Why Do Dogs Howl to Music

Have you every cranked-up Metallica, Limp Bizkit or Taylor Swift and your K9 Buddy starts to sing along? Well, there is some science behind it. Today we are talking about music and your pup. So, let’s try to figure out 🎶who let the dogs out! 🎶

Have you ever cranked up the radio during your favorite song or played a piece on the piano, only to have your dog seemingly sing along? It’s not uncommon to hear dogs howl along to music. In fact, YouTube is filled with videos of dogs showing off their vocal prowess. But why do they do it?

It’s in Their Genes

One reason for howling is the modern dog’s connection to their ancestor, the wolf. In the wild, wolves howl to communicate with one another. They do it to let other pack members know where they are or to warn off other animals encroaching on their territory. They also do it to assemble the pack and assert a group identity. It’s similar to the domino effect that happens when one dog in the neighborhood starts to howl, and every other dog joins in. Your canine companion may not even know why they are howling, but the behavior is deeply buried in their genetic code.

In fact, research suggests that canines have a sense of pitch. For example, as more wolves join in, each one changes their tone, and recordings have shown that each wolf is howling a different note. Your dog, too, can differentiate between pitch and tone. Dogs also pick up higher frequencies than the human ear, so they may be howling along to something you can’t even hear. Your dog may deliberately join in at a completely different pitch or note just to individualize their howl.

Some people think dogs howl along to AC/DC or a Bach flute sonata because it hurts their ears, but if your dog was in pain, they would most likely run away from the sound, hide, or cover their head.

Do Dogs Prefer Certain Types of Music?

Deborah Wells, a psychologist at Queens University in Belfast, set out to discover if dogs, like humans, have musical preferences. She exposed dogs at a shelter to different types of music and monitored their responses. Wells used popular music (including Bob Marley and Britney Spears); classical music (including Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” and Grieg’s “Morning”); and heavy metal (like Metallica).

The dogs responded very differently to the three types of music. Pop music produced no noticeable effect. Heavy metal, however, created a bit of canine pandemonium. The dogs became very agitated and started barking. Classical music, on the other hand, caused the dogs to stop barking, become calm, and even settle in one place.

“It is well established that music can influence our moods,” Wells says. “Classical music, for example, can help to reduce levels of stress, whilst grunge music can promote hostility, sadness, tension, and fatigue. It is now believed that dogs may be as discerning as humans when it comes to musical preference.”

If your dog has a favorite type of music, it doesn’t hurt to let them join in on the fun. You might find that you’re in perfect harmony.

Some dogs take to music right away, even howling along to their favorite tunes. Other dogs tend to retreat from these sounds in fear. The fact that pleasant sounds can capture a dog’s attention is something people know intuitively, and science confirms it.

If you listened to a recording of dogs and their owners, you’d probably hear what is known as motherese or baby talk (e.g. “Gimme kissies”). People tend to adjust their volume and cadence when speaking to their dogs. And dogs take notice, barking or wagging their tail in excitement.

Studying how animals perceive sound is the focus of an entire field called bioacoustics. Sound researchers have teamed up with musical composers to develop soothing melodies that can relieve stress in dogs. Before adding music into your dog’s life, it helps to know how dogs use sound to navigate their world.

Knowing What Dogs Hear

Sound travels through the air as waves of energy. Hertz (Hz) is a unit of frequency that measures the number of wave cycles per second. Humans can hear sounds between 20 and 20,000 Hz. Dogs’ ears are much more sensitive, picking up frequencies between 40 and 65,000 Hz.

From an evolutionary perspective, dogs’ exceptional hearing is beneficial for detecting predators. However, in today’s world, loud or unexpected sounds can overwhelm a dog’s nervous system. Along with feeling anxious about thunderstorms and fireworks, dogs can become fearful of everyday sounds that people hardly notice:

  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Lawn mower
  • Sirens and car alarms
  • Electronic rodent repellent
  • Smoke detector
  • Kitchen appliances
  • Washer and dryer
  • Furnace
  • Air conditioner
  • Alarm clock
  • Jangling keys and dog tags
  • Skateboards on pavement
  • Construction work
  • Garbage truck

How to Reduce Noise Pollution at Home

With repeated exposure to grating noises, some dogs may develop sound phobias. Fortunately, there are things you can do to cut down on noise pollution in and around your home:

  • Turn off or unplug devices when not in use.
  • Install weather stripping and double-paned windows.
  • Update appliances and choose energy-efficient options.
  • Install noise-absorbing surfaces such as area rugs or carpet tiles.
  • Choose an alarm clock that uses light instead of sound.
  • Make sure wall outlets are properly sealed.
  • Create a quiet space in your home with no electronic devices.
  • Block sound using wall insulation, decorative blankets, artwork, blinds, drapes, bookcases, and large plants.

Although it’s not possible to eliminate noise pollution entirely, you can introduce positive sounds into your living space. This is where music comes in, promoting calm and relaxation.

How Different Types of Music Affect Your Dog

Decades of research point to the stress and pain-relieving effects of music for people. Based on this work, animal researchers wanted to see if dogs could also benefit from music. Most of these studies have taken place in animal rescue shelters where researchers record how dogs behave in response to music and note any changes in the stress hormone, cortisol.

Apart from the genre, the length and frequency of a note affect how dogs respond to music. Short notes played in quick succession led to rapid motor movements. Dogs appeared calm in response to simple tones, rhythms, and sustained notes.

The innovative work of Dr. Alfred Tomatis, otolaryngologist, is the basis for audio sound therapies designed for dogs. These soothing melodies trigger immune responses that help with repairing tissue and fighting infection.

For instance, iCalmPet products use musical arrangements to help restore balance to a dog’s nervous system. Sharon Howarth-Russell, composer, creates compositions for dogs to address specific needs such as alleviating anxiety, car sickness, aggression, or illness.

Spotify has a tool that allows you to create a pet playlist for your dog. How it works is you select the traits that best describe your dog’s personality. You can also add your dog’s name and upload a photo for the playlist cover.

Dogs appear most calm when listening to classical music, reggae, and soft rock. In addition to genre and rhythm, variety is key. Dogs tend to tune out music they hear all the time. The relaxing effect declines once music turns into ambient noise.

A relaxed dog is more likely to sleep soundly which benefits their brain and immune health. If your dog experiences separation anxiety, remember to play some tunes when you’re at home so they don’t develop an association between music and you leaving the house.

Furthermore, music has a variety of therapeutic uses. It can help dogs remain calm while adjusting to a new home, attending a veterinary appointment, recovering from surgery, or preparing for the end of life. In a world that’s filled with noise from cars and electronic devices, music is a welcome reprieve for you and your dog.



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