“Fur Elise” is for the dogs; metal, not so much

Is heavy metal music bad for dogs? Photo by Flickr user Diamond Geyser.

Apparently, Colorado State University professor Lori Kogan felt it was time to find out what kind of music dogs prefer.

Sex Pistols or Debbie Harry? Elvis or the Beatles? Bo Diddley or Miles Davis? Actually, they didn’t listen to any of these — but they did listen to classical and heavy metal.

And, after four months and lots of listens, it’s hard to say whether this was the predictable outcome or not, but it seems the 117 shelter dogs in the study reacted more positively to classical than to metal:

Classical songs ultimately won out, proving so powerful in reducing stress that they even trumped the effect of “psychoacoustic” music designed especially to soothe animals.

Heavy metal, by contrast, appeared to amplify dogs’ anxiety, and was linked with less sleep, more barking and increased shaking.

On the classical side, the dogs listened to Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” and “Moonlight Sonata,” Strauss’ “Blue Danube Waltz,” and Bach’s “Air on a G String.” On the metal side, they heard Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades,” Slayer’s “Angel of Death,” and Judas Priest’s “Turbo Lover.”

Kogan measured three variables: how much time the dogs spent sleeping while the music was playing, how much time they spent shaking and how much time they were silent.

Dogs slept slightly more during the classical music — 3.7 to 6 percent of the time, compared with .8 to 1.2 percent during heavy metal songs. And they were slightly quieter while listening to classical — silent 88.4 to 95.1 percent of the time, compared with 88.6 to 93.5 while the metal was playing. But the differences in shaking were striking: dogs shook 0.8 to 2.3 percent of the time during the classical songs, but 37.8 percent of the time during “Ace of Spades,” 49.9 percent of the time during “Turbo Lover,” and 71.2 percent of the time during “Angel of Death.” Yikes. I’m guessing they weren’t just headbanging.

This isn’t wholly unlike last year’s informal study on heavy metal’s effect on sharks (spoiler: the sharks liked it). The good thing about the dog study is that Kogan doesn’t try to take her results and extrapolate them to other species. On the downside, while it’s clear that the dogs in her study were made more anxious by the heavy metal they heard, it’s not entirely clear why.

I wonder whether there are sounds native to heavy metal (and to these three songs in particular) that are, to dogs, alert/alarm sounds that would make them more anxious, just because of what their DNA tells them might signal danger. Or, I wonder whether these sounds do cause mammals to become more keyed up, but for some humans that has the counterintuitive effect of relaxing them (just as some are relaxed by stimulants).

In any case, Kogan’s takeaway is that shelter dogs — who already lead stressful lives — could benefit from hearing classical music, and probably shouldn’t be played much or any metal.

What do you think? What kinds of music do your dogs like most? Do any of them like a little Sabbath and Slayer?


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