Do Dogs Enjoy Music?

Experts and scientists have plenty of theories with varying levels of evidence, but it does seem that music can have an effect on the heart rates of dogs. A 2016 study found that more “exciting” genres of music—rock and rap in this study—increased dogs’ heart rates. Other genres maintained the “at rest” heart rates for the dogs used in the studies.


A study performed by Colorado State University researchers in 2012 observed the behavior of 117 kenneled dogs. The researchers played various genres of music and monitored the differences in the dogs’ sleep patterns, vocalizations, and body shaking. The researchers found that the dogs were more relaxed and slept more while classical music was playing, but were either agitated, excited, or anxious during the period of time heavy metal music was played.


Anecdotally, I’m a musician, and I often play guitar in the house. When I play something soothing and slow, Freyja can usually be found lying in the middle of the room relaxing and falling asleep. When I invite friends over to play or have band practice (which is typically more energetic music), she’s usually trying to get one of us to play with her by throwing her toys at our feet.


These findings aren’t too different from what we observe in humans: many people use heavy metal as workout music, and some sports teams use rap to hype up a crowd. Those high beats-per-minute (BPM) genres get the same results in dogs as humans. They aren’t necessarily bad, but if you are using music to calm your dog(s) down, you may want to consider something down tempo. Veterinary neurologists say that playing slower classical music can relieve stress and anxiety. Just steer clear of pieces like Berlioz’s “March to the Scaffold,” Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” and definitely Wagner’s “Flight of the Valkyries.”


Some composers have even written pieces for their dogs, or dogs in general. Kirk Nurock, a composer and pianist who has worked with greats like Leonard Bernstein, has written at least three pieces for dog performers. Each piece features at least one dog, and his first of this kind, Howl, is for 20 human voices and 3 canine voices. Sir Edward William Elgar, who composed “Pomp and Circumstance,” had even invited his friend’s Bulldog, Dan, to choir practices because Dan was said to growl at the singers that were out of tune.


Similarly, the aforementioned Richard Wagner would have his Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Peps, in his study with him as he composed. He is said to have judged Peps’s reactions to passages he was writing and modified them based on the dog’s behaviors.


It would seem that classical music and dogs have some sort of connection, but how can you use this in your life? If you’ve got a dog that’s anxious when you leave or hates thunderstorms, playing some Handel might help relieve some stress.


On the opposite side, if you’ve got a lazy dog that doesn’t want to exercise, you could try getting them pumped up with some high-BPM music like metal or electronic dance music.


But what about genres other than classical? Studies have also shown that most dogs respond well to soft rock, Motown, pop, and reggae as well. Out of those genres, the pups seemed to prefer soft rock and reggae the most.


Dogs, like humans, have their own individual tastes. So try some of your favorite songs and tell us what your dogs like!

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