Arts and Health

The integrative, reparative and restorative powers of the arts

Songs to Soothe the Panicked Pooch

Music can soothe the not-so-savage, domesticated beast.

There seems to be an increasing body of evidence that supports the view that certain music can change a bad Bowser to a more even-keeled canine. If your furry best friend is feeling a little anxious or stressed, it may be time to pop a CD into that surround sound system. But what would be best: Metallica, Beatles, or Vivaldi?

While I usually focus on two-legged beings and the impact of the arts on their health and well being in this blog, four-leggeds can benefit from some forms of the healing arts, too. In the general wellness department, dogs may profit from a regular dose of the right music along with daily walks in the park and designer dog food.

The fact that music can calm the panicked pooch is no surprise to music therapists who have studied the effects of rhythm, sound, voice, and song on humans for many decades, demonstrating its health-giving affects on everyone from pregnant women to older adults with dementia. Researchers have long known that music affects the nervous system and cardiovascular system. Now, hundreds of animal hospitals, kennels, and rescue shelters have taken notice of music as therapy for dogs, as well as devoted dog owners themselves. We can purchase specialized CDs with music designed for doggy listening and there is even a pet-friendly radio station (www.dogcatradio.com).

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Much of the current knowledge about music's effects on dogs comes from the work of Belfast-based psychologist and animal behaviorist Deborah Wells. Wells exposed numerous breeds of dogs to everything from Metallica to the classical music of Beethoven, Bach, and Vivaldi. Wells found that

dogs in shelters exposed to classical music spent more time in a resting state, barking a lot less than other dogs. In contrast, heavy metal music agitated the dogs [which somehow does not come as a great surprise]. Classical music-and Bach in particular-- reduces separation anxiety and stress behavior, including reactions to loud noises such as thunderstorms. And pop music had no effect at all, possibly because dogs, like humans, are used to hearing it regularly. So apparently, Paul McCartney and Barry Manilow pose no known harm to canine mental health.

Dogs are known also to take comfort in music with slower rhythms, fewer instruments, and simpler melodies. Because dogs hear at much higher frequencies than people do, music to calm the particularly panicked pooch should be played a low volume. But is all classical music Fido-friendly? The answer isn't in yet and dogs, like humans, seem to prefer a little variety. So, roll over Beethoven, your dog may also dig a little rhythm and blues.

Cathy Malchiodi is an art therapist, visual artist, independent scholar, and author of 13 books on arts therapies, including The Art Therapy Sourcebook.

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