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Music To My Paws

Tuesday, March 06, 2012 10:23 AM

Sensory stimulation is an essential part of a dog’s life. In contrast to wild animals who are exposed to a variety of natural sensory stimuli, a shelter dog’s sensory stimulation may be limited or too much. However, this does not mean that you need to recreate wild forest noises in your shelter to make your dogs feel better. Some research (Wells, 2009) suggests that even sounds that do not occur in the wild, such as classical music, may offer a benefit.

If you’re considering implementing auditory stimulation in your shelter, think about what type of music you are going to play. Three researchers from the Canine Behavior Center (Wells, Graham, Hepper, 2002) compared the impact of different music types on dogs’ behavior. Their study revealed that different music had different effects on dogs. In the same way that humans may be agitated or calmed by different music, dogs can be impacted differently based on the music type as well. The experiment found that heavy metal music appeared to disturb dogs whereas classical music resulted in dogs spending more time resting. Pop music did not have any effect on dogs’ behavior.

If you decide to provide auditory stimulation in your shelter, ensure that dogs have a positive association with the music. For example, would it make a difference in how you feel about a particular song if the first time you heard Edith Piaf was when you were on a Disney World ride? Or perhaps riding a bike in Paris with a fresh baguette, flowers in the front basket, and a beret on your head? Chances are you will most likely create an unforgettable and enjoyable image in your head every time you listen to Edith Piaf. The same is true for dogs:  if they are calm, safe, and relaxed when they first listen to a piece of music, they may learn to associate the music with a positive experience.

And finally, we all like music. However, our music tastes can be quite different. Our preferences are impacted by our living environment, society, culture, mood and even the weather outside. Similar to humans, every dog is different. Different dogs may have a different tolerance to the same music. In her articles, Wells (2002, 2009) concluded that sensory stimulation, including auditory stimulation, has the potential to enrich the environment of some institutionally housed animals although the specific value gained from this enrichment depends on a variety of factors such as species, sex, age, housing conditions. Leeds and Wagner also pointed out in their book that the tempo of the music may influence dogs’ behavior as well. So, do not be discouraged if you do not get the desired effect using one type of music, there are a variety of different music collections that you can try.

For example, the Rescue Animal MP3 Project has an extensive selection of music which is available for shelters and they’re absolutely free. Also, Leeds and Wagner’s 2008 book titled, “Through a Dog’s Ear” gives thorough guidelines about how to use music when working with different canine behaviors as well as a CD that includes a selection of music designed especially for doggy ears.


Wells, D. L. (2009).  Sensory stimulation as environmental enrichment for captive animals.  Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 118 (1–2).

Wells, D. L., Graham, L., & Hepper, P.G. (2002). The influence of auditory stimulation on the behaviour of dogs housed in a rescue shelter. Applied Animal Behavior Science, 11 (385-393).

Leeds, J., & Wagner, S. (2008) Through a dog's ear. Colorado: Sounds True. 

- Anastasia Shabelansky, Research Analyst at the Center for Shelter Dogs