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Research suggests that if dogs could put together their own playlists, Metallica and Black Sabbath would be out — they don’t like heavy metal. Beethoven and Vivaldi would be in, along with perhaps a little Bob Marley and Sting. They appear to chill with classical music and, one study suggests, reggae and soft rock.
In a study conducted by investigators at Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, music by heavy metal bands appeared to agitate shelter dogs. They barked in response (or protest — you decide). Classical music, on the other hand, helped the dogs settle down and even rest.
A study of 117 dogs at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine yielded similar results. Heavy metal music agitated the dogs and caused them to tremble, while classical music relaxed them.
In the UK, a joint initiative between the Scottish SPCA and the University of Glasgow found that while classical music didn’t seem to bother dogs, reggae and soft rock increased their heart rate variability — an indication that they actually induced a calmer state. Consider that when an animal is in an agitated fight-or-flight state, the variation in time between heart beats is low. When an animal is relaxed, that variation between heart beats increases, indicating greater resilience and flexibility in switching emotional gears.
A previous study in Scotland did indicate that dogs prefer classical music. But they stopped responding to it in as little as one day, suggesting that they may prefer a variety of musical genres, as do most people.
Incorporating music into your pet’s life
If you’d like to try music as a potential calming influence for your dog, follow these four steps for the best possible outcome:
1. Play the music at a much lower volume than you would play it for yourself, even to the point of not being able to hear it very well. Dogs have much more sensitive hearing than we do. In fact, they can hear sounds four times farther away than we can. What you consider a comfortable volume might be ear-splitting for them.
2. Stay away from heavy metal music. With more than one study suggesting that heavy metal bands put dogs on edge, there’s no point in testing their results. Dogs just don’t seem to connect with heavy metal’s discordant guitars, dense bass-and-drum sound, and vigorous — sometimes harsh-sounding — vocals.
3. Put music on in your absence. Nothing but the tick tock of a clock for hours at a time while you are away from home can prove not just boring but also anxiety-provoking. Music will break up the silence. And because you’re not going to be home, you won’t mind a low volume that suits your dog but not you.
4. Mix it up. Dogs, just like people, don’t want to hear the same song all day long. That becomes tedious, if not downright annoying. (Remember, they can’t turn off the music.) Even going from classical to soft rock, for example, could help calm a dog while you’re out and help alleviate a little of the boredom.