Music For Dogs: Can Music Help Dogs Alleviate Stress?

Key takeaway

Music has a positive effect on human emotion. Unfortunately, there's no conclusive evidence if it can help alleviate stress in dogs. However, several studies have proven classical music and other genres may be effective in reducing dog anxiety in some ways.

When you have a stressed dog, you may look for any way to keep them calm. Many humans use music to induce a more relaxed state in themselves, so it's no wonder they may turn to music to help their dogs. Unfortunately, more research is needed to know whether music really has an impact on stress levels. There have been numerous studies that have demonstrated listening to music can improve stress-related physiological, cognitive, and emotional processes in humans.2 Additionally, preliminary research has shown how different types and genres of music reduce stress by having different effects on the brain. For example, a study of 62 subjects showed neutral and happy music alleviated anxiety.1

But can music for dogs help your pup during times of stress? Is it possible for different genres of music to have different effects on our canine counterparts, potentially helping to ease anxiety? If your dog gets stressed during vet visits, thunderstorms, or fireworks or suffers from separation anxiety, you may be looking for ways to help them live a happier life, so you may wonder if certain sounds for dogs can be beneficial. 

Can Listening To Music Help Alleviate Stress in Dogs?

Dogs spent more time resting and less time vocalizing when listening to classical music in multiple studies

Anxiety in older dogs is fairly common, but it can happen to dogs at any age, especially depending on their past experiences. Unfortunately, there's no conclusive evidence to prove that music for dogs is effective at reducing anxiety. Additionally, like humans, every dog is different, so it may be best to determine if calming music for dogs is different. If you're wondering, "Do dogs like music?" you may be able to tell by watching their behavior while you play music for them. Some dogs may find music calming, but others may not notice their music at all because they're focused on their own little world. 

As far as science is concerned, several studies have looked at the effects of music on dogs, but the results are conflicting. For example, a study on the effect of music on stress in dogs during a vet visit demonstrated that music is ineffective at reducing stress in dogs.2 The study examined behavioral and physiological responses in dogs during a vet visit to establish if relaxing music for dogs was effective. In particular, they used music that mimicked the tempo of a dog's resting heart rate.2 In this case, music did not have a demonstrated effect on dogs, suggesting that vet visits were simply too stressful for music therapy to have a positive effect.2

Conversely, other studies have demonstrated that certain types of music can have an effect on dogs. For example, a study observed animals listening to classical music and determined they appeared less anxious.3 However, dogs are good at hiding their true feelings, often masking physical pain, so even though they may appear calm that doesn't mean they're experiencing a calm state of mind. That being said, canine body language can tell us a lot about how a dog is feeling. For example, they don't usually lie down when they're feeling stressed. 

Other studies have analyzed the effect of classic music on dogs, measuring heart rate variability, level of vocalization, and time spent resting. One of these studies showed that classical music could influence specific behaviors and physiological responses in dogs, such as heart rate variability, vocalization, and time spent resting, ultimately stating that classical music positively affected anxious dogs.4 

A similar study exposed dogs to human conversation, classical music, heavy metal, pop music, and silence. They found that dogs exposed to classical music rested more and vocalized less than when exposed to other types of music, especially heavy metal.5

It seems from these studies that if music for dogs is going to have an effect on stress levels and behavior, the genre is important. Classic music has been studied the most and shown to be potentially effective at reducing stress in dogs. However, this evidence is not conclusive, and every dog is different. 

How Does Music For Dogs Reduce Stress?

When calming music for dogs has been effective, it has shown that music can influence behaviors and physiological parameters associated with the canine stress response. Many of these studies observed the following effects in dogs: 

  • Barking less: Dogs experiencing anxiety typically become more vocal, howling, barking, or crying. Dogs with separation anxiety are known to howl while their pet parent is away, often a sign of severe emotional distress. However, dogs may also become vocal when they're in pain or for many other reasons. Barking is not always a stress response, but it can be. Therefore, when a visibly stressed dog that normally barks barks less, it may indicate that a treatment for anxiety is effective. In this case, the treatment is calming music for dogs that has been able to quiet the dog. It's important to note that even though a dog may become quiet, it doesn't necessarily mean they're any less stressed; they may simply be listening to the music intently because it's a new, curious sound to them. 
  • Resting more: Dogs suffering from anxiety tend to pace or stand because they're on high alert. When a dog lays down, it typically means they're feeling calm in its environment. However, stressed dogs may stand then rest, depending on their regular behaviors. However, when a dog lies down, it typically means they're not stressed in their environment. 
  • High heart rate variability (HRV): HRV is a measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat. The shorter the time between each heartbeat, the more stressed a dog is. Dogs with anxiety have low HRVs. However, in many of the studies we discussed, the calming music for dogs resulted in a high HRV, indicating a stress reduction in dogs. 
  • Lower respiratory rates: As we've mentioned, when dogs are stressed they pant. A panic attack can be characterized by fast, quick breathing in dogs and humans. When dogs are calm, they have slower, calmer breathing. In many of the studies on relaxing music for dogs, dogs experienced lower respiratory rates indicating a reduction in stress levels. 
  • Lower cortisol levels: Cortisol is the stress hormone. Ultimately, when a dog or human is stressed, their cortisol levels rise. Cortisol levels can be measured with blood, urine, and saliva tests. In many of the studies we discussed, the dogs listening to classical music experienced a reduction in their cortisol levels, indicating they were less stressed.  

What Is The Best Music For Dogs?

Dogs were shown to produce the most positive behavioral changes when listening to reggae and soft rock

Many studies on dogs have demonstrated that classical music can positively affect a dog's emotional well-being by reducing stress. However, this isn't always the case. Since there are conflicting studies on the effectiveness of music for dogs, it may be best to try playing your dog different types of music to see if you notice a difference in their behavior or mood. As a pet parent, you know your dog best, so you can use their body language and behavior to determine whether music has any positive or negative effects. 

While most studies have tried classical music for dogs, a few have studied the different effects of various musical genres. One such study looked at the effect of different genres of music on the stress levels of kenneled dogs. They found that the HRV was significantly higher when dogs listened to soft rock and reggae, indicating that dogs are less stressed when those genres are played for them. There was a lesser effect observed when the same dogs listened to motown, pop, and classical music.6 Overall, this study found a mixed response, potentially proving that dogs have their own individual music preferences.6 While reggae and soft rock had the highest positive changes in behavior, your dog might be different and prefer a different genre. 

What Are Other Ways to Help A Dog With Anxiety?

Other ways to relieve anxiety in dogs include environmental enrichment, behavior modification, and pharmacologic therapy 

Of course, while music may be effective for some dogs, anxiety is typically a result of fear or past experiences, making it difficult for them to cope with music alone. Since music hasn't been definitively proven to be helpful at reducing dog anxiety, you should find other ways to help your anxious dog. Common treatments for anxiety in dogs include:

  • Environmental management: Dogs need environments where they feel safe and secure. Creating a doggy sanctuary where your dog can go when they're feeling stressed can provide them with the security they need, especially if they're afraid of something or someone in the home. Crate training can also be effective because it will teach them that their crate is a safe, calm space for them to spend time in, which may also reduce the effects of separation anxiety. 
  • Behavior modification: Behavior modification therapy is ideal for dogs that have reactivity or anxiety due to fear. Behavior modification alters how your dogs see the world, changing their perception of one scary thing into something more positive. For example, if your dog is afraid of strangers, you can feed them a treat every time they see a new person to help them start building positive associations. 
  • Medication: Some dogs are anxious due to past experiences. This is common in shelter pets and those that have been neglected and abused. While these dogs benefit from environmental management and behavior modification, they may also need medication to help them feel calmer. 

Best Music For Dogs: FAQs

Do dogs prefer music or silence?

Every dog is different. Some dogs may like listening to music, while others don't even notice it. If you leave your dog at home, you may leave some music on for them to help them feel less lonely. Additionally, music can be a good way to drown out other sounds that may upset your dog. For example, if your dog doesn't like the sound of people talking outside, you might play music for them or use a sound machine to drown out sounds that make them anxious.

Should I leave the TV on for my dog?

There's no harm in leaving the TV on for your dog. It may make some dogs feel less lonely when you're gone, but similar to playing music, it can help drown out unpleasant sounds, which may be beneficial if you live in an apartment and can hear your neighbors. Dogs can see the television, and you may sometimes catch your dog watching it, so it may be a good activity to keep them distracted when you're gone to prevent destructive behavior. 

Are music for dogs videos effective?

When you search for music for dogs online, you'll find tons of music videos for dogs. These music videos use different soothing music for dogs and visual elements to stimulate a dog's mind or produce a calming effect. Whether or not they're effective hasn't been officially proven, but they may help your specific dog stay calm. 

Final Notes

Music for dogs may be a way to help reduce anxiety in dogs, but it hasn't been proven effective. There are better, more effective treatments to help your dog suffering from anxiety. If you have an anxious dog, consult an expert. Dutch's telemedicine for pets can help anxious dogs in several ways. We work with pet parents to help determine the cause of your dog's anxiety and form effective treatment plans with behavioral therapy and medication to ensure your dog lives a happy, healthy life. 

References

  1. Thoma, Myriam V, et al. "The Effect of Music on the Human Stress Response." PloS One, Public Library of Science, 5 Aug. 2013, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3734071/.

  2. King, Tammie, et al. "Effect of Music on Stress Parameters in Dogs during a Mock Veterinary Visit." Animals : an Open Access Journal from MDPI, MDPI, 13 Jan. 2022, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8772971/.

  3. Lindig, Abigail M, et al. "Musical Dogs: A Review of the Influence of Auditory Enrichment on Canine Health and Behavior." Animals : an Open Access Journal from MDPI, MDPI, 13 Jan. 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7022433/.

  4. McDonald, C I, and S Zaki. "A Role for Classical Music in Veterinary Practice: Does Exposure to Classical Music Reduce Stress in Hospitalised Dogs?" Australian Veterinary Journal, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31943134/.

  5. Wells, D. L., Lynne Graham, and Peter G. Hepper. "The influence of auditory stimulation on the behaviour of dogs housed in a rescue shelter." Animal Welfare 11.4 (2002): 385-393.
  6. Bowman, A., et al. "'The Effect of Different Genres of Music on the Stress Levels of Kennelled Dogs'." Physiology & Behavior, Elsevier, 14 Jan. 2017, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031938416306977.