I had the privilege of meeting Lisa Spector a couple of weekends ago at the Tervuren Fanciers Agility Trial in Palo Alto. I recognized her and her dogs, camped just up the field from us, and introduced myself as a big fan. For those who do not recognize her name, she is the musician and composer behind the Through A Dog’s Ear series of music designed to calm dogs in a variety of settings.
Music, you ask, to calm the beast?
Well, it’s not just a myth, but has been demonstrated to be effective in studies conducted by the team at Through A Dog’s Ear and by others with doctorates in psychoacoustics, psychology and animal behavior. More recent studies continue to support these findings.
So, how does this music work, and how is it different from any basic classical music? In the preliminary studies that they conducted, they found that the “instrumentation and tempo of the classical music can produce marked differences in results. Solo instruments, slower tempos, and less complex arrangements had a greater calming effect than faster selections with more complex harmonic and orchestral content.”
Lisa Spector writes the arrangements for optimum calming effects, using slower cadences and lower tones, aligning with what they learned in the studies. The result is music that is not only beautiful, but has the effect of calming those who listen to it, in particular, the dogs.
Real Life Experiences
Over the past several years, I have used Through A Dog’s Ear music in a variety of ways to calm my own pack, as well as recommended it to help calm my clients’ their nervous or high energy dogs.
- My first experience with their original CD was as a test. I had a lovely client with a very nervous, recently rescued cattle dog mix, with whom we’d tried a wide variety of exercises and treatments to help her relax. I heard about this music through a colleague, and recommended it as an adjunct to our training. My client was a fan of classical music, and open to trying it out. Her report to me after the first trial went something like this: “I put the music on in the afternoon, when (the dog) is often most nervous. Then I went to the other room to read. Next thing you know, the dog, my two cats, and I were all asleep for a nice nap.” I learned then that the music calms people as well as dogs.
- In classes, I performed an informal test shortly after the above event. In Week 1 of beginning training classes, people and dogs are typically nervous and fidgety. I started class normally, then about 10 minutes in, I put the CD on as background music. Within minutes, I observed both dogs and people visibly relaxing. Unsure of whether it was my imagination, my observations were confirmed by my assistants, who were amazed to see the dogs taking deep breaths and lying down, while the humans’ shoulders were dropping as they relaxed as well.
- With my own pack at home, I play this music during thunderstorms and fireworks shows. This is significant, as two of my dogs developed fairly severe thunder phobias after a large (100+ foot) tree landed on our house one night while they slept in their crates. I could work with them to recover from these phobias, but since thunderstorms and fireworks are both rare in our area I have found it most effective to use the music, along with the air conditioner or house heater to drown out additional outside noise.
- I also use the Driving Edition on road trips to flyball, agility and other competitions. My dogs, being high drive types, get very excited when they realize that we are going to an event. They love to run, and while they initially settle down for long car rides, they used to get very excited and agitated as soon as we pulled off the highway, in anticipation of the games. I first used the Driving Edition music on the way to a local competition, about 2 hours away from home. My teammate and I were amazed when we arrived with a carload of quiet, mostly sleeping dogs that had not already expended much of their energy prior to running. And we enjoyed a peaceful conversation along the ride – double bonus!
- Finally, on a human note, when my daughter was just over one month old, we had to move. In this stressful time, she was having a hard time going down for her nap in the afternoon. On a whim I put on one of the CD’s in a stereo near her. She was asleep before the end of the first song! She is two now, and I still use this music around bedtime to help her settle down.
There are many ways to help calm or even just “tone down” a high drive dog. And while all dogs still require plenty of physical and mental exercise to be well-adjusted and content, the Through A Dog’s Ear series of music could be a great addition to the high drive dog owner’s toolbox.