Classical music strikes a chord with dogs in Colorado State study

Veterinary researchers conclude that music can be a cost-effective, practical way to improve shelter environments.
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Oct 18, 2012

Go to any heavy metal concert and you'll see a crowd of rowdy, head-banging fans. But dogs nervously shaking to Slayer in an animal shelter? That's not the kind of behavior anyone—even the most devout metalhead—wants to see.

It turns out that music seems to have a similar effect on dogs as it's been found to have on humans, according to a recent study conducted by Colorado State University researchers. Lori Kogan, PhD, MS, a psychologist and associate professor in the university's College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, led the study and set out to determine if auditory stimulation could affect the behavior and stress levels of dogs in animal shelters.

"I did this study because intuitively, most of us know that music impacts dogs," Kogan told DVM Newsmagazine. "I'm always looking for ways to help make welfare issues better, especially in stressful situations like shelters. And if I can do something that's relatively inexpensive and easy to implement, that's ideal."

Over the course of four months, Kogan and her team observed 117 dogs in a kennel environment and exposed them to three general types of music: classical, heavy metal and a modification of classical music specifically designed for its calming effect on dogs. For a control period, no music was played. Each type of music was played for 45 minutes, followed by 15 minutes of silence. The dogs' behaviors, specifically activity level, vocalization and body shaking, were recorded every five minutes during the exposures.

Overall, the dogs responded to classical music by sleeping more, suggesting that this type of music had a relaxing effect that promoted restful behavior. Conversely, body shaking was observed more during heavy metal music selections, indicating that this type of music may increase agitation and stress-induced behaviors in kennel environments. The music designed specifically for relaxation had minimal effect on the dogs' behaviors.

Kogan's study suggests that while shelters are inherently stressful for many dogs, shelter personnel can take steps to modify the environment and reduce stressful behavior with the proper selection of music?all with relatively minimal cost and effort.

"Something as simply as paying attention to what kind of music you play might really make a difference," Kogan says.

The study was published in the September 2012 issue of Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research.