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Music to Chew On

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.)

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21 thoughts on “Music to Chew On

  1. My bunnies prefer female voices to male voices. And they prefer the higher-pitched female voices (a la Sarah Brightman) to the lower-pitched ones…. it’s a fascinating subject! 🙂

    PS – Love the Kanye dig… well played. 🙂

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  2. My moms play music all of the time. One of their favorite pastimes seems to be hanging out in the kitchen while talking and listening to music. Sometimes I even see them dancing! So weird. I don’t mind classical music, but play anything too loud and I’m out of there!

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  3. The Bean is also more of a fan of the female voice and is particularly keen on Kiri te Kanawa which I am sure the old Opera Belle would find wildly flattering. She is also partial to Gorecki and Arvo Part. I have just put Teaser and The Firecat (Cat Stevens) on and she walked out looking disgusted – whether this is the music, his voice or the fact that he is called Cat and the album also has Cat in its title she refuses to discuss. It is a fascinating subject and I really enjoyed reading your take … so much that I shall read it again later to make sure I didn’t miss anything 🙂

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  4. Hildy, our Westie, and Bruiser, our long-haired Chihuahua don’t seem to be affected by music, and we play tunes from all areas of the spectrum. Hildy, however, takes a keen interest in the television and feels comfortable expressing her views quite loudly whenever there is a four-legged creature of any type making their TV debut….but maybe that’s a for different post? 🙂

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    • That is very interesting, Ms. Elisa. I usually don’t pay much mind to the television, but I do enjoy it when my People watch tennis or soccer.
      But our houseguest, Ginger, reacted much the same way as Hildy whenever a four-legged creature appeared on the TV. I thought her behavior was quite odd, but maybe it is a terrier thing (Ginger is half terrier). More research needed!

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  5. Choppy pays no attention to music. However, this might be because about 90% of what is played at home consists of Jimmy Buffett or other “Gulf & Western” type music. Apparently, Paul and I are the only Parrotheads in the home.

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  6. Albert, I enjoyed your commentary on music. Do you have any affinity for radio? I’m fairly certain one of my cats enjoys listening to NPR, both talk shows and the classical music. Not opera, however.

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    • Somehow my secretary missed this comment in the WordPress system. My apologies, Ms. Sandee. My People listen to NPR and various podcasts, but to me the talking/news parts are just background noise. They don’t bother me, but I don’t have any affinity for them either. I do like some classical music, though. Perhaps cats have different listening preferences than dogs.

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  7. David Tripp says:

    Albert, Your selection of music is very pleasing and causes me to wonder if you would enjoy Gerry Mulligan, who can also be very calming to this human, as can be the Nocturnes of Chopin.

    However, what was most pleasing to this fan of your most esteemed self is that you selected music that was not particular canine-centric, So the fact you did not cite of such doggerel as How Much is that Doggie in the Window, Hound Dog, or the corny Puppy Love, and more, the music of the otherwise delightful R&B group The Spanniels, speaks well of your open mind and vast intelligence.

    Not since reading Archie and Mehitabel, have I enjoyed such interesting and well-phrased interspecies communication. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mr. David, thank you for your thoughtful and kind comments. It is high praise indeed to be compared to such lauded poets, whose work I greatly admire. I must say I consider myself fortunate that I have a human to type for me, as I am not sure I would be able to collaborate with an insect as well as Mehitabel did.

      I do enjoy Chopin’s nocturnes very much. I am pretty sure my humans have some Gerry Mulligan in their listening devices. If not, I will ask them to seek some out and give him a listen with a chewy stick this afternoon. I find chewing and listening to be complementary activities.

      Thank you, as always, for visiting my space here. It is a great compliment to my already considerable ego to have such an erudite reader!

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  8. Thank you (and your secretary) for this interesting information, Albert! I don’t know what kind of music I like, but I do know that I always come to my lady-human when she talks to me in a high pitched voice. My man-human has a deeper voice, so I don’t react quite as quickly when he calls. I don’t know if this falls under the category of “music”, but when my mommy starts to play the guitar-thingy, I usually leave the room.

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    • Kona, I think your preference for high pitched voices is quite common among us dogs. I am thankful that neither of my People own any guitars, because the little I’ve heard of their singing suggests they have a serious musical talent deficiency. In other words, I feel your pain.

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