From Mozart to Marley: how music chills out Man's Best Friend...

Issued: Thu, 02 Feb 2017 10:03:00 GMT

Neo the dog with classical music sheet background

In 2015, a study conducted by Amy Bowman as part of her PhD at the University of Glasgow in conjunction with the ScottishSPCA, showed that classical music was capable of reducing the stress levels of dogs (n=50) housed in a ScottishSPCA rescue centre in Dumbarton. The study was published in Physiology & Behaviourand found that, relative to silent (control) conditions, dogs spent more time lying down and less time barking when they were played classical music. In addition, Amy  also monitored the dogs’ heart rate variability (HRV) and found that it significantly increased when they were played classical music. The analysis of HRV data can provide an indication of autonomic activity; that is, whether the parasympathetic (PNS) or the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) was more active at a given time. Higher levels of HRV indicate that the PNS was more active, and given that the SNS is activated during a stress response, higher levels of HRV suggest the subject is less stressed. ‌‌
In this initial study the dogs were played classical music for 7 consecutive days to determine the long-term effect of playing music to dogs. Interestingly, following 7 days of treatment the positive effects of classical music seemed to wear off – possibly indicating that the dogs had habituated to the auditory enrichment. Therefore in our next study we aimed to determine whether providing the dogs with a variety of musical genres could help maintain the initially positive effects on dogs stress, seen with classical music.
From October 2013-May 2015, HRV and behavioural data was collected from 38 dogs that were played five different genres of music including classical, soft rock, Motown, reggae and pop. The results were recently published in Physiology& Behaviour and showed that, like the first study, dogs spent more time lying down and had increased levels of HRV when they were played music. Positive effects were detected for all genres, but were slightly more noticeable during the soft rock and reggae playlists. Although providing a variety of different genres helped maintain the positive effects there was a mixed response to different genres. This suggests that dogs may not specifically have a taste in music, but there may be certain sounds which appeal to them and make them feel relaxed, as well as sounds which scare them. As a result of the study the ScottishSPCA has installed sound systems in their centres at Glasgow and Edinburgh, with the aim to provide music to all dogs and other species, including cats, in all centres soon.

Amy Bowman taking a urine sample from Neo