Why It Works
A Dog’s sense of smell and hearing is far superior to ours
Dogs can track the scent of animals or smell a bomb even with stronger competing odors in the environment. Much like they choose what they want to smell, dogs have the ability to choose what they want to hear. They can focus on a sound and block out and habituate to louder competing sounds. For example, a search dog can be trained to hear a human heartbeat from up to 75 ft. away.
Dogs and cats hear 50 times better than we do and hear frequencies up to 50,000 cycles. We hear at best up to 20,000 cycles. What must the world sound like to animals? If animals didn’t have the ability to focus on one sound and habituate or block out the rest, they would be over-stimulated and hyperactive most of the time.
Dogs obviously have the ability to tune in what they want to hear and tune out the rest or they would all suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. They have that ability because their inner ear allows them to filter out or block out sounds that they choose not to hear even to the extent they can ignore distracting startling sounds like thunder.
Even though humans are annoyed and disturbed by startling and dissonant sounds, it is not always the loudest or most offensive sound in our environment that can grab our focus and attention. We can develop our hearing to selectively listen to or be alerted by any sound if we feel it is threatening, beneficial or important to us. You quickly learn to duck on a golf course when you hear the word “fore” yelled by someone way off in the distance. The visually impaired can develop their selective listening to the point they can identify a person by the sound and rhythm of their footsteps. Music lovers and musicians can choose to listen to the sound of one instrument playing on a recording. A worker in an extremely noisy factory can focus on Muzac or so called elevator music that is being played softly in the background.
Why Heartbeat Lullabies make listeners feel relaxed and safe
Pythagoras said music is mathematical relationships of sound through time. Dogs, cats and babies are attracted to the mathematical simplicity of the arrangements, the compassion in the singers’ voices, and the familiar human heartbeat sound. The sounds on the recording offer a safe haven for animals to psychologically or emotionally “flee” to when they are experiencing the fight or flight response. In self-defense they can escape their fear or pain by choosing to switch their focus to sounds that are familiar, compassionate, repetitive, and non-threatening. They are attracted to order out of chaos.
Why animals calm to the sounds on the recordings
Dogs, cats, and chimps can use their acute selective listening to escape what is bothering them even better than humans can. Animals don’t relate to or interpret most man made music the same way we do. Most of our music is mathematically too complex and alien sounding. They are attentive and interested in sounds that are simple, predictable, familiar and ordered in a simple structure.
Most relaxation and training techniques use the same basic mathematical principles to help animals and humans learn to behave and relax. The following are some of the relaxation / learning principles combined with human sounds that were incorporated in the musical arrangements of simple melodies. For example, the ticking sound of a clock touted for helping calm whimpering puppies has five of these principles.
4. Consistent tempo
5. Consistent volume
6. Basic symmetric structure
7. Human compassion ( in the singer’s voice)
8. Familiarity (human heartbeat)
When playing other music to calm your dog hasn’t worked
Playing music for your dog you enjoy or find calming doesn’t have the same emotional impact or calming effect on your dog as it does on you. Why don’t dogs sway and pat their paw in time with your favorite music? Dogs hear most mathematically complex music as noise and just tune it out. It’s like having a long conversation with your dog and expecting him to understand what you are trying to communicate. Just like a two year old child, your dog will get the message and learn what you want when you repeat a command over and over. However if your dog is stressed because he senses your stress, playing music that calms you might help calm your dog.
Although music and white noise can mask startle sounds or drown out annoying sounds in the environment for humans, sound masking doesn’t work on dogs or cats. Playing classical music, white noise sounds, or a music radio station only adds to the background sounds that dogs will block out to hear the sounds they want to hear. Most music is created to stimulate and entertain rather than calm if you would like to discuss his ideas in more depth or have questions please contact him. Terry Woodford