When you crank the music, do you ever think about your dog's musical tastes? If your pup needs to chill, you may want to put on some Bob Marley or John Denver.
Researchers at the University of Glasgow worked in conjunction with the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) to see how various types of music affected the stress levels of kenneled dogs. Shelter dogs listened to a wide range of music from Spotify playlists. The genres varied from day to day, with the furry residents listening to classical, reggae, soft rock, pop and Motown in a series of experiments.
While each genre was playing, the researchers measured the dogs' stress levels by monitoring their heart rate variability and cortisol levels. They also kept track of whether the dogs were lying down or barking while the music was on.
The researchers found that regardless of what type of music was playing, the dogs were generally "less stressed" with music vs. without. They spent significantly more time lying down (versus standing) when any type of music was playing. They also seemed to show a slight preference for reggae and soft rock, with Motown coming in last, but not by much.
Musical tastes may vary
The responses to the genres was mixed, co-author Neil Evans, a professor of integrative physiology, told the Washington Post.
"What we tended to see was that different dogs responded differently," Evans said. "There’s possibly a personal preference from some dogs for different types of music, just like in humans."
The results make a good argument for playing music in shelters, where dogs can be frightened by unfamiliar surroundings. Evans points out that stress can cause dogs to bark, cower and behave in ways that makes it hard for them to be adopted. It's worth noting that in the tests, playing music of any kind didn't make barking dogs stop barking; however, when the music stopped, quiet dogs were more likely to start barking.
"We want the dogs to have as good an experience as they can in a shelter," said Evans, who pointed out that people looking to adopt "want a dog who is looking very relaxed and interacts with them."
Two of the Scottish SPCA's facilities now play music for their residents, and the research has convinced them to expand the program. The research has been published in the journal Physiology & Behavior.
"Having shown that variety is key to avoid habituation, the Scottish SPCA will be investing in sound systems for all their kennels," the charity said on its website. "In the future, every center will be able to offer our four-footed friends a canine-approved playlist with the view to extending this research to other species in the charity’s care."
Even lullabies work
Just as they calm crying babies, lullabies can also help stressed-out shelter dogs. Terry Woodford, a composer who's written songs for The Simpsons and Temptations, created Canine Lullabies by mixing simple, human sounds with common lullabies.
Woodford said on his website that dogs can't interpret songs because they are too complex and tune it out. "They are attentive and interested in sounds that are simple, predictable, familiar and ordered in a simple structure."
The lullabies all have six elements to help ease a dog: relaxation, simplicity, predictability, consistent tempo, consistent volume, basic symmetric structure, human compassion in the singer's voice and familiarity (like a human heartbeat).
His music is played in shelters around the U.S. and in the U.K., India and Australia. While it has been shown to successfully work on calming shelter dogs, Woodford also touts these other benefits: stop unwanted barking, console whimpering puppies, minimize separation anxiety, reduce hyperactivity, minimize fear of thunderstorms, calm your pet in the car and comfort your sick or hurt dog.
Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in January 2017.