Do Dogs Prefer Music or Silence?

Music is very much a part of human culture, but do our canine companions also appreciate a good tune? Or do dogs prefer peaceful silence? There has been some research into dogs and music that provides insight into their musical preferences and abilities.

On the whole, it seems dogs do respond to music and certain types of music more than others. A study by Scottish SPCA and the University of Glasgow played various genres of music for dogs at an animal shelter. The dogs were observed to see their reactions. The study found classical music appeared to have a calming effect on the dogs, reducing stress behaviors. In contrast, pop music did not seem to have the same soothing result.

Researchers speculate that the complex sounds, tones and melodies in classical music are more mentally stimulating for dogs. The acoustic properties of classical music may be more pleasing to the canine ear. Dogs have a sense of hearing superior to humans, so they may detect more nuances in classical pieces.

Some scientists believe dogs do not have a real appreciation for music, but rather they respond to the sounds familiar to their primary caregiver. So if their owner often listens to a certain musical genre, the dog associates that type of music with their human’s presence and it therefore provides comfort. This may explain why classical music is often effective, as many view it as relaxing music suitable for pets.

There is evidence dogs perceive emotion in music similarly to humans. A 2016 study had dogs listen to A-ha’s jaunty “Happy Song” and an ominous Beethoven composition. The dogs responded nervously and barked more during the Beethoven piece. This suggests they can pick up on the tone and mood of a musical work.

While dogs may not truly understand music, they can react to the rise and fall of melodies, tempos, pitches and volumes. Changes in these features do seem to elicit responses like ear perks or head tilts from dogs as they follow along. Brain scan studies show dogs process music using the auditory part of the brain just as people do.

Familiarity also affects a dog’s interest in music. Dogs that are regularly exposed to music are more likely to remain relaxed when they hear it being played. Shelter dogs unfamiliar with music may become frightened by unexpected sounds. They gradually get used to a radio playing soft classical music for example.

Music therapists recommend dog owners play low-volume classical or easy listening music to soothe anxious pets for a few hours each day. Dogs that tend to bark a lot may be distracted by turning on some peaceful tunes instead. Music is also helpful during fireworks or thunderstorms that produce loud, disturbing sounds.

For the most beneficial impact, music should be played at a moderate level to prevent overstimulation. It is best to expose dogs to a variety of sounds during the first year when their hearing is still developing. Puppies that only hear silence or one music genre do not learn to filter out normal ambient noises.

While music has a positive effect on dogs, they do not really need constant sound in their environments. Dogs can be perfectly content with silence during inactive periods. A balance between music therapy and quiet downtime is healthiest. Dogs will also need peace and quiet to sleep soundly. So while music can be helpful for calming anxious canines, silence has its place in a dog’s life as well. Both music and lack of sound should be part of a dog’s routine.