One of veterinary neurologist Dr. Susan Wagner's pet peeves is a household that leaves television sets on all day long (I admit, I agree). Not only is the constant noise a distraction for human beings, it can be hard on dogs and other pets.
Blaring televisions are just one of many noise sources that can be tough for animals to cope with, according to Dr. Wagner. The recent co-author of Through a Dog's Ear: Using Sound to Improve the Health and Behavior of Your Canine Companion (Sounds True, 2008) says that for dogs, noise creates stress. Stress, in turn, almost certainly creates disease.
"Dogs have an orienting response, an instinctive response when they hear something or see something. Their brain has to react to it," Dr. Wagner says. "If there is constant noise going on from different directions, it will interrupt any dog's relaxed state."
All hearing dogs are affected by noise, and dogs that are shy, fearful or anxious can never fully relax in a noisy environment, she says. For hyper-reactive dogs that are very reactive to sensory input neurologically, a calm environment is critical.
Dr. Wagner worked with Joshua Leeds, an authority on psychoacoustics, to study the effect of sound on dogs and develop a music CD designed to help canine companions relax. The specially crafted music is performed by pianist Lisa Spector, a lifetime dog lover, and the Apollo Chamber Orchestra, and a 45-minute starter CD comes with the book.
The authors recommend that, initially, every dog sitter should do a sound assessment of their home that includes:
- Sitting quietly for 30 minutes, pen and pad in hand.
- Tuning into the sounds you hear inside your home and outside on the street -- the hum of the fridge, the cycle prompt of the dishwasher, the beat of a dryer, the alarm clock, hair dryer, vacuum, television, telephones, computers, video games, traffic, car alarms, air traffic, screaming children, stereos, etc.
- Noticing your dog's behavior. Does he actively respond to the sounds? Is there a lack of reaction, or an overreaction to sounds you take in stride? When TV, radio or music is playing, does your dog move closer to the source or away from it?
- Rating the sounds from one to ten, ten being the most disturbing, one the least noticeable. Use two columns -- one for your pooch and one for yourself.
- Asking yourself how you can make your home a calmer, more peaceful place. Which sounds can you change? Which can you avoid, turn down, or mask? Often, just by listening, we become more sonically aware, an important first step.
Once an assessment is complete and noise is minimized as much as possible, the accompanying CD can be used to calm dogs. Clinical trials of the music conducted in kennels, shelters, clinics and homes found that the 70 percent of dogs in kennels and 85 percent of dogs at home showed a reduction in stressed-out behavior after listening to the CD.
"The idea is that even though other noise is still going on, this music helps the dog to relax a little bit more. It will have a physiologic effect. I think any anxious dog, or really any dog, will benefit if the music is played for 20 minutes to an hour a day, just to get them to relax," Dr. Wagner says.
A full, standalone 60-minute CD titled "Through A Dog's Ear: Music to Calm Your Canine Companion, Volume 1" (Sounds True, 2008) is also available. Both the book with the starter CD and the standalone CD can be ordered at Through a Dog's Ear.
Although the study did not include cats, Dr. Wagner suggests that cat lovers can certainly try the music, too.
Faye Rapoport DesPres writes about pet care issues for Care.com and other publications. She has five cats and a website at ourplacetopaws.com.
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