Music takes bite out of dogs' stress

The Baltimore Sun

With dog treats spilling out of her black canvas bag, Maria Skorobogatov proceeded through the kennels of the Peninsula Humane Society in San Mateo, Calif., as classical music played from overhead speakers.

The occupants barked their hellos and stood on their hind legs to be noticed. But the animal behaviorist walked past the chatty ones and awarded those who remained quiet and still.

"Hello, sweetheart," Skorobogatov said softly to one well-behaved dog.

Throughout her brief visit, music played.

"We want to see if it's having any type of effect," Skorobogatov said of the music.

The music playing that morning originated on the other side of San Mateo County, Calif., with Half Moon Bay resident Lisa Spector. The Juilliard School graduate and concert pianist collaborated with Joshua Leeds, a sound researcher in Marin, Calif., to study the impact classical music has on dogs.

Two years of research and clinical demonstrations produced a book, Through a Dog's Ear: Using Sound to Improve the Health & Behavior of Your Canine Companion, written by Leeds and Susan Wagner, a board-certified veterinary neurologist.

Spector is the pianist on a 45-minute CD that Leeds produced to go with the book.

It's been Spector's experience that when she tickled the ivories, dogs she took care of would move closer to her and fall asleep. No more doggy angst -- just peace and quiet.

One out of seven dogs has behavioral issues that stem from an overwhelmed nervous system, said Leeds.

"There's too much noise and too much input," he said. "Our dogs are indicators of the stressed environment we live in."

For more than 20 years, Leeds has specialized in psychoacoustics, the study of music and sound on the human nervous system.

Four-and-a-half years ago, Spector approached Leeds after one of his seminars and told him about her dogs falling asleep when she played the piano. She hoped that he would want to work with her on a CD for dogs.

Leeds was apprehensive.

But after speaking with Spector, he did some research and found there was nothing documented about the effects of music on dogs, except for one study conducted by Deborah Wells, a psychologist and animal behaviorist.

She played various kinds of music in dog shelters in San Francisco and learned that classical music -- not rock music or jazz -- had a calming effect on dogs, Leeds said.

His only caveat before teaming with Spector was to make sure the music went through clinical research before it was released.

Four different CDs were cut and tested on 150 dogs in homes and shelters. The one that had an overwhelming response from dogs was the simplified classical music performed on piano.

Seventy percent of dogs in kennels showed a reduction in stress, while 85 percent in households were calmed.

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