Roll over Beethoven, your fans are barking

By , Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

Walk into most animal shelters in the country, and a chorus of barking dogs will greet you. The yips, yaps, and howls can sometimes reach such a frenzy it's hard to hear the person next to you.

But that's not the case at Bide-A-Wee animal shelter in New York. Classical music softly flows through the shelter during the day to quiet and calm the homeless dogs waiting to be adopted.

Researchers have long established the positive effect that music has on humans. Now shelter workers, dog trainers, groomers, and boarding kennel operators are using music to calm their canine clientele.

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"Shelters are inherently a stressful environment," explains Liz Clancy, vice president at Bide-A-Wee. "It's noisy. It's scary for the animals coming in, so we want to do everything we can to minimize the stress."

The shelter's three facilities began playing everything from Beethoven to Mozart last year, and it's paid off, she says, by reducing the noise level by about 25 percent. "Potential adopters are getting to see the dogs in a better light."

A study in 2002 by the School of Psychology at Queen's University in Belfast, Ireland, found that classical music encouraged shelter dogs to rest more and bark less. The study also found that heavy metal music increased barking, while pop music and human conversation had no effect on behavior.

Therese Backowski doesn't need a study to tell her about the positive impact music has on animals. She's seen it firsthand over the 20 years she's owned and operated a grooming shop in Mansfield, Ohio.

"I had a great deal of trouble with noise in the grooming salon - clippers, vacuum systems, dryers, barking dogs, howling cats," says Ms. Backowski. "It drove me crazy and upset all the animals."

So she decided to tune the shop's radio to the music she liked: classical. The dogs quieted down. They also squirmed less on the grooming table. "Frankly I believe this was caused by a quieter environment and calmer people," she says.

For two years Pam Dennison of Positive Motivation Dog Training in Blairstown, N.J., has played everything from pop music to golden oldies while working with clients and their aggressive dogs.

"It's more for the humans," Ms. Dennison admits, "although I have seen a difference with the dogs. They are more relaxed, more focused, and much less reactive" when music is playing.

Not everyone is sold on playing music to canines. Animal behaviorist Nicholas Dodman at Tufts University's School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, Mass., often sees dogs with separation anxiety - which results in incessant barking, chewing, and inappropriate elimination - when left alone.

Instead of using music to help pacify them, he recommends owners play a tape of household sounds, such as the dishwasher or television. "Dogs hear in essentially the same range that we do, but they also hear ultrasound," he explains. "Some high-pitched instruments, such as violins, could have an effect on the dog like nails down a blackboard."

But based on the Queens University study, Dallas radio station WRR has released "Roll Over Beethoven," a CD just for dogs. "People love their pets and they are continually looking for ways to improve their pet's quality of life," says Greg Davis, station manager. "What better way than with classical music?"

Former rock-and-roll record producer Terry Woodford started selling "Canine Lullabies" in October. At first, he was skeptical that the music he originally recorded to help calm crying babies also appealed to dogs. But reports from around the country have convinced him otherwise.

The music works, he says, because it incorporates the basic principles of relaxation: simplicity, repetition, predictability, and consistent tempo, as well as the compassion in the singer's voice.

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