My People’s taste in music is eclectic. The Lady has a little more Bach on her listening device, while the Guy has more Beastie Boys, but they both have playlists that run the gamut from Arvo Pärt to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Their soundtracks vary with their moods and activities, and they seem to have music for every occasion: Running demands something up-tempo and catchy, a cocktail party calls for jazz and old standards, and cleaning the living room might mean cranking up Sharon Jones.
I pay little attention to most of their music, the same way I pay little attention to the words coming out of their mouths unless they contain my name or a command (my People would say I sometimes pay little attention to the commands). But sometimes, I lie down with my ears trained towards the speakers and listen closely to the sounds coming out of them. At other times, a piece of music starts up, and I withdraw to another room.
When we dogs listen to our humans’ music, what exactly do we hear? Do we enjoy your music the way you do?
From the rudimentary research my secretary has conducted, it seems that scientists have not come to a definitive answer. One 2012 study conducted by Charles Snowdon at the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggested that animals respond to species-specific music, rather than to music made for humans, because differences in our range mean we don’t hear pitch the same way you do (just as you can’t hear certain sounds that are audible to us). That Beck album you think is a masterpiece just sounds like noise to us (apparently, Mr. Kanye West feels the same way).
There is even a whole range of CDs from the company Through a Dog’s Ear designed to ease canine anxieties through the use of slowed-down, simplified classical recordings. These are well-known compositions, but they’ve been modified to appeal to a dog’s hearing, and the recordings are made with a therapeutic more than an artistic goal in mind (they have cat CDs, too).
However, another 2012 study by Lori Kogan at Colorado State University found that regular, human classical music was more soothing to dogs than not only heavy-metal music (hardly surprising), but also the special pet-oriented recordings made by Through a Dog’s Ear. And in an article about his study, Mr. Snowdon speculated that large dogs, who have a vocal range closer to male humans, may actually respond in some way to human music, at least more than a small dog will. (If you would like to read a more authoritative roundup of these studies, read this 2013 post by animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell).
What to make of all this? On YouTube, there are endless examples of dogs singing along to Adele, or John Legend, or Pavorotti. Does this count as music appreciation? And why do some dogs sing along with music, while others ignore it? Are they just responding to a certain tone in a specific song, or are certain types of dogs more inclined to howl to music than others? Have they been trained to sing along? (I, for the record, sing along only with fire trucks, but if someone wants to bribe me with cheese, I’m willing to learn.)
The studies may say that dogs don’t respond to human music, but I have a feeling this dog’s humans would say otherwise:
(By the way, Mr. John Legend’s “All of Me” seems particularly popular with my fellow canines. Perhaps he can have a second career as a canine entertainer.)
My People and I are neither scientists nor musicians, so we have nothing to go on but our own experiences, and that isn’t enough to provide any answers. While I ignore most of my humans’ music, there is some of it, mostly classical and a little bit of jazz, that draws me toward the speakers and relaxes me, especially on a quiet afternoon. All music helps block some of the city noise, but some songs are more relaxing than others. After sampling my People’s playlists, I have determined that these are the pieces I most enjoy while lounging on the sofa or chewing on a bully stick:
- Erik Satie, 3 Gymnopédies
- Gabriel Fauré, Pavane, Op. 50
- Oscar Peterson Trio, Night Train
For those of you with Spotify accounts, my secretary has put these into a little playlist:
What about you, dear readers? What is your favorite music for your different moods? And do you think that we dogs appreciate music? (I suppose you can tell me whether you think cats enjoy music, if for some strange reason you live with one of those creatures.)