Can Dogs Like Music?

Ardent animal lovers are often accused of wildly anthropomorphizing their pets to a downright ludicrous degree. And not without good reason! You don’t have to be a learned animal behaviorist to raise an eyebrow whenever your kooky Aunt Martha swears that her mini schnauzer, Mr. Schnitzel, gets extra ornery whenever the Lakers lose a game. You may also question whether Mr. Shnitzel really does prefer Mahler to Merle Haggard like dear old auntie claims—BUT hold your horses there. Some researchers say that there may very well be some truth to the notion that our canine companions can have a favorite jam, just like us. In fact, this is a fairly common belief among pet owners—so much so that sales of music albums made just for animals has been steadily on the rise. So, is it time to get Spot his own Spotify account? Read on and see.

What sounds do dogs dig?

According to Charles Snowdon, an animal psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, dog owners are inclined to project their own musical tastes onto their pet: “People assume that if they like Mozart, their dog will like Mozart. If they like rock music, they say their dog prefers rock.” However, Snowdon’s research suggests that animals can in fact enjoy music, but that music must be “species-specific.” In other words, what may be music to our ears is most likely not at all enjoyable to most animals. He claims that a species will prefer “familiar” music containing tones, tempos, and pitches that they should naturally be exposed to. For example, humans tend to like music with a tempo similar to the healthy human heart-rate and notes in the same register as human speech. Likewise, dogs like tunes with a tempo similar to their own breed’s heart-rate (i.e. faster for a Chihuahua and slower for a Great Dane) and in registers similar to their vocalizations. Interestingly, since dogs the size of labradors and mastiffs vocalize in frequencies similar to a human male, these breeds may be more apt to like people music more than smaller breeds would.

Mozart vs. Metallica

In addition to Snowdon’s findings, research conducted at Queen’s University, Belfast in 2002 lends credibility to the notion that music can calm anxiety in dogs. Led by psychologist Deborah Wells, a series of studies examined whether a certain type of music—pop, heavy metal, or classical—may have an effect on animal’s stress levels. The results were affirmative. Anxious dogs in animal shelters who listened to classical music had significantly lower agitation levels (i.e. barked less) than those who were exposed to music by heavy metal bands like Metallica. Of course, these results may have you thinking “no duh!”—but it’s important not to presuppose any animal behavior based on how we humans might react ourselves. For example, Snowdon found that tamarin monkeys enjoy “music” composed of shrill, high-register cello sounds—the likes of which would probably drive any human up the wall.

How about howling? Does your pooch think he’s Pavarotti?

A big reason why many dog owners are convinced that their canines are music lovers is that their dogs howl whenever they hear certain music (especially if it features wind instruments) and some human singing voices. Are they really practicing for Carnegie Hall, or do their howls mean something else entirely? Experts tend to agree that howling is not a joyous expression of musical love, but is born from an instinct to either reinforce one’s identity in a pack, or as a way for a lonely dog to seek out the company of others. When howling along with a pack, the dog will usually start out very high pitched, and then modulate down in order to find his own unique note within the chorus. However, an isolated dog that howls out of loneliness may be likened (if you’re just poetically bent on attributing complex human emotional states onto pooches!) to a tortured singer wailing the blues. If so, that’s ok. We’re totally on board with that.

CHECK OUT PART 2: “Do Cats Enjoy Music?"

By Maya M.