Mozart or Pearl Jam? Maybe next time, let your dog choose.

By Kristi Valentini
October 26, 2020
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Credit: Catherine Falls Commercial / Getty

Does your dog howl to songs or fall asleep when classical music is playing? You might be wondering if it’s all in your head or if dogs, like people, really do respond to certain melodies. You’re not the only one who’s curious—multiple studies have been done on dogs and music. The results? Mixed. 

So we talked to Lisa Radosta, DVM, DACVB, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist at Florida Veterinary Behavior Service and a host for Top Vets Talk Pets, to get her take on whether your pooch should have her own playlist.

Do Dogs Like Music?

The answer to whether dogs like music is: It depends, Radosta says. Research indicates that when dogs are stressed, music may help. 

A landmark study in 2002 compared how shelter dogs responded to classical, pop, and heavy-metal music as well as conversation and silence. Researchers found that classical music had a calming effect on dogs. The pups went from standing and barking to laying down and resting. Another study showed that harp music could help hospitalized dogs with better breathing and heart rates compared to dogs that didn’t listen to it. 

But recent research found that shelter dogs were most soothed by the sounds of an audio book, not classical music. What gives? Radosta says what’s probably making the biggest impact is having a rhythmic sound to drown out scary noises like hospital machines or other dogs barking.

Music and Dog Anxiety

Many dogs have anxiety during thunderstorms and fireworks. But dogs with noise aversion are also sensitive to everyday sounds. “Dogs that won’t leave the house almost always have noise aversion,” Radosta explains. “We used to think the behavior was caused by something else, but now realize that about 20% to 40% of dogs struggle with being afraid of noises.” 

Playing soothing music or an audio book may be key to calming dogs who become anxious over what’s going on outside. Blocking out those distressing sounds could lead to a happier pet. 

“When you see signs of stress in your dog, try playing music to see if that’ll help,” Radosta says. Body language that signals your pup is scared includes:

  • Panting
  • Pacing
  • Lip-licking
  • Stress yawning
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Trying to hide in plain sight or out-of-sight

Why Do Dogs Howl to Music?

You may get a kick out of seeing your pooch croon along to Adele, but why does he do it? No one knows for sure, but dogs may howl to music for the same reason they do it when they hear sirens: It sounds like another dog howling and their instinct is to join in.

Adele sounds like a dog? Well, not to people, but dogs hear a much wider range of sounds than people do. They hear tones far above and below what the human ear can detect, so we don’t know exactly what things sound like to them. 

In general, howling is a call for the pack to come together, Radosta says, which may also explain why dogs with separation anxiety do it, too.

What Kind of Music Do Dogs Like Best?

Like people, dogs have individual preferences, too. Experiment to find out what type of music your dog likes best. Classical music is a great place to start, Radosta says. But keep an open mind. “One of my clients listens to reggae music and found that his dog really calmed down during storms when he played it. It was comforting to the dog because it was familiar,” she explains.

You can also try an audio book, one of the pet playlists on Spotify, or iCalmDog, which is a type of music designed for a dog’s range of hearing. It’s definitely a good idea to flip something on before leaving your pup at home alone, Radosta says.

“You want to play music loud enough to drown out those little sounds that might be causing your dog to bark during the day,” she explains. “It also offers stimulation during what could be a pretty boring time for your pup."

The bonus: Whatever music you have playing will likely become the music that soothes your dog in the future, since it’ll be familiar. Given the low cost to entertain and relax your pooch, why not try tuning in today?