Research into stressed-out canines suggests reggae music and soft rock helps calm them down
If music has the power to soothe the savage beast, it turns out it also has the power to help the domesticated kind chill out. A new study is claiming that man’s best friend likes to mellow out listening to a variety of different musical styles.
The research, carried out by the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, saw scientists from the University of Glasgow playing six-hour Spotify playlists from five different musical genres to dogs in an animal shelter. Across different days, the dogs were exposed to classical, soft rock, reggae, pop, and Motown music, while the researchers recorded heart rates, cortisol levels, and how much they barked and stayed lying down, all recognised as indicators of a dog’s stress level.
Charting the same data on days when the dogs did not have music to listen to, the research team found that dogs were typically “less stressed” when music was playing, with the study’s co-author Neil Evans, a professor of integrative physiology, saying the dog’s favourites were reggae and soft rock. Motown proved the least popular, though only marginally.
“What we tended to see was that different dogs responded differently,” said Evans. “There’s possibly a personal preference from some dogs for different types of music, just like in humans.”
The study, suggest its authors, could have some benefit to man’s best friend, particularly when applied as a calming technique in a pound. Dog shelters, which are stressful places because of all their noise and unfamiliarity, can lead to their residents cowering, loudly barking, trembling or other behaviours that could make potential adoptive owners visiting less likely to take them home.
“We want the dogs to have as good an experience as they can in a shelter,” said Evans, who added that people visiting animal shelters want “a dog who is looking very relaxed and interacts with them.”
The study, published in the journal Physiology & Behaviour, backs up previous research carried out by the University of Glasgow claiming that dogs in pounds listening to classical music bark less and lie down more. But that study found that after a week listening to orchestral music, the beneficial effects started to wear off, suggesting that “the animals were getting habituated with the music, or possibly getting bored,” leading to this investigation into musical variety.
Dogs are not the only species to benefit from ambient music, with dairy cows and captive elephants seeing a calming effect. Shelter dogs also appear to become more relaxed when audio books play in the background, though are not fans of heavy metal.
Reacting to the research, the Scottish SPCA says it is now playing music in two of its biggest animal shelters in Glasgow and Edinburgh, with plans to expand across the entire country.
“Having shown that variety is key to avoid habituation, the Scottish SPCA will be investing in sound systems for all their kennels,” the charity’s website says. “In the future, every centre 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.”