Search for “dog music” on Spotify, and you’ll find an entire playlist dedicated to the canine populace. Type “Laurie Anderson” into Google, and you’ll find articles, pictures, and videos about the concerts the musician puts on just for dogs. You can also take a quick survey of friends and neighbors to find pet owners who keep the radio on for their dogs while they’re home alone (maybe you do it too!). These signs all point to the same idea—dogs like listening to music.
But is there scientific fact behind this claim, or is it pet owners projecting their own likes, dislikes, and personalities onto their dogs? Every dog is different, but the answer to whether or not your dog genuinely enjoys music might surprise you.
A Clash in Taste
Charles Snowdon, described as an “authority on musical preferences of animals” by LiveScience, points out that while humans love their pets, they’re quick to give them traits they don’t actually have and emotions they’re incapable of possessing. Pet owners feel a strong bond to their animals, and it’s natural to want to transfer their thoughts, wishes, and passions onto their furry friends. People like to think that if they enjoy something, so does their dog. Snowdon applies this theory when considering whether dogs enjoy listening to music. He says,
“We have a very human tendency to project onto our pets and assume that they will like what we like. People assume that if they like Mozart, their dog will like Mozart. If they like rock music, they say their dog prefers rock.”
It’s called anthropomorphizing, and it means giving animals human qualities they don’t possess. Snowdon doesn’t believe dogs and humans have the same musical preferences, but that doesn’t mean dogs don’t enjoy music at all. There are several studies that indicate dogs do like listening to music, but not the music their owners think they like.
National Geographic describes a person’s taste in music as based purely on neurological activity. They say,
“The strength of certain neural connections can predict how much you like the music, and these preferences are guided by what you’ve heard and enjoyed in the past.”
Humans tend to enjoy music that’s in their same vocal range and at a tempo that matches their heart rate. The same theory applies to dogs. Dogs hear higher pitches than what human ears can pick up, and their hearts beat faster. That’s why when Laurie Anderson puts on her canine-only concerts, the music she produces wouldn’t be described as “good” to anyone with human ears. That’s because the songs are specifically designed to be appealing to dogs, not humans.
The songs on the Spotify playlist are also specifically chosen and composed based on the pitches, tones, and tempos dogs are most familiar with. Ranging from two-pound Pomeranians to 140-pound Mastiffs, finding the right combination of sounds to perfectly please the canine ear isn’t always easy. Different dog breeds have different vocal ranges and heart rates, and this could account for why some dogs seem to enjoy one type of music while others don’t.
Species-specific music is a relatively new phenomena that may eventually branch out to include breed-specific songs, but one thing seems certain: dogs’ brains are indeed wired to enjoy music, just maybe not in the way you were hoping.
Species-specific music is growing in popularity, but studies show dogs also react to regular human music. Psychologist Deborah Wells from Queens University in Belfast performed an experiment to study the reactions dogs have to different types of music while living in a shelter environment. She did four rounds of testing—three using different types of music (pop, heavy metal, and classical), and the fourth was used as a baseline when there was no music playing.
For each round, she studied the dogs’ reactions by noting whether they were standing or lying down, barking or being quiet, and their general mood. When she played pop music, the dogs’ behavior didn’t seem to change from the baseline. When she switched to heavy metal, the dogs became noticeably more agitated and started barking. The classical music had the opposite effect. The dogs seemed to calm down and many laid down to relax. Wells’ study shows while dogs don’t like all human music, they seem to react similarly to humans in how certain genres influence mood and stress levels.
Another group of researchers in Scotland performed a similar test with the dogs at the Scottish SPCA. Researchers from the University of Glasgow tested five different music genres—soft rock, Motown, pop, reggae, and classical—with the intent to learn which the dogs liked best. Their results show the dogs were most relaxed when reggae music was being piped into their kennels.
After all the studies and experiments with species-specific music, the best method to determine if your dog really enjoys the sweet jams you play for them is to pay attention to any changes in behavior. Conduct your own experiments with different genres, and try not to impose your own feelings onto your dog. Not every dog will love your favorite techno song or slow ballad as much as you do, but science is on your side saying dogs are capable of appreciating good tunes—even if their taste differs greatly from their owners’.
Featured image via Amber King