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We’ve all done it. Left the TV or radio on to calm the cat or dog whilst we’re out. And it usually works, which is why we think of our pets enjoying the same noises we do. But can they? I got thinking about this when listening to an old album, that I used to play regularly 3 – 4 years ago, but (as my husband dislikes it) is rarely on now. When sat listening to it, my four cats reacted, stretched, listened, chirped throughout the album (not all at the same time), which got me thinking, did they hear the music? Did they recognise it from a time before, in the same way we can put memories to music? Or did they just enjoy it?
Animal Psychologist Charles Snowdon thinks so. They do like music, though maybe not as we would call it. Snowdon, who works at the University of Wisconsin, found that animals, like us, tend to reciprocate to music that is within their vocal range and has a beat that mimics their own heartbeat. So our music might not be to our pets taste, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t appreciate the right song. As it turns out, the album I was playing (Regina Spektor, check it out) is what my husband calls cat-screeching, so maybe he is on to something there.
Snowdon originally tested this theory out with a composer, David Teie, on tamarin monkeys, using tamarin vocalisations and at a beat twice the rate of our heart rate. It was found the music visibly excited the monkeys, and another song, a “Ballard” version using calmer tones and at a slower tempo, made the monkeys calm down.
Snowdon and Teie moved from this to composing specific songs for cats and even set up a company, Music for Cats. When playing their sample song, it did have very specific similarities to the music I had been playing, so I can now use the excuse that the cats enjoy it to continue playing the album, which is a winner all round. I found that with the sample song the cats did lift up and “hear” it, though the 35-second clip isn’t enough to say for sure that it’s to their taste just yet.
Snowdon then went from Music for Cats to music for dogs, but quickly came upon a complication, due to the huge variety of species of dogs. What the large lumbering Great Dane, with his deep vocal sounds and chilled out life, likes compared to a high pitched and jumpy Chihuahua is obviously quite vast. So instead there need to be various ranges to suit the variances in dogs. But it could be said that larger dogs, such as Labradors and Retrievers, would appreciate human music more than smaller dogs, as its closer to their vocal range. We’ve all seen the video of the Retriever smiling to music, so evidently, this theory is already proven.
So does leaving the radio on whilst you’re out really help at all? Probably, as if nothing else its background noise to them, white noise almost, the same as having a fan in the background can help people to sleep, as the base noise blocks out all the other sounds that would have otherwise woken you. The “noise” rather than the music is probably what soothes your pet, after all, it is the same noises you yourself make.