Imagine being stuck in a room alone for hours on end, full of unfamiliar sounds and smells, for reasons you don’t quite understand. You’d probably start to get a little stressed and upset, wouldn’t you?
Now what if someone came and gave you an audio book or music to listen to. It wouldn’t change the fact that you’re still in the room, but the soothing sounds might help you to calm down.
Researchers at Hartpury College were curious to find out if audiobooks or music is helpful in reducing anxiety in shelter dogs. Shelters are a very stressful environment for many dogs and anything that can be used to reduce this stress can go a long way to improving their welfare.
In this study, the researchers divided the dogs in a shelter into three groups: the audiobook group, the music group, and the control group. Dogs in the audiobook group listened to a recording of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, dogs in the music group listened to classical music (The Best of Beethoven), pop music (Now 88), and specifically-designed dog music (Through a Dog’s Ear), and dogs in the control group had no sound.
Each dog continued their regular daily routine of walks, feeding, and outdoors time, but had their assigned audiobook or music playing while they were in their kennels. During that time, the dog’s behaviour was recorded with video cameras and reviewed every 5 minutes.
The results showed that of the three groups, the audiobooks were the most successful in improving the welfare of the dogs. When the book was playing, the dogs barked, howled, growled, whined, and paced less, and showed an increase in resting behaviour, all of which suggest they were less stressed.
This not a big surprise, as dogs are highly social animals that enjoy being in the company of humans. These audiobooks may have given the dogs a sense of human interaction, resulting in a feeling of calmness.
When it comes to music, classical music also provided to be beneficial in calming the dogs, but not to the same extent that audiobooks did. Neither pop nor dog-specific music made significant improvements to the level of stress or calmness of the dogs that listened to them.
If audiobooks do, in fact, reduce the stress of shelter dogs, their use could indirectly help improve their chances of adoption. When dogs are stressed they may display behaviours such as excessive barking or activity that potential adopters could find off-putting. By playing audiobooks to calm the dogs, these behaviours could be minimized, if not eliminated, increasing their chances of adoption.
While dogs may not appreciate the characters or the plot of the stories they hear, they do appreciate the comfort the human voice provides them. If you ask me, that’s reason enough to give audiobooks to all shelter dogs!
H/t to Companion Animal Psychology