Do thunderstorms, traffic noise and house guests get your pet's heart racing? Veterinarian Sue Wagner provides a guide to using music to help ease your canine companion's anxiety. An excerpt.
Chapter nine: Using music and sound for behavioral issues
A sonic approach to anxiety starts with recognizing the noise level in your home. Any clatter that suddenly gets an animal’s attention may also create stress, whether it is a loud buzz from the clothes dryer or the slamming of the front door. We don’t need to recreate the atmosphere of a library, but it is helpful to recognize the intensity of the sounds within and outside your home.
If there are noises that you have no control over, calming music can help. For example, if you live in an urban environment, playing the enclosed psychoacoustically designed CD for your canine during the honking horns of rush hour can certainly help ease the stress. (See “About the Enclosed Starter CD,” page 119.) It’s not necessary to play the music loudly, because the relaxation effect comes from passive listening. The hearing nerve is a conduit to the rest of the body, which will respond in kind.
Important information before using music
There are some common reasons for using music to calm your anxious canine. Before getting started, it’s very important to review a significant behavioral concept. Generalization happens when the animal (or person) learns to be afraid of something similar to the original source or cause of fear. It also occurs when they associate fear with something that has occurred during a stressful time. It can also be linked to the place where a stressful event occurred. For example, your canine may now be afraid to stay in your home, because that’s where she was when a horrible storm hit.
Behaviorists tell us that the key to modifying any fear-based behavior is to create a situation that lessens fear. That might seem like common sense to you, but here’s the catch. It’s not whether you think it’s a peaceful situation, it’s how your dog is feeling that matters. So, you may put on the enclosed music CD, feel calmer yourself, and think that your dog is going to settle down as well. If her anxiety is so severe, however, that the music is not enough, she may now associate the music with her fear. When you play it the next time you work with her behavior, the music makes her anxiety worse.
Here are guidelines for you to follow to ensure that your canine creates positive association with the music you’re playing: Play calming music first when your dog is not experiencing anxiety. This will allow her to associate the calming music with a positive state of being. Once you have done this, you can proceed to using it in anxious situations. If the music doesn’t keep her calm, stop and use it several more times when she is not fearful. Also, take time to learn what behaviors your dog shows when she is fearful. Don’t hesitate to ask an animal professional for help in distinguishing these behaviors. Is she panting, whining, restless, or pawing at you? These are subtle signs you might miss if you’re not paying attention. It’s much easier to spot anxiety when your dog is throwing herself at the door as you are trying to leave. No matter the behavior you are working on, it’s important that your canine achieves relaxation and a sense of safety. If the music relaxes her to the point that all of her fearful behaviors are gone, proceed. If not, her anxiety may be too severe for music alone to help. Enlist a positive trainer or behaviorist to assist you. With a combination of a caring professional, music, and integrative modalities, you and your beloved canine will be supported through the process of addressing behavioral issues.
Finally, we’d like to expand on the concept of being worried. As we have explained, we are all made of energy. The human-animal bond is also based in energy. If you are constantly anxious about your dog’s behavior, you will create even more anxiety for her. If you believe that nothing will help and that your lives are doomed to fear and anxiety, then this will only intensify the current situation. A truly holistic approach to behavioral “dis-eases” includes the human guardian’s feelings. Do whatever you need to reduce your stress. Your balanced state of mind will greatly impact everything you are doing to help your canine companion. The better you take care of yourself, the healthier your canine household will be. This is the heart of a symbiotic relationship — helping each other.
Music can be extremely useful in cases of separation anxiety. We recommend putting on twenty minutes before you leave, so that your dog has plenty of time for the entertainment to take effect. Set the volume at a fairly low level, but high enough so it serves to mask disturbing external sounds. Using it as part of a desensitization program makes perfect sense. Once your dog is relaxed, leave for a very short time — two or three minutes at first. Don’t make a fuss over leaving — you want your dog to remain peaceful and quiet. The music should keep your canine calm for that period of time. Gradually increase the time you are gone. Your behaviorist may have other exercises for you, so ask if the music can be added to the protocol.
If you are leaving your dog alone for an extended period of time and have a CD player that plays multiple CDs, load it up with calming music. You can also put the CD player on repeat. Given that every being is different, try different CDs and time periods and observe what seems to work. We do not believe you have to be concerned with overdosing your animal with beautiful and peaceful music; just make sure it falls into the category of simple sound.
While it may seem logical that aggressive behavior is driven by dominance, experts believe it can be tied to fear. When aggression is involved, consulting a veterinarian, behaviorist, or trainer is imperative. Choose a professional that uses only positive, reward-based methods, so your canine’s fear is not intensified. You may also consider adding an energy practitioner to the team.
Reducing anxiety is very helpful when aggression and fear are concerned. Ask your animal professional if Music to Calm Your Canine Companion is appropriate for your dog’s treatment plan. If so, play the music when your dog is relaxing inside or outside the house. Keep the CD on for twenty minutes to an hour; this can be done as often as your schedule allows. Listening to calming music can help you through this difficult situation as well.
Anxiety caused by storms can be one of the trickiest to treat. Animals have an instinctive ability to sense changes in the weather, especially severe ones. Prior to the tsunami of 2004, animals and birds were seen heading for higher ground long before the disaster struck.
Calming medications are often prescribed for storm-related anxiety. While they do help, they often don’t take effect for thirty to forty minutes, and the storm may be over by then. Music therapy is a wonderful tool because entrainment happens so quickly — often within five minutes. If the weather forecast calls for storms, have the CD ready in the player. Your dog may have a location in your home he goes to during a storm, a place where he feels safer. It’s important to allow him that safety, so a portable machine may be necessary. If the music is not enough to keep him completely calm, working with a behaviorist may be called for.
Fireworks Many dogs are very fearful of fireworks. Calming music can be a perfect solution, because we usually know when the fireworks will occur. If possible, go to the basement or the room farthest away from outside sounds. You may need a portable audio device. Put the music on at least twenty minutes before the fireworks start. It will help calm your dog and also mask the unwanted explosive noise.
Excitement with visitors
Your behavioral professional has many excellent training techniques regarding visitors coming into the home. Having a 5-pound Yorkie jumping up and down isn’t as dangerous as an 80-pound Labrador knocking Grandma over. Vivacious dogs are like a big family —always so glad to see you! We want to keep that happiness for our canines, but without the stress of a hospital run for our visitors.
The good news about this excitement dilemma is that it’s easy to work on before Grandma comes over. You may want to have practice runs with your friends. The key to success is control over your dog, and one of the best ways to achieve this is to keep him calm. Calming music can be put on twenty minutes before your guest arrives, and should help you with the obedience behaviors you will want to initiate. Sitting and staying are so much easier for your dog when he’s relaxed. Have patience; it may take some practice.
Dogs and people are similar in that most of us rely on our daily routine. Even house guests who are fun to be around can create a bit of stress. You can play calming music for an hour everyday to help your dog (and you) relax. You can also use Music for the Canine Household anytime during the visit to create an uplifting sound environment for you and your guests, yet still provide a positive experience for your dog. (See page 108.)
Stressful times for the humans in the family
Life is not without challenges. Severe or chronic illness, employment issues, financial burdens, or the death of a friend or family member can create enormous stress. Animals in the household are affected as well. Play calming music as often as you can during these difficult times. If you are going at a hectic pace, even ten minutes of music therapy can support your animal’s well-being.
Many modern boarding facilities offer some of the comforts of home — comfy furniture, natural lighting, and play time with other dogs. Even kennels that have been in existence for many years may have a sound system, or an area in which a portable audio device can be played safely. Ask your boarding professionals to play calming music for your dog while she is in their care. By association alone, this will help your dog feel a sense of familiarity with the sonic environment, at the very least.
Driving with your dog
Riding in the car can be very stressful for many dogs, and very exciting for others. In either case, this can create anxiety for the driver. You may be concerned about your dog barking, excessively panting, jumping up and down (even in a kennel), or running from window to window. A nauseated, motion sick dog can also be a huge distraction.
If your dog is not the perfect passenger, we suggest that prior to getting in the car she listens to twenty minutes of Music to Calm Your Canine Companion. [Please note: Do not drive while listening to the Calm Your Canine Companion CD. It may make you drowsy or cause you to fall asleep.]
Once you are on the road, play the CD Music for Driving with Your Dog. Make sure to always start at the beginning of the CD. These tracks are designed to keep you focused, while calming your canine. The piano music intentionally begins with softer, simpler pieces to relax your dog. The second half of the CD is more active, designed to keep the driver alert. Remember, for optimal results with your pooch, we recommend starting at the beginning of the Driving CD whenever you get back in the car to drive again. Music for Driving is part of the Music for the Canine Household series.
Music and medical care:
Recovery from illness or surgery
Whether it be trauma, illness, or surgery, your animal’s optimal recovery requires she be calm and rested. Modern veterinary medicine offers excellent pain management, but your animal may still have trouble resting. Calming music is a safe way to help your companion heal quickly. It doesn’t have to be played continuously to achieve results. We recommend one hour of music, two to three times a day. If your animal has to endure a stressful situation, such as a bandage change, play the music prior to (thirty minutes is best) and during the procedure.
Euthanasia and hospice
Anyone who has ever lost a beloved animal companion knows how difficult it can be. While some animals die without suffering at home, most pass peacefully because their guardians have made the compassionate decision of euthanasia. Despite knowing it is the best thing for our animals, the time surrounding euthanasia or hospice care is emotionally draining. If your veterinarian is performing the euthanasia at home, we suggest playing Music to Calm Your Canine Companionfor thirty minutes before he or she arrives. If you are taking your animal into the clinic, ask your vet if you can play this music for your companion prior to the euthanasia. It can help both of you through the transition.
Regarding the use of calming music for dogs, one of the most profound stories we have received concerns a wild dog named Angel. White and fluffy, Angel was born near a central Ohio farm owned by a kind woman named Paula. Angel was one of several puppies from a feral litter. All of her siblings had run away or been caught by humans, but Angel had out-smarted them all and learned how to survive well on her own. Paula and her friend Peggy, a seasoned animal rescuer, would watch her from a distance. Whenever they tried to get near her, Angel would dart away.
Soon Angel became braver and braver. She was spreading her wings and exploring her domain. Unfortunately, that domain included a busy country road. Paula and Peggy’s hearts would stop when they spotted her crossing it. They knew they were going to have to tame this free spirit, or a disaster was going to occur. Eventually Angel was coaxed into an enclosure on Paula’s property. Each time they tried to come close to her, however, Angel became extremely fearful. They used the Calm Your Canine Companion CD everyday and stayed at a distance, allowing Angel to feel safe and secure. With time, they were able to gently approach her. The day Paula could finally pet Angel was a joyous occasion indeed. Now obedience training could begin, and Angel could fly safely.
This chapter is excerpted from "Through a Dog’s Ear: Using Sound to Improve the Health & Behavior of Your Canine Companion." Copyright (c) 2008 by Joshua Leeds and Susan Wagner. Reprinted with permission from Sounds True. Further information is available at www.throughadogsear.com.