Have you ever cranked up the radio during your favorite song or played a piece on the piano, only to have your dog seemingly sing along? It’s not uncommon to hear dogs howl along to music. In fact, YouTube is filled with videos of dogs showing off their vocal prowess. But why do they do it?
One reason for howling is the modern dog’s connection to his ancestor, the wolf. In the wild, wolves howl to communicate with one another. They do it to let other pack members knows where they are or to warn off other animals encroaching on their territory. They also do it to assemble the pack and assert a group identity. It’s similar to the domino effect that happens when one dog in the neighborhood starts to howl, and every other dog joins in. Your canine companion may not even know why he’s howling, but the behavior is deeply buried in his genetic code.
In fact, research suggests that canines actually have a sense of pitch. For example, as more wolves join in, each one changes its tone, and recordings have shown that each wolf is howling a different note. Your dog, too, can differentiate pitch and tone. Dogs also pick up higher frequencies than the human ear, so they may be howling along to something you can’t even hear. Your dog may deliberately join in at a completely different pitch or note just to individualize his howl.
Some people think dogs howl along to AC/DC or a Bach flute sonata because it hurts their ears, but if your dog was in pain, he’d most likely run away from the sound, hide, or cover his head.
Do dogs prefer certain types of music?
Deborah Wells, a psychologist at Queens University in Belfast, set out to discover if dogs, like humans, have musical preferences. She exposed dogs at a shelter to different types of music and monitored their responses. Wells used popular music (including Bob Marley and Britney Spears); classical music (including Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” and Grieg’s “Morning”); and heavy metal (like Metallica).
The dogs responded very differently to the three types of music. Pop music produced no noticeable effect. Heavy metal, however, created a bit of canine pandemonium. The dogs became very agitated and started barking. Classical music, on the other hand, caused the dogs to stop barking, become calm, and even settle in one place.
“It is well established that music can influence our moods,” Wells says. “Classical music, for example, can help to reduce levels of stress, whilst grunge music can promote hostility, sadness, tension, and fatigue. It is now believed that dogs may be as discerning as humans when it comes to musical preference.”
If your dog has a favorite type of music, it doesn’t hurt to let him join in on the fun. You might find that you’re in perfect harmony.