunteers come to read to the dogs in our kennels – and it’s been really beneficial and helps them relax in what can be quite a difficult environment.
“We had the idea to play audiobooks over our sound system as we think this will help the dogs relax. We’ve been playing The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe but it’s quite animated and can be a bit shouty, so it’s not ideal for the dogs. We’re really after calm and soothing stories that will help them relax.”
Charlotte suggested that the dogs responded best to Spy novels and Metro reported that many RSPCA centres have sound systems in their kennels in order to play classical music and other soothing sounds to their pups.
If dogs respond to being read to in person, perhaps it might be a good idea for owners to play a recording of themselves reading a story when they leave their dog home alone and see if this helps them to settle, perhaps a topic for further research?
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