Do our pets like music? And if so, what styles do they prefer and in what situations can music help them?
Do pets enjoy music? And more importantly do they like the same music we like? Many of us will put the radio or music on for our pets as company when we go out. Distracting noise is often recommended for dogs with noise phobias, or for puppies with separation anxiety.
Cats and dogs have vastly different hearing compared to humans, so perhaps the development of species specific music for cats and dogs can more adequately match their listening needs.
Hearing in Cats and Dogs
Despite indications to the contrary, cats have excellent hearing. They are also good at filtering out all the other less relevant noises in their life, so they may be able to hear the sound of the fridge opening, but will ignore our pleas to return home. Their hearing is twice as sensitive as dogs, while dogs have hearing five times more sensitive than ours.
Cats have an amazing ability to hear very quiet noises, which is why they really excel as hunters. Cats are also able to hear higher frequencies, so they can pick up those ultrasonic calls of small mammals. Humans can hear a frequency of 20-23 KHz, while cats can hear noises that we are completely unaware of, with a hearing range of 45-64 KHz.
Dogs too are better at hearing higher frequencies, and can hear 40-60 KHz, but this can vary with breed. Dogs with more upright ears are better able to channel in sound, and with 18 muscles to control the ears, they can precisely locate and amplify sound.
If your dog appears to know when you are coming home, or is scared in a certain situation, consider that his superior hearing is picking up something your mere human ears cannot. This is also why many dogs are fearful of loud noises. Those fireworks sound loud to us, but to a dog who can hear sounds 4 times further away than us, and can hear noises we can’t detect, those fireworks can be terrifying.
Species Specific Music
When considering musical tastes, it is not only what we hear, but the interpretation. Much of what we respond to is based on our experiences, memories and the emotions that music evokes. Humans learn to recognise human voices, and respond to music that is similar in tone to our vocal range and heart rate.
Dogs hear differently to us. They are not built for the development of language and to suggest that they ‘hear’ the world in the same way as we do is anthropomorphising.
In a well-known study on tamarin monkeys, the monkeys were observed while playing different musical styles. The monkeys were calmer during the tamarin ballad music full of affiliation noises and more agitated in response to the music with distress calls. They were indifferent to the human music. To our ears the affiliation music is full of grating, shrill sounds, so tamarin music is not going to be the next musical craze.
A human responds on a physiological level to distress sounds in another human, but does not necessarily detect an alarm call from another species or respond to noises that other animals are built to find comforting and indicate friendship.
Heartbeat and Tempo
The tempo of human music is related to our heart beat. Music we like also has similar tones to those in our speaking range. It is thought that this preference could also extend to animals.
Theoretically a larger dog may have a more similar music taste to that of humans, as their heart rate is closer to the human heart rate. A smaller dog may like different music entirely due to their faster heart rate. As a general a larger species has a slower heart rate. Cats would most likely not share our music taste based on this principle.
Research in Dogs
There have been two major research studies on music preferences in dogs. The first looked at shelter dogs and reported that dogs barked less and spent more time resting with classical music versus heavy rock, human conversation, pop music and the control group. They tended to like music with a slower tempo, and music that had less complexity.
There is also some evidence to suggest that harp music can decrease heart rate and respiration rate and promote smoother recoveries in canine hospitalised patients.
Music for Dogs
If you are interested in music for your dog, Through a Dog’s Ear has been developed with dogs in mind and through clinical trials has been shown to promote relaxation. It can be used for anxious dogs, in shelters, or for dogs with noise phobias. Victoria Stilwell has also worked with the developers of Through a Dog’s Ear to develop a program of CD’s for dogs with noise phobias.
Music for Cats
Music for cats is based on classical music, sounds of nature and gentle human voices. There is no research behind the CD but reviews from pet owners are generally favourable.
Before you rush out and set up a music collection for your pets, watch how your dog and cat behave when music is playing. If they relax near a speaker, perhaps they are ammenable to some soothing tunes.
If your dog disappears, or appears uncomfortable (licking his lips, swallowing a lot, pacing or showing the white of his eyes), perhaps you need to try different music, or avoid it in their presence.
Incidentally and despite having no ears, it turns out that great white sharks could prefer ACDC.