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The Calming Effect of Audiobooks
Study finds dogs exhibit resting behavior when listening to books on tape.

Last month I wrote about the Sarasota Orchestra cellist who played for dogs at her local animal shelter. There’s been a lot of research about the impact of music on animals, particularly the calming effect of classical music. As a result, animal shelters and boarding facilities not lucky enough to have their own live performance, often play the tunes of Mozart and Bach throughout their kennels.

But is this calming effect exclusive to classical music or could it extend to other audio with a pleasing cadence? Hartpury College in the United Kingdom set out to explore different sound types and the effect on canine behavior. Their researchers looked at the effect of regular kennel sounds (the control), classical music, pop music, psychoacoustically designed canine music (tunes specifically designed to be pleasing to a dog), and an audiobook. The tracks were played for two hours a day, skipping some days so the dogs wouldn’t become habituated to the noise.

Not surprisingly, they found that pop music resulted in the highest rate of barking. But it wasn’t classical music or the psychoacoustically designed canine music that was associated with the most calm behaviors. It was the audiobook that resulted in the dogs spending more time resting and less time displaying vigilant behaviors.

The book used in the experiment was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe performed by Michael York. Given the calming effect of the audiobook, it would be interesting to do a follow-up study comparing the effect of different audiobooks and voices, as well as other speaking tracks, like the news.

While shelter staff and potential adopters may find the audiobooks strange, the results of this study on the dogs seems worth experimenting with a few titles.

Do you think you’ll try playing an audiobook for your pup?

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by Dave Parker/flickr.

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