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CSU Researcher Wants to Make Life Better for Dogs with Music

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"Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast," as the oft-misquoted saying goes… but when it comes to soothing four-legged 'beasts,' it matters what kind of music you play.

Which kind? Apparently our K-9 friends appreciate the classics, and we're not talking about the Beatles. The four-month study of how shelter dogs responded to various musical styles found classical music calmed dogs more than any other type.

Lori Kogan, who is an associate professor in CSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, recorded dogs’ behaviors while playing different types of music – classical, heavy metal and music specifically created for animals.

While heavy metal induced more nervous shaking in the dogs, classical music appeared to calm dogs more than any other kind, including no music at all. The results suggest shelters can play classical music as a practical, cost-effective way to reduce stress and anxiety levels, and create a more positive environment for the animals.

Kogan’s study appears in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior [.pdf].

I had a chance to speak with Lori Kogan to find out more about what prompted her research...

Erin O’Toole: I’m so intrigued with this – can you tell me a little more about how you did the study?

Lori Kogan: Sure. The reason I wanted to do this study was because I felt like, intuitively, many of us that have dogs know that dogs are influenced by different types of music. I’m always looking for ways to enhance the welfare of shelter animals – hopefully in a way that is financially feasible for shelters, and so I’m always looking for potential solutions.

That’s what led me to do this particular study. I felt like many of us feel that dogs probably do respond differently to different types of music, but there was very little research out there to substantiate that.

What I did was just look at monitoring dogs’ behaviors as far as frequency of sleeping, or movement, or nervous shaking that some dogs do; and looked at that in five-minute increments while I played different kinds of music. The genres I looked at were heavy metal music, three selections from that; and then several selections of classical music. And then music that is specially formulated for dogs, and then a condition of no music at all or silence.


O’Toole: And so you found classical music was better than no music, and it was better than music specially composed for animals, which I thought was interesting. Did you find certain composers were best?

Kogan: There really was not a lot of difference between the classical music types. I specifically tried to pick classical that was pretty similar to each other as far as beats per minute; because there’s some classical music that’s pretty rambunctious (laughs). I didn’t choose those. So a couple Bach, and some music like that.

O’Toole: (laughs) Right. I’m curious if you’ve gotten any feedback -- and I know this is just now being published, but have you gotten any feedback from people who work at shelters, maybe people who like listening to rock or metal as they work, and have they thought about how their music might impact the animals? And if they’re willing to change what they listen to?

Kogan: Well, like you mentioned, this just came out, and so I have not yet received feedback from shelters. I have received feedback from people that just are animal owners or interested in ways to soothe or calm their animals.

And it’s my hope that this just helps folks make more educated decisions about what kind of music they’re playing. Because part of the impetus for this was just thinking about who works and shelters - and is it possible that people are just not paying attention? So as they’re cleaning cages and things like that, maybe they’re just putting on music that they would select, that aren’t necessarily the most soothing for the dogs there.

O’Toole: I know, I have a dog that’s half Chihuahua, and I notice he gets a little shaky when I play certain kinds of music in the car...

Credit Erin O'Toole / KUNC
Marley listens to an unknown selection

Kogan: Really? Exactly!

O’Toole: Yeah, I may have to change what I’m listening to on those long drives… (laughs)

Kogan: (laughs) Bummer!

O’Toole: So - last question: Besides shelters and pet stores, are you looking into other potential ways music could be used to soothe animals?

Kogan: Absolutely. My hope is to do follow-up studies, looking at animals in veterinary clinics for example, or looking at the stress with surgery, or anesthesia recovery rates, some of those types of things. I think there’s lots of potential for exploring how music can make things better for animals.

Credit Lori Kogan / Colorado State Univeristy
Colorado State Univeristy

As the host of KUNC’s new program and podcast In the NoCo, I work closely with our producers and reporters to bring context and diverse perspectives to the important issues of the day. Northern Colorado is such a diverse and growing region, brimming with history, culture, music, education, civic engagement, and amazing outdoor recreation. I love finding the stories and voices that reflect what makes NoCo such an extraordinary place to live.
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