Soothing music might aid fearful Fido

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

A thunderstorm is rolling in, and your dog is getting antsy.

She whimpers, wanders, then whimpers again as lightning stabs at the sky. When the thunder cracks, she bolts, then huddles on a jumble of shoes in the closet until the storm and her fear subside.

Dogs needn't dissolve into a quivering mound of emotional distress when the gods are bowling in the heavens, according to Susan Wagner, a Worthington veterinarian.

With a sound specialist and a concert pianist, she has developed a compact disc of music to soothe such stress occasional or chronic.

The idea originated with California pianist Lisa Spector, who noticed that her dogs fall asleep under the piano when certain music is played.

About two years ago, Spector took her observations to Joshua Leeds, a sound researcher in the San Francisco area, and proposed a study.

"At first I said, 'I don't think so,'"Leeds said. "I spent many decades establishing credibility in this field."

He worried that researching the connection between sound and behavior would be considered frivolous.

Yet, as a dog lover, he was intrigued by the notion that canines might suffer from noise overload.

"I often wonder: Do they really want to say to us, ÔCould you turn this music off?'"

Leeds called Wagner, a veterinary neurologist he knew from an earlier project: Could sound pollution cause behavioral problems in dogs? Could music help?

The three researchers started with previous studies showing that classical music reduces canine anxiety better than pop or rock does.

They tested four one-hour tracts of classical music Ñ from slow and simple to fast and complex.

Pet owners and kennel workers played the music for 10 days and monitored the results. They reported that, although their dogs were apparently soothed by classical music in general, the slowest, simplest type Ñ with 50 to 70 beats a minute Ñ provided the greatest calming effect.

Two tracts were then tested on dogs with anxiety, such as a fear of storms or visitors.

By measuring barking, whining and other behavior, the researchers found that 70 percent of the dogs were calmed with the simpler music.

"My hypothesis is that this is like meditation for people,"Wagner said.