Is it possible to relax stressed pets by playing them music, audiobooks or watching movies? Dr Jo explores recent studies that look at effects audio and visual media have on our pets…
Dogs can get stressed.
Maybe it’s your pampered pooch at home who shakes at the sound of fireworks or who hates being left alone. Or it’s the shelter dog who paces their kennel or barks at every passing person. All dogs need the opportunity to relax.
Music calms dogs
When kennelled dogs are played a variety of musical styles, including rock, pop and classical music, the dogs make most noise when listening to Metallica. But classical music calms them down, making them rest more and stand up less. Pop music makes little difference to their behaviour. (1)
It appears, however, to be really important to stay away from heavy metal music, as this may have dogs shaking in their paws! (2)
When dogs are exposed to classical music over a week, their heart rate decreases indicative of a reduction in their stress levels, although their salivary cortisol levels (also indicative of stress) don’t change. During periods of listening to music, kennelled dogs spend more time sitting or lying down and less time standing and barking. Interestingly male dogs responded more to this auditory stimulation than females. Effects may decrease over time, so we really need to know more about the degree of exposure we give dogs to this form of stress release. (3)
Musical variety is the key
We can’t play classical music to dogs all of the time. Not only might it be difficult for many humans to withstand, dogs also habituate (get used to) to this type of music and the positive effects are lessened over time. More recent research has expanded the investigation of music genres and their effect on dogs. Dogs were played soft rock, motown pop, reggae and classical to see if increasing the variety of musical types kept the positive effects going. (4)
Result showed that all music increased lying down time, regardless of genre. Dogs were more inclined to bark when the music stopped. Soft rock and reggae decreased stress levels while, in this study, motown, pop and classical has less effect. Changing the types of music did, however, appear to keep the relaxation effects going over time.
What about voice relaxation?
It may not always be possible or appropriate to play music to dogs. It may be useful, for dogs and humans, if similar relaxing benefits were achieved from playing voices. Recently, audiobooks were played to dogs in a rescue shelter and compared with the effects of music, including classical, pop and psychoacoustically designed dog music. (5)
Audiobooks resulted in dogs spending more of their time resting than when exposed to any of the other auditory conditions. Dogs also spent less time displaying sitting or standing vigilant behaviour when the audiobook was played compared to all other conditions. Thus audiobooks may be having a calming influence on dogs. This study suggests that exposure to audiobooks can enhance the welfare of kennelled dogs due to their calming influence on dog behaviour.
Will this work for cats?
We are unaware if playing music or audiobooks helps cats relax but it will certainly do them no harm, so feel free to follow the same principles with your feline friends. Remember, however, that certain stimuli may increase activity levels, hence stress e.g. cats playing with ipad games.
Can TV relax our pets too?
Well, it seems that visual stimulation can even relax our dogs and cats but it may need to be carefully chosen. Pet company, MORE TH>N Insurance, have launched the world’s first films for dogs and cats, scientifically designed to reduce stress. The two films, entitled Woofering Heights and Peer Window, include the unmistakable voice of David Tennant as the soothing narrator. (6)
The film for dogs incorporates slowly moving pastoral scenery, a cast of sedentary dogs and the relaxing lilt of David Tennant delivering an Emily Bronte-inspired narration to calm canines. The film has also been shot entirely in a dog’s colour spectrum of blues and yellows – heightening the viewing experience for them.
Be warned: Owners watching the films may find them abstract and surreal but they will be highly compelling for their intended four-pawed audience.
These films are included here for your pet’s benefits 🙂
Woofering Heights for your Dog
Peer Window for your Cat
What about our pets at home?
These studies were all conducted within kennel environments where dogs are often stressed. Since we know dogs at home are periodically exposed to stressful situations (thunderstorms, fireworks, being left alone), we can assume that auditory stimulation in the form of music and audiobooks may help our pet dogs, and possibly cats, too.
When your pets may be likely to experience stressful periods, why not try:
- Play music for your pet. Make it classical, reggae or soft rock and vary the music across the hours and days.
- Play an audiobook for your pet.
- Play a movie for your pet.
- Tune in to talkback radio where the presenters remain calm. Try Talking Pets with Dr Jo!
(1) Dogs prefer Bach to Britney
(2) Behavioral effects of auditory stimulation on kenneled dogs
(3) ‘Four Seasons’ in an animal rescue centre; classical music reduces environmental stress in kennelled dogs
(4) The effect of different genres of music on the stress levels of kennelled dogs
(5)The effects of audiobooks on the behaviour of dogs at a rehoming kennels
(6) Stress-busting films for pets