Jack Russell Terrior facing a microphone ready to sing

Are Dogs Musical?

Most of us consider ourselves to be musical even if we don’t feel that we have musical talent. Music is an important part of our everyday lives. It impacts our moods, helps us to connect to others, and expands our sense of meaning. As a result of our relationship with music, our furry friends are exposed to music as well.

But does music have a similar impact on our dogs? Are dogs musical in a similar way as their owners, or do they even care about or like music?

Numerous studies have demonstrated that dogs do, in fact, hear and respond to music. Dogs can differentiate between various notes and pitch and sometimes respond in a physical way to a musical beat. Additionally, dogs seem to have a preference for certain types of music. Therefore, one could say that since they hear and respond to music, dogs are musical.

Defining What it Means to Be Musical

A study done by the University of Delware about what it means to be musical indicated that engaging with music was the key criteria. People engage in music by paying attention and listening to it, responding by singing or moving, or by playing an instrument.

Obviouosly, dogs don’t play musical instruments. But, many studies have demonstrated that dogs do hear music and appear to be listening. Many dogs will become more relaxed, excited, or, in some cases, repulsed by different types of music!

Do Dogs Actually Sing to Music?

Many people equate howling with singing, and a pack of howling dogs can sound like a canine chorus. But are they actually trying to join in with the music?

Instruments such as violins or reed instruments like the clarinet or saxophone sound similar to human voices. So, when a dog starts howling to certain types of music, he may be trying to join in. Wild dogs and wolves communciate to one another by howling. When one starts to howl, others will join in. So in a sense dogs may be singing when they start howling to music. They are reacting to the sounds of the music and engaging with it.

Dogs are also very sensitive to pitch and usually howl in their own unique pitch or “key” to differentiate from other dogs. Which is why howling dogs often sound very discordant as a chorus. Since dogs ears or so sensitive, really high pitches can be very uncomfortable and a howl or bark may be a form of protest!

Do Dogs Like Music?

It is well established that music can influence our moods. 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.”

Psychologist Deborah Wells, Queens University in Belfast

Dogs seems to prefer certain types of music over others. In general classical and soft rock seem to agree with a dog’sp discerning taste. And most dogs hate extremely loud, disscordant, or heavy metal pieces, which can cause distress.

Stanley Coren, PhD, discusses this in more detail in a post on psychologytoday.com, Do Dogs Have a Sense of Music? He describes a studies done by psychologist, Deborah Wells at Queens University, Belfast. Shelter dogs were exposed to various types of music which greatly impacted their emotional states. She concluded: “It is well established that music can influence our moods. 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.”

A number of studies by shelters and vet clinics have found that sick and scared dogs calm down and relax when soft classical music is played. They respond best to lower pitches, and slower movments of musical arrangements. Even some forms of Raggae seemed to sooth shelter dogs according to an article by Shelly Graves posted on dogtips.com.

Can Dogs Feel Rhythm?

Whether or not dogs can move to the beat of music is somewhat debatable. Research has found that dogs and most animals cannot dance — only parrots and elephants. See my post, Can Dogs Really Dance? for more about dancing dogs.

But according to PetCareRX.com, dogs can sometimes move their bodies and wag their tails to different tempos of music. “It was conclusively proved by research that dogs can exhibit the physical symptoms of the perceived rhythm. The tails will wag in time. There is no doubt that dogs can actually enjoy music.” They may not keep perfect time, but dogs do respond to music by swaying their bodies or wagging their tails.

Do Dogs Like Being Sung To?

Most dogs like to hear the sound of their owners voice and respond well to being sung to. Soft, upbeat, and soothing songs can really engage your dog and boost his mood, especially if you put your whole body into it. Dogs spend a lot of time observing us to see anticipate what’s next. So, you can engage your dog by moving around and singing in a fun or soothing way to get your dog either excited or calmed down. Singing to your dog can help improve your bond especially if you modify or create songs that include your dog’s name.

Just know that your dog may not like every song you sing. The key or pitch may not resonate with him, so you may need to experiement a bit.

A good friend of mine who is an avid and talented guitarist and songwriter said that her fellow musicians have reported a wide array of reactions from their dogs. Many dogs really enjoyed their owner’s tunes while others were less impressed, bored, or not happy with their arrangements. Alas, everyone is a critic!

Final Thoughts

Dogs do indeed seem to be musical. Just don’t expect your dog to pick up the trombone and play it any time soon!

But you can engage your dog in music by letting him listen to dog-pleasing compositions.. By leaving the radio on and tuned into a classical station while you are away may help your dog feel more relaxed. Pandora now has several dog music stations that can have calming effects. There is even DogTV that includes sound and visual programming which some dogs respond well to.

So give it a go and let your dog enjoy some great music!

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