Its All Rock-and-Roll to Me

When training my dogs, I always have music playing. And, truth-be-told, my personal tastes gravitate neither to easy-listening nor to high-brow classical music. Rather, I am a rock n’ roll gal, all the way home. On a given day, my dogs and I may be training agility to The Who, retrieving to Stevie Ray Vaughan, and practicing tricks to Ray Lamontagne. On days that my feminist freak flag is flying, Janis Joplin, Melissa Etheridge, and Alanis Morissette are on deck. My dogs of course are accustomed to this and (I hope) share my love of all that rocks.

Chip in particular seems to enjoy early Beatles:

So, considering my habit of  training to music, I was interested to find a recent study that examined the effects of music on dog behavior. In this case, rather than looking at dogs rocking out during agility training, the researchers were studying dogs housed in a kennel environment (1).

The Study:  A kennel setting can be highly stressful for dogs, particularly those who are homeless and residing in a shelter. In attempts to improve their welfare, researchers have studied a variety of strategies for reducing kennel-induced anxiety. These include providing interactive toys, promoting social interactions with people, increasing opportunities for exercise and play, and adding various types of environmental enrichment. Sensory stimulation is a form of environmental enrichment that may use visual, olfactory, or auditory stimuli to induce a more calm and relaxed state. For example, there is ample evidence that listening to classical music has mood-enhancing effects in people and a small amount of evidence showing similar responses in dogs (2). However, the effects of different genres of music have not been studied at all in dogs. For example, are they rockers like me or more into muzak? Recently, a group of researchers at Colorado State University asked the questions “Can exposure to music during periods of kenneling reduce stress and anxiety in dogs?” and “Do dogs react differently to different types of music?”


Can music be calming for sheltered dogs?

Dogs and music selections: Two groups of dogs were studied; adult Dachshund rescue dogs (n = 34) and owned dogs (multiple breeds) housed in the same facility for short-term boarding (n = 83). The kennel was a traditional design consisting of a long row of indoor rectangular enclosures that faced each other on each side of a center concrete walkway. Dogs were housed either singularly or in pairs and were walked on-lead outdoors twice daily. Three types of music were tested: classical (4 selections), heavy metal (3 selections), and a commercial dog relaxation track (modified classical music).  Music selections were played in a randomized sequence for 45-minute periods, with each period followed by 15 minutes of no music. The control was a 45-minute period with no music. Dogs were observed by a single individual for 5-minute increments throughout each music or control period. Recorded behaviors included the dogs’ type of activity, time spent vocalizing, and the presence/absence of body shaking.

Results: Rescue dogs and boarding dogs did not differ in their response to music, nor did the type of housing (single or paired) influence response. Both the presence/absence of music and the type of music influenced dogs’ behavior and apparent stress levels:

  • Activity: Dogs spent significantly more time sleeping when listening to classical music than when they were listening to either heavy metal, the commercial relaxation music, or no music at all. Neither heavy metal nor the commercial relaxation track significantly affected sleep time or activity level. (Contrary to speculation, listening to heavy metal music did not induce hyperactivity; parents of teens, take note).
  • Vocalizations: Both genre and song selection influenced vocalizations, although these effects were not dramatic. For example, dogs were silent for 95 % of the 45-minute period while listening to the classical selection, Moonlight Sonata. By comparison, they were silent 86 % of the time when no music was playing. In general, the kenneled dogs barked between 5 and 15 % of the time and were slightly more inclined to bark when no music was playing.
  • Body shaking: Dogs spent dramatically more time shaking when listening to heavy metal music (38 to 71 %of the time, depending on the selection) than when listening to classical music (0.5 to 2.8 % of the time), the commercial selection (0.5 %) or no music at all (1.2 %). One particular heavy metal song caused dogs to shake the most –  a whopping 71 % of the time. To put this in perspective, this means that, on average, dogs were showing nervous body shaking for 32 of the 45 minutes that they listened to this song.

Take Away for Dog Folks: Music appears to significantly influence the behavior of kenneled dogs, and this includes both rescue (homeless) dogs and dogs who are owned and are being temporarily boarded. This study provides some helpful information for trainers, owners, and shelter/rescue professionals:

  1. Classical music apparently induces sleepiness in dogs (glad to learn that I am not alone in that respect). A response of increased relaxation/sleep is definitely a good thing, since anxious/stressed dogs are generally more active and spend less time relaxing than do non-stressed dogs.
  2. Heavy metal music is to be avoided with dogs as it appears to have induced stress, possibly severe stress, in kenneled dogs (again, good to learn, can’t stand the stuff, myself).
  3. Save your pennies: The commercial selection that was tested in this study was marketed by the company selling it as  being “psychoacoustically arranged” (whatever that means) to promote dog relaxation. However, this music had minimal effects on stress-related behavior in this study, performing less well than classical music that was not psycho-babble arranged. While the underlying cause for this difference was not clear, this result illustrates the risk of  taking a bit of research (classical music is calming to humans) and applying it to dogs by marketing and selling a track of “relaxation music” without adequate supporting research.

The point should not be lost that the relaxation benefits of listening to classical music that are documented in humans (and now, documented also in dogs) may be of benefit to both shelter dogs and to the folks who care for them. So, even if you are an ol’ time rock-n-roller, like me, consider at the very least, that classical music may be the way to go when you are working with group-housed dogs living in stressful environments.

Chip Jan 2012

Chip says…But when it comes to training time with your mom, “Rock On Dude, Rock On“!


  1. Kogan LR, Schoenfeld-Tacher R, Simon AA. Behavioral effects of auditory stimulation on kenneled dogs. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 2012; 7:268-275.
  2. Wells DL, Graham L, Hepper PG. The influence of auditory stimulation on the behavior of dogs housed in a rescue shelter. Animal Welfare 2002;11:385-393.





22 thoughts on “Its All Rock-and-Roll to Me

  1. Pingback: Собаки и музыка

  2. Pingback: Is your dog a classical music lover? |

  3. Linda — had no idea you’ve been publishing a blog. Glad I found this! Consider re-blogging or publishing something for the Bark blog on this subject matter, they’d love it. I know I do…


  4. I am currently reading Oliver Sacks’ “Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain’ — fairly slowly as it is best digested in small bites 🙂

    But yesterday I got up to Chapter 19 — “Keeping Time: Rhythm and Movement”. He talks of the brain connections which make humans seem to naturally move to music, and discusses such a possibility in other animals.

    It has really made me think.
    I have known people who seem to have absolutely no sense of rhythm and find it hard to move ‘with the rhythm. My husband being a strong case in point. One of my sons inherited this lack — a school photo showed his school Cadets marching — and my son was the only one looking down — AT his neighbour’s feet. I asked him why and he said ingenuously “so he could stay in step!”
    So I spent a great deal of time ‘teaching him’ (using the begin with the Doman Delecato patterning method). While my son will never be a Fred Astair — he does now have ‘rhythm’.

    So I wonder, if we expose our dogs to music and activities with that music, will they develop tho brain connections to be able to move spontaneously with music?


  5. Hi, the studies seemed to assume that dogs hear the same way that humans do. Dogs don’t hear as low in the frequency spectrum as we do, but they hear much higher. The difference shape(s) of the pinna also influences the way different frequencies of sound are received, so it’s highly probably that sounds do not sound the same to them as they do to us. They may also be able to hear in finer resolution than we do (so some things that sound like one thing to us may sound like several quick sounds to them). I think a much better test would have been to use synthesized sounds and then observe responses. But a good blog post on a rather complex topic!


  6. Over a fifteen year period my malamutes have each liked to join me near the piano when I was playing, but were otherwise indifferent to me playing any type of recorded music. While that points to them responding (as Evelyn notes) to my enjoyment of the music, my first mal Bondi would consistently leave the room when I played “louder” repertoire but would return if I switched to mellower pieces by Chopin, Debussy et al.


  7. This was fascinating. When we leave the house, I switch on a track of music I think of as “massage music” but is an album called The Sacred Well. My Cairn terrier knows the routine when this song starts playing, she heads to the bed we keep in our bedroom for her where she gets a few treats and says good bye. Seems to work. I’ve never watched how she really is though and I’ve often wondered if she even likes it or is sick of it! I guess I play it because it calms me down…


  8. (If this comes through twice, please delete. Having WP problems.)

    Linda, I’m glad my comments were OK. I started getting commenter’s remorse. I can go all monomaniacal when I finally get close to something where I have a little expertise!

    Really did love the video. Besides being adorable–high production values. You put some work into that one!!


    • Hi Eileen – Goodness, of course your comments were fine! You always are insightful and polite and add interesting information to the conversation (not to mention that I learn tons from YOUR blog and your videos!). So glad you like the Chip video; we had more time when that was made and I would love to get back to doing those again when some time frees up. (In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy your videos! 🙂 ) Happy training and blogging!


  9. Thanks for writing about this, Linda! This is something right up my alley too, with a master’s in music and a master’s in engineering specializing in acoustics. I have a theory about the specially marketed music for dogs and cats. They state that they operate on the theory that a sustained notes and slow harmonic changes are soothing. This may well be true for animals as well as humans, but if so, they picked the wrong instrument. The piano has a percussive attack (beginning of the tone), which is actually emphasized in very slow music, even with a light touch. Since the tone has more time to decay (decrease in volume) because of the slow tempo, the beginnings of the notes actually “stick out” more than they would at a more moderate tempo.

    For example, the arpeggiation in the Moonlight Sonata actually creates a more blended and even amplitude at the moderate (as opposed to super slow) tempo.

    Here’s a website that demonstrates a little of what I’m talking about: separating the attack from the sustained part of a note played on a guitar, presented visually and and by recording.

    And allow me my pet peeve: the absolutely imprecise term “classical music” used in the study. Classical can both refer to all of Western art music, or a specific period. The pieces they used were generally melodius ones from the early Romantic period, with one Baroque piece thrown in, therefore, “Classical” must have been used in the general sense. So defined, I could come up with plenty of “Classical” pieces that would probably be pretty jarring for the poor dogs.

    And even as a classically trained musician, I react poorly to the spread of snobbery about classical music. Dogs may prefer Muzak or Peter, Paul and Mary, for all we know yet! I play a variety of music at my house, and the only bad reactions I’ve seen so far are to Taiko drumming.

    There may be research of which I’m unaware, but I feel like this study is what we would call lumping in training. It’s great that they got some significant results, but I would love to see much simpler sounds and proto-music, if you will, so as to tease out more specifics of what acoustic and musical occurrences tend to have what affect on dogs. It seems to me a little like trying to determine what colors dogs can see using a Jackson Pollock painting.

    Thanks for a fun piece–and Chip’s da man!


    • Hi Eileen! Thanks for the great thoughts – I learn more interesting things about you all of the time! I so appreciate your take on this, given your professional training in music as well as your dog expertise! FYI, another dog person, Ilana Reisner, a vet behaviorist, also commented (on FB, I think), about the heterogeneity of classical music and the problems with lumping it all together into a single genre, as this study appeared to do. Teasing out the acoustical cues that actually contribute to a calming effect in dogs living in kennels would be the next step for sure. (Plus, using head-banging music as the comparison set the bar pretty darned low for classical music to show a positive effect, in my [complete musical amateur] opinion!). Enjoyed your Jackson Pollock analogy as well! (And in all honesty, I meant this piece to be rather silly and fun…..glad you got that, as others on FB and elsewhere seem to be taking this piece WAY too seriously….. 🙂


      • Talking of “the heterogeneity of classical music” this is something that had been increasingly bothering me. Reading Oliver Sacks’ “Musicophilia” and so Googling some of the ‘cassical composers’ he mentions – 😦 Oh! Oh, Dear!

        I think that the time has probably come to refer to the genre as ‘orchestral music’. Then specify which type.
        Classical, Baroque, Romantic, Modern, etc.


  10. I wonder though. Do dogs actually prefer the music that their people enjoy, because that is wehn their people are exuding ‘contentment’ or pleasure?

    Though I know my dogs at the time didn’t mind the daughter’s flute practice, but hated the sons’ trumpet practice — as did the neighbours 😉


  11. Thanks for sharing this info, Linda! As someone with a masters in music, I am always insulted when I hear the claims of the “specially arranged” classical pieces. I participated in a test, by the way, of similar music “designed” for cats. The cats I tested it on showed absolutely no preference for the supposedly feline-dedicated piano music. I call – “BS!” 😉 Janet V


    • Ha! Thanks Janet! I wonder what exactly the “psychoaccoustically” arrangement was? (I have to keep repeating that made-up word, as I find it so utterly delightful 🙂 ). So interesting that you found a similar result in cats. Can it be that our animal companions truly do have an ear for the greats? 🙂


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