Do Dogs Like Music?

Dogs LOVE music?

A little while ago, I visited my brother who has an 8-year-old Alaskan Malamute named Lakota. We were just chatting and listening to music and the dog was lying on the floor, trying to eavesdrop on our conversation. Suddenly, the memorable intro to the hit song “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye started playing.

And Lakota got weird. She stood up, tilted her head.. And just…stood there. Staring at us, with her tongue hanging out. Head still tilting to the side. Totally frozen.

This whole scene got me thinking, so I did a little research.

Do dogs like music?

Dogs respond to music in a range of different ways. According to various studies, dogs tend to calm down to slow, soothing, simple tunes. Other studies show dogs reacting well to reggae music and classical music.

Additional research on classical conditioning also shows that dogs can be conditioned to react in a certain way when they anticipate a stimulus. How is this transferable to music? Let’s go deeper into this and get a little wiser in this post.

What Kind of Music do Dogs Prefer? 

Well, it depends on who you ask, but most studies show that dogs prefer soothing music.

For instance, in Scotland, some researchers at the University of Glasgow conducted a little experiment with a group of dogs. They played 5 different Spotify playlists (around 6 hours each). The playlists were all different musical genres, such as Motown, Reggae, Pop, etc. 

They measured the dog’s heart rate, noise levels, physical behaviors like barking and lying down and so on. 

While initially, the dogs seemed to be most calmed by classical music, they actually got bored of it after a couple of days! By the end, the researchers actually found the dogs to react the most calmly to reggae and soft-rock.

But they also found out that every dog is highly individual and responds differently depending on the music being played. Just like us humans. 

Other similar research conducted in 2002 by Deborah Wells at Queens University in Belfast shows that dogs get agitated and stressed by listening to heavy metal music. Classical music had a calming effect on the dogs in this study.

Regardless, the fact that music has a calming effect on dogs can be very beneficial. Especially in shelters, where there are a lot of other dogs, barking, and strangers, potentially scaring and stressing the dog.

Do Dogs Really Love Music? 

Have you ever heard of Ivan Pavlov? He was a Russian physiologist and one of the first to research classical conditioning of dogs. Classical conditioning simply means “learning by association”.

He had discovered that his dogs were salivating every time they saw Pavlov’s technician that normally fed them, rather than drooling over the food itself. 

And no, it was not because they wanted to eat the technician. When the dogs saw him, they were thinking; “oh, there’s the guy who always shows up right before we get food!”

The dogs were basically programmed to expect a certain stimulus –  to eat delicious food every time he showed up. 

Pavlov started to ring a bell every time the dogs were going to get their dinner. He did this repeatedly, and the dogs soon anticipated food every time they heard the bell. 

He even rang the bell without giving them food sometimes. The result? His dogs began to drool when they heard it, even though there was no food around. 

They had been programmed to associate the bell with food.

Is it possible that this stimulus may be applicable to music as well? 

Lakota, looking happy.

Well, back to my story: When Lakota was a pup, my brother had this old CD player in his car. He and Lakota always drove around to find a forest to explore. And every single time he started his car, “Somebody That I Used to Know” was always the first song to auto-play. 

The dog is now conditioned to believe that every time she hears that song, she is going to run around in the woods, which is quite the stimulus.

So, you can train your dog to associate a specific song with an exciting stimulus.

And that is, in a way, a song that your dog likes, wouldn’t you agree?

Do Dogs Really Sing Along to Music?

If you have a dog, or just tend to spend a good amount of time on YouTube, you might have noticed that dogs seem to like singing (howling) along to the music.

Actually, some dogs have even been howling on stage, in front of an audience.

In 1980 the musical work “Howl”, pianist and arranger Kirk Nurock assembled twenty humans and three dogs. The piece debuted in Carnegie Hall and the dogs accompanied the music with their howling (and occasional barking).

Sounds impressive, huh? Yup, but most often, you will notice that almost all dogs seem completely tone-deaf. Singing on-key isn’t something you should expect from your dog, even though some scientists believe that a dog has an understanding of pitch. 

When a pack of dogs howls, you will hear the dogs howl in different tones. The dog deliberately changes its tone when other dogs join in on the howling. It does not want to be howling in the same note as the other dogs.  

Howling is much more a communication tool than an attempt to sing.

Dogs mostly howl when they feel lonely, or isolated from the pack. Some dogs howl a lot more than others.

As I mentioned earlier, Lakota is an Alaskan Malamute, which is a very close ancestor to the wolf. Another example of this is the Siberian Husky.

Most experts agree that certain high-pitched frequencies trigger the dog’s instinct of howling. According to Modern Dog Magazine, dogs could be tempted to howl when they hear wind instruments like clarinets and saxophones, as well as a long-held note on violin and vocals.

So, a dog doesn’t necessarily sing along for the same reasons as us. It might just feel obligated to answer a call, or it simply reacts to a certain pitch.   

Do Other Animals Like Music too?

Cool, so even though my brother’s dog is not exactly a musical prodigy, she actually likes music! Or, at least, she responds to it in some ways. But what about other animals, like cats?

Cats: Well…not so much. Cats seem to be less interested in anything, compared to dogs. So, if you have both a dog and a cat, you have probably noticed that your cat is not responding to music to the same extent as the dog. 

At least, human music. You see, a study featured in Applied Animal Behavior Science theorized that music specifically made for cats (with familiar sounds like purring in the mix) actually would work. 

The music would need to be in the same frequency range and tempo as the natural communication between cats. 

So they approached musician David Teie, who composed some tunes that fulfilled the criteria.

The researchers found his track to be preferred by the cats, by far. The cats actually didn’t respond to normal human music at all.

Use this tool to create a realistic sounding MIDI orchestra

If you are working with MIDI strings, you can also use this information to improve how your digital orchestra sounds. Another important thing to remember is that every player is unique. A MIDI controller will get you there. Want to know how?

Now You Know

As you now have discovered, dogs do like music. They prefer slow, soothing classical music, which is underlined by several studies which you can read more about here and here

A little bonus story for you at the end: 

There is a story about the famous composer Richard Wagner and his dog, Peps, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. 

When Wagner was composing, he would constantly monitor how his dog responded, and change his piano melodies according to how Peps responded. 

In fact, Peps was probably the only critic Wagner ever listened to!

Whether Peps was a musical prodigy or not, here comes a brief summary of what you have learned in this post:

  • Dogs do like music, at least soothing, slow and simple tunes.
  • Music should be a very important component in kennels or animal shelters.
  • Much like the classical conditioning experiments done by Pavlov, dogs can also be trained to associate a song with something nice.
  • There is no real proof of dogs actually enjoying to sing along to the music. It is rather an instinctual thing triggered by certain pitches, instruments, and notes.
  • Cats couldn’t care less about music (at least not human music).

Lastly, according to the studies referenced in this post, dogs also find human voices and audiobooks to be comforting.

So, if you are looking to get your hands on a great audiobook app – try Blinkist! I have used it for about two years now, and I can’t live without it. I learn something new every time I play an audiobook in this app.

It is perfect if you want short and sweet summaries of a great selection of books!

And the dog seems to respond well to Blinkist as well.

Suggested Further Reading:

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Thomas Leypoldt

Hey there! My name is Thomas and I have been a film composer for over 10 years, delivering music to feature films, documentaries, video games, and commercials. I share everything I have learned on this website, to hopefully be of help to your own development as a musician.

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