Expecting Success

Living with Children and Dogs

By Valerie Barry, KPA-CTP

In Partnership With Dogs


Valerie - Main

Do you have a dog and:

  • you’re expecting a baby?
  • thinking of starting a family?
  • welcoming a grandchild into the family?
  • about to become an aunt or uncle?
  • moved into a new location with young children living next door? 

If any of the above applies to you, what are you doing to help prepare your dog for this new change in his life?

This past year I found myself called upon to work with a number of new families – either ones expecting a baby or those with a new baby already in residence.  In each case, there were either a few issues going on that no one expected or some behaviours that raised a few red flags.

I’m not quite sure why, but it doesn’t always seem to occur to all expectant parents to think about preparing their dog for the arrival of a new child into their lives.  Maybe it’s because their dog is already good with kids, or maybe its because their dog is already friendly and a baby is just another human after all.   It may be that their dog is still only a baby himself, so he should easily learn to fit a human baby into his life and they can grow up together – right?

Well, it’s rarely that simple, unfortunately.  People really need to take the time to prepare their dog for any change in their lives and a new little one is a really big change!baby article 2

All the space in your house from the knees down (or your waist down if you have a big dog) has been pretty much solely occupied by your dog (unless you’re in the habit of sitting or crawling around on the floor a lot).  Suddenly, there appears a small person in your house who is also occupying that same space at times.  This new little being is making strange and sudden noises, crawling around, moving unsteadily, grabbing at things randomly, soon toddling around and eventually running around with even more noise – all in the same space as your dog.  Imagine how your dog might feel and what he might be thinking!  

I don’t know if it seems like competition for that space, or if that space suddenly seems too constricting to your dog.  Perhaps your dog feels like he has no way to escape.  He might even feel that he’s gained a fabulous new playmate right around his size. Whatever your dog might think about this sudden change to his environment – happy, confused, worried, scared, nervous – we really don’t have any way of knowing exactly what that might be.  All we have to go on is his behaviour and what he tries to communicate to us and hopefully respond appropriately and fairly. 

This is what I frequently observe:

1. Dog’s who are not entirely comfortable with strangers on the street or in the house.

This can easily translate into a dog who becomes “protective” in his behaviour toward strangers who visit the new baby, hold the new baby, or stop to see the new baby in the stroller as you take a walk down the street.

2. Dogs who have resource guarding issues – aren’t happy with people around their food, toys or treasured objects like raw bones or beef chews.

This can easily become a dog who growls and snaps at a small person crawling by his “stuff”.  It can also cause a dog to start finding new things to guard like a favorite sleeping spot or a precious adult human who is his cuddle companion.

3. Dogs who are a bit uncomfortable with children or who simply haven’t been around them much.

This can easily become a dog who is growling and even snapping at your new addition for reasons that aren’t always obvious.  It’s one thing to see a child on the street or occasionally be startled by them racing around a corner on the street, it’s something else to be constantly surrounded by the sight, smell and sound of them 24/7.

4. Dogs who aren’t comfortable being handled and touched in certain spots or at certain times.

I meet many dogs who aren’t comfortable getting their nails trimmed, being toweled off, having their collars or harnesses put on, being touched on the head, having their tails and ears handled, etc.  I also meet quite a few dogs who don’t like to be disturbed when they’re sleeping, playing with their toys or eating (which can be a part of resource guarding behaviour).  This isn’t going to play out well with a young child running around and grabbing unsteadily at anything within reach.

5. Dogs who are generally considered pretty good with kids and seem happy to see them and be petted by them.

baby article 1This seems like a big win, right?  But, even if your dog seems to like and even seek out the presence of children, if you have a child around constantly things can certainly change.  Your dog can feel that he has no advocate in the house and no real way to avoid being touched and petted when he doesn’t want to be.  When he meets kids outside, eventually everybody moves on so the touching may never become too much.  In your house, though, everything is different.

He is also the centre of attention when kids are rushing over to meet him, but in his house the new arrival captures all the attention and he may be starting to feel excluded in some family activities.  Even worse, he may be getting into trouble for things that were okay before – getting up on the couch, grabbing toys on the floor that no longer just contain dog toys, grabbing at food held down at his height by little hands, etc.

6. Puppies or very young dogs who, for many months have been the centre of attention, had free run of the house, family laps, free cuddle time, regular walks and play time.

All that often changes when baby comes home and time is limited.  Space is suddenly limited, as each youngster has to be kept separate at times.  Walks become shared with a baby in a stroller who gets all the attention from passers by.  Playtime becomes joint playtime with baby and rules are suddenly put into place that didn’t previously exist.  Free run in the trails is limited because baby can’t easily come along. Parents clamp down on what were considered minor mistakes in the past – no nipping at my feet, biting my hand accidently when grabbing your toy, wrestling on the floor, barking during nap time, etc.baby article 6

What can you do?

Be Proactive.

Prepare your dog for the arrival of a new child as far in advance as possible.

  • Introduce your dog to the new smells of baby lotions, laundry soap, shampoo, diaper cream, etc. so these smells become familiar before the new baby arrives.
  • Decide whether your dog will have access to the nursery or not.  If they are allowed in, teach them an appropriate behaviour like remaining on a bed in the room when you are in there with baby.
  • Teach a solid “Wait” or “Go To Your Bed” skill and have a safe place for your dog to be in every room in the house so he can be included but in safer way than having free range depending on the ambulatory skills of your child.  
  • Take many walks with an empty stroller so they get used to how and where to walk and you can see how much training you need to do on their leash skills well before baby arrives on the scene.
  • Desensitize your dog to the sights and sounds of children’s toys – especially noisy ones.
  • Ensure you have good “Leave It” or “Drop It” cues to use and teach them which toys are theirs and which are off limits.
  • Get your dog used to a confinement area so you can put him somewhere comfortable that he’s happy to be in when you can’t monitor both dog and baby.
  • Ensure that you have a plan for your dog’s exercise needs and begin any new routine well in advance of baby.

Create some New Associations.baby article 7

  • Take your dog out to areas where children are congregating, walking to/from school, playing organized sports and begin getting your dog used to these sights and sounds. 
  • Work at a distance that your dog is comfortable with and spend a few minutes at a time feeding treats or playing tug and fetch games while in the presence of children.  Ensure you practice this at different times of the day.
  • Make sure you cover as many different age groups that you can.
  • We want your dog to begin to associate great treats and having fun with the sights and sounds of children being noisy, moving at various speeds and doing different activities.  
  • Take note of any signs of discomfort that you observe and spend more time working in these circumstances with some spectacular treats.

Be Your Dog’s Advocate.

It should go without saying – NEVER, EVER, EVER leave a child and a dog alone for even the briefest of moments!

  • Regardless how comfortable your dog may or may not be with children, do not allow children to simply run up and get in your dog’s space or touch him.  
  • Consider teaching your dog to touch his nose to a fist held out to him vs. having him endure petting on the head.  With this new skill, your dog can interact in a fun way with a child who is instructed to hold out a closed fist toward your dog for a nose greeting. 
  • If your dog chooses not to interact with a child, respect this choice and back up your dog’s decision by asking the child to keep their distance.  It’s a good teaching opportunity to explain to a child how dogs get to decide if they want to interact or not and why it’s a good and safe choice to respect that dog’s decision.
  • Keep your dog and child separated at home unless you are able to safely monitor their activities or have help at hand to keep an eye on one or the other. 
  • Ensure your dog has a safe place to go to when he needs to get away.  It’s critical that your dog can count on child being able to or being allowed to access.  
  • Have a confinement area (which can be the same as his safe place) that you can put your dog into when you can’t monitor things.  Keep the association of this confinement or safe place location positive.  Fill it with toys or treats and add in treat dispensing toys so it doesn’t feel like isolation and exclusion but rather a fun break with some special things your dog doesn’t get at other times.
  • Don’t ever expect your babysitter to also monitor your dog.  Ensure your dog can be safely crated or confined when others are minding your children in your place.
  • Remember too that your child is also growing, maturing and changing so your dog’s environment will continue to change as your child’s ability to move about the house increases and changes.  It’s easy to avoid that small person who can’t follow you, but when they can not only follow you but grab at you and your toys, how will your dog handle that?baby article 4

Remember Your Dog Has Needs Too.

  • Try and keep to your dog’s routine as much as you can even if you have to get the help of a friend to walk your dog at times.
  • If your dog’s routine has to change, take the time to get them used to a new routine well in advance of the arrival of a new child.
  • Ensure that your dog gets your undivided attention at times so they feel like they still have their alone time with you without the constant accompaniment of the new arrival. Consider taking a fun class with just you and your dog as a way for both of you to take a break with each other – maybe tricks, scenting or some fun outdoor group obedience classes are in order.
  • Make sure that breaks – dog from child – happens as it needs to.  Everybody needs a break from each other regardless of how they might love each other, or not.  Err on the side of caution and give your dog more breaks than less – many small ones throughout the day would be ideal.
  • Consider upping your dog’s mental stimulation so they have something to focus on that is helpful to their overall demeanor and any anxiety or concern they may feel.  Invest in some new treat dispensing toys to keep him interested and mentally challenged.


Every single dog trainer you will ever meet cringes when we see those “cute” dog and child pictures that circulate on the internet and Facebook.  Dogs can be incredibly tolerant which is often mistaken as “bombproof” and “great with kids”.  Don’t make those mistakes – keep your children and your dog safe by making good choices and preparing and managing things well.

If you take the time to help prepare your dog for your new family member, then your dog can be a fun and beloved member of your family who fits in easily and can take part in most family activities.  

We are counting on each generation to continue to have empathy and caring for our animals who do not have a voice to help themselves.  We need to have children and pets able to live safely with each other.  It’s important to be raised to think responsibly about our pets, be taught to take an active part in their care, and be encouraged to consider their mental and physical welfare.  If you have an opportunity to interact appropriately with pets as you grow up, you are may be a little bit more inclined to be interested in and maybe even active in all animal welfare as an adult.

If you have a dog who you think isn’t entirely comfortable with your children (or other children), please consider hiring a professional dog trainer who uses positive methods and has experience with behaviour modification.  Remember to keep it positive – for everyone!

Some Good Resources

  • Living With Kids and Dogs…Without Losing Your Mind, a book by Colleen Pelar 
  • Colleen Pelar’s website: www.livingwithkidsanddogs.com 
  • Family Paws Parent Education website: www.familypaws.com

What Our Dog Really “Nose”

By Amanda Ringnalda and Kelly Taylor of Sama Dog




We all know our dogs have an amazing sense of scent. Just try and quietly eat some cheese; bet you he’ll be there faster than you can say “timberdoodle” (yes that is an actual name of a cheese!)

Dogs have this remarkable organ called the vomeronasal organ (VNO). The VNO detects odors and pheromones; this is why your furry friend loves to sniff on walks. With every lamp post he sniffs, he is catching up on the recent gossip via pee-mail. He can tell what Boomer has recently eaten, if Gracie is stressed and even if Rusty has had the dreaded snip snip! It seems that a 70% sniff and 30% walk outing is equivalent to us humans spending an entire day on Facebook! 

What is really fascinating about our furry friends is what they actually know! How many times have you heard the phrase, “I swear my dog is like a little person, he knows what I’m thinking!” or “You know, I’m sure Noodle knew we were going to the vet” or “Tinkerbell can always sense when it’s bath time!” And how about when we’re sad, angry or grieving? Isn’t it amazing how they just know? They sense our energy and our intentions. Wonder if they can actually see auras… wouldn’t that be the coolest thing?! We know they can sense diseases like Cancer, sniff out drugs and even find missing people. It’s remarkable! This deserves more credit than we give them. Most of us couldn’t even sniff out a moldy piece of timberdoodle under the couch cushion! 

But do we really give a dog credit for what he “nose”?

Think about it – we choose our dog’s food, their beds, their playmates, where they sleep, their treats, everything, yet do we really know what is best for them? Yes we love them, and yes we do our very best for them (we know dogs who eat better than their owners!), but what would happen if we gave them the “pawsibility” to choose for themselves?

At times when your dog is sick, how often have you thought, “I wish they could tell me what they need”?  What if you could give them the opportunity to do so via self-selection? Wild dogs and wolves naturally seek out certain berries and herbs to help them purge and rid the body of things it no longer needs or that are causing discomfort or illness. Our domestic dogs are no different.IMG_8922

There is a growing community of Caninepharmacognosy (Canine: dog, Pharma: medical, Cognosy: knowing) practitioners. When it comes to caninepharmacognosy, our dogs truly have the opportunity to self-select what they need to help them feel better. For instance, dogs may instinctively choose ginger oil when they have had an upset stomach. In the Ayurveda world, ginger is one of the top natural medicinal remedies, especially for digestion, so to observe as they knowingly self-select is fascinating. Dogs are naturally drawn to healing remedies – grasses such as wheatgrass, macerates such as arnica, essential oils such as lavender and water essences such as valerian water. They choose to inhale these remedies or ask for them to be applied topically on the area of discomfort or on the femoral artery where there is no hair, allowing the oil to get into the blood stream quicker.IMG_1458

Now we aren’t saying to start experimenting with essential oils without proper guidance – this is what a licensed practitioner offers and you should learn more from a seasoned practitioner. One great resource we recommend is Caroline Ingraham’s book How to Heal Your Dog. But you can definitely start on the path to having your dog self-select on some of the things he needs. Take coconut oil, for example – within the past few years the world has gone crazy over this stuff. There are hundreds of ways to use this natural healing remedy, but also be wary of too much of a good thing. Some dogs may not digest this well or may not actually need it, so why not try it via self-selection? Put a small amount on a plate or in their feeding bowl without mixing it in their food. Do they eat it? If yes, try it again in a few days. If not, try it again later. If they don’t need it, they won’t eat it.

The same thing goes for certain foods. Sometimes we assume our dogs are picky eaters, but this is not always the case. Dogs eat with their noses so if they continually refuse a certain food, they might not need the ingredients. Check what’s in there, learn to be a label reader and try out a new protein/food. 

Go on, try giving your buddy the choice to exercise what he “nose.” It’ll be fun for both of you and he will love you for it.bodhi 2



The Top 4 Secrets to Better Teeth for Your Pet

By Dr. Moira Drosdovech, DVM


Before and after dental_n

This article might well have been titled The Top 4 Secrets to Spending Less at the Vet! It stands to reason that if you can maintain the health of your pets’ teeth without having them professionally cleaned, you simply spend less! 

What exactly are we talking about here that we want to prevent? The condition is known as Periodontal Disease and it is rampant in our pet population.

What does periodontal disease look like? Loose teeth and gum inflammation combined with halitosis and bacterial infection. There are varying grades of this disease with progressive worsening of the condition as we advance from Grade 1 to 4. Many toy dog breeds acquire this condition and end up toothless long before they have reached a ripe old age. Tartar on tooth_n

As common at that is for smaller breeds, that does not make it normal by any stretch. However, what is normal for dogs and cats alike is to keep all of their teeth to old age and for there to be minimal gum disease and loose teeth. I have a small Shih tzu cross that is over 13 now and still has every single tooth she started with and has never had to have a professional dental because she keeps her own teeth clean (secret below)!

So what are the secrets to good dental health in pets??

Secret 1: Through smart choices from the very day you bring home your dog or cat! If we choose the right foods and things to chew on when our animals are young and easily conditioned to eat what we offer, then half the battle is won. If you wait until the rot of periodontal disease have set in, it is nearly too late.

For my clients, that tends to be the raw food diet with raw bones to gnaw on usually starting at as young as 6 weeks old, but certainly by 12 weeks. Dry foods do not clean teeth as is commonly believed. An analogy I often use is that, if indeed that was the case, dentists would be out of business as we could just eat crispy cookies before we go to bed and dispense with the tooth brush!

Secret 2: Regular chewing of items like bones and safe, non-toxic chew sticks that keep your pets’ gums healthy and teeth tartar-free. Regular means a few times weekly!

While not for everyone or every pet, eating and chewing on raw bones is an excellent way to maintain dental health and can even benefit those pets that already have significant tartar buildup or even have some periodontal disease, but not if there are loose teeth.

Raw bones can be knuckle and marrow bones, but they can also be poultry parts, like necks and wings, even legs. When eating a raw bone such as these, the bones do not splinter into shards as they do when they are cooked and are therefore safe. I highly advise against all cooked bones and each bone must be evaluated for the safety for your particular dog or cat. It is best to obtain professional advice before beginning to feed raw bones. 

You may choose to feed chews like Greenies, or Bully Sticks and the like, but the ingredients of some of those items are questionable and might be toxic in some cases. I have watched the manufacturing process of rawhides and it will turn your stomach when you discover that they use a wide assortment of toxic chemicals to make them, including bleach. As they are a by-product of the leather industry, there is no need for approval by the FDA and no need to disclose what goes in them!!!

See the end of the article for Guidelines for feeding raw bones.

Secret 3: Regular checkups so that your veterinarian can examine the mouth and teeth to not only check for inflammation and other signs of periodontal disease, but also to check for abnormal growths and other issues. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen oral cancer that may have been more treatable had the pet been in regularly for check ups. 

Secret 4: Use only a veterinary professional to examine your pets’ mouth, as they are the only ones qualified to examine and make a diagnosis followed by a professional cleaning, yes, with anesthetic. Over the years, there have been countless times when we have examined and then recommended professional dental work on a pet that had been having their teeth “cleaned” every 6 – 12 months by a canine dental hygienist. Many of these pets, mostly dogs, have needed multiple teeth extracted and were afflicted with what I refer to as “foul mouth aids” with breath so bad, the entire room is putrid. Some are so bad it makes you want to cry at the amount of suffering they endured for far longer than necessary. 

I’ll admit that there are times when the tartar buildup on your pet’s teeth is strictly “cosmetic” and a canine hygienist can be used, but that is where the practicality of this stops. To know if it is simply cosmetic tartar, only a veterinarian can tell you that. It is erroneous to compare animal dentistry to human dentistry as animals cannot inform the hygienist or the dentist about what their teeth feel like.

If there is any kind of occult (underlying) periodontal disease, your pet will experience discomfort during a non-anesthetic cleaning and the procedure will likely hasten the disease progression as now even more bacteria can get in between the tooth and gums and, of course, the hygienist cannot prescribe antibiotics. Your pet will continue to suffer, unbeknownst by you. I feel strongly that having this procedure done because it is “anesthetic-free” is one of the worst choices you can make for your pet’s health care, bar none. 

Remember! Dentistry is not expensive! Neglect is!

Guidelines for Feeding Raw Bones to your Dogs Noah's Arc raw bones

Before you give a dog a bone, there are some rules to be aware of:

  1. Some dogs are “aggressive chewers” and can chip or fracture their teeth on raw bones. Don’t blindly offer raw bones to your dogs as you may wind up with a bill for expensive dental work. Monitor their chewing and progress and intervene as needed.

Consumable bones are the bones of birds (typically chicken wings and chicken, duck and turkey necks). They are softer and more pliable and  (whole or coarsely ground) are a good alternative to the recreational raw bones for aggressive chewers.

  1. Bone marrow contains fat and therefore, the calories must be taken into account and should be avoided if your pet has pancreatitis.
  2. Marrow can sometimes cause diarrhea if consumed by dogs with sensitive stomachs or in large quantities. I always advise clients to scoop out at least some of the marrow for the first few bones until they become accustomed to it.
  3. Bones can be messy. I usually suggest tying the dog to the kitchen table leg and having them chew their bone on one of those inexpensive area mats. 
  4. When it comes to the right size bone for your dog, match the bone size to your dog’s head. There’s really no such thing as a “too big” bone, but there are definitely bones that are too small for some dogs.
  5. If your pet breaks off large pieces of raw bone, I recommend removing them before she has the opportunity to swallow them. Choose bones that don’t have extra pieces that can be chewed off.
  6. Never cook raw bones; cooked bones splinter and are dangerous.
  7. Always supervise dogs when you’ve given them raw bones.
  8. Feed bones to multiple dogs in separate rooms or tied up. No need to test how much they enjoy sharing their bones!

Noise and Healing Sounds

Apricot poodle puppy listening to music on headphones, isolated on white background

By Dr. Susan O. Wagner, DVM, MS, ACVIM, 

Bioacoustics is the study of sound in animals. It looks at the ways in which animals communicate as well as the positive and negative effects of environmental sounds. Music is the most common therapeutic use of sound, but other modalities such as chanting, tuning forks, and nature sounds have been employed by sound practitioners. Research in various species shows that noise can have a detrimental effect on physiology and behavior. Music studies reveal trends, but it is not clear as to what types of music work best for calming or enrichment and if any species differences exist. Further research with larger numbers of subjects may elucidate these points. We may also find that response to acoustic therapy is individualized, and an understanding of physical, emotional, environmental, and bioenergetic factors are needed to design an appropriate therapy plan.


Sound is an important part of every animal’s surroundings. This is especially true for those suffering from anxiety disorders. Most owners do not realize the significance of sound in their homes, and many veterinarians are not cognizant of the sonic environment exposure of their hospitalized patients.

Sound is a type of electromagnetic radiation. Its frequency, or pitch, is measured in hertz (Hz). One Hz is defined as one complete wave cycle per second. Humans hear frequencies of 20–20,000 Hz, and dogs hear between 40–45,000 Hz. Cats can hear frequencies up to 64,000 Hz (1, 2). Both dogs and cats can hear sounds that are much further away than humans can perceive (3).

The intensity or loudness of a sound is measured in decibels (dB). Hearing damage occurs instantly at 100 dB and can also be caused by prolonged exposure to levels above 85 dB. The dB of some common sounds are listed in Table 1 (3).

Decibels for Common Sounds


30 dB


70 dB


40 dB

Lawn mower

90 dB


60 dB

Rock concert

130 dB


80 dB

Garbage disposal

80 dB

Table 1.


Bioacoustics is the study of sound in animals. It looks at the ways in which animals communicate as well as the positive and negative effects of environmental sounds. Psychoacoustics is the discipline that studies the perception of sound in humans (4). This includes how people listen, their psychological responses, and the physiological impact of music and sound on the human nervous system. Research suggests that psychoacoustic concepts also apply to animals (5). The purpose of this article is to review the effects of sound and music on various animal species.


The French otolaryngologist, Dr. Alfred Tomatis, is considered the father of psychoacoustics, as he was one of the first people to understand the effects of sound on the nervous system. Tomatis realized that sound is a nutrient for the body, thereby being useful to calm, stimulate, and balance the nervous system. Although beyond the scope of this article, Tomatis’ principles are still being used in human acoustic therapy today (5).

A key neurologic concept important in sound awareness is the orienting response, which occurs when the nervous system becomes aware of a stimulus (6). Whether the individual is cognizant or not, the brain actively engages with any stimulus. In the case of hearing, the process quickly goes from passive hearing to active listening. If the stimulus is low level, the nervous system reverts back to its original state. More intense stimuli create startle and fight or flight responses. For example, animals experience sudden arousal when an unusual or loud sound is heard.

The orienting, startle, and fight or flight responses are all survival mechanisms which are especially meaningful in prey animals. The ear pinna on dogs, cats, and horses allow the reception of sound to occur on a much more sensitive level than in humans. While an orienting response may get an animal’s attention but not elicit overt fear, negative consequences can still occur. Ongoing instinctive reaction to sudden noise can interrupt the animal’s relaxed state. This can be especially significant in the veterinary setting when ill patients are not able to rest.Dog with radio


Hearing loss and noise induced stress have been well documented in many species, including laboratory animals. While variability in hearing damage is seen among strains of

mice, most are negatively affected by a loud environment (5, 7). Background laboratory noise routinely reaches 80 dB, with human activity transiently increasing intensity by up to 40 dB (8). Moreover, early exposure to noise accelerates age induced hearing loss (9).

Other noise related toxicities have been noted in both mice and rats. Stress hormones and blood pressure increase with intense sounds, and chronic noise exposure can produce increases in blood pressure that last for weeks after the environment is normalized (10). Birth defects have been documented in mice and rats when the mother was exposed to noise pollution during pregnancy. Behavioral changes were also seen in the offspring (11, 12).

Dogs also exhibit negative effects from noise. In one study, sound blasts increased heart rate and salivary cortisol levels and elicited postural signs of anxiety (13). Consistent ambient levels of 85 dB are reported to create anxiety in canines (14). Brain Auditory Evoked Response (BAER) was used to measure hearing loss in kenneled dogs housed at a facility in which background noise often reached 100 dB. All 14 dogs studied had hearing loss within 6 months (15).

Wildlife are not immune to noise pollution. Global efforts have increased to protect cetaceans from modern sound technology. Sonar often reaches over 200 dB and can disrupt normal communication among whale populations and create behavioral changes (16). Sea lions, dolphins, and other marine life are also affected by human induced sound (17–21).


While noise toxicity can have far-reaching detrimental effects, sound can also be used for healing. Much of the discipline of positive sound therapy is based on the psychoacoustic principles of resonance and entrainment. Resonance describes the effect of 1 frequency on another. The vibration of sound causes a change in the frequency of a cell, muscle, or organ. Entrainment is the process by which periodic rhythms cause major body pulse systems (heart rate, brain waves, and breath) to naturally speed up or slow down (22). Through these acoustic processes, sound causes a physiologic effect on the body.

Pattern identification is another component of psychoacoustics and is related to the complexity of sound. When a new pattern is introduced, the nervous system engages the orienting response. The focus of the brain turns to this sensory input with active listening. Once the pattern has been processed, the brain returns to a passive hearing state. While pattern identification appears to be relevant in animals, it is not known whether more complex psychoacoustic properties such as intervals and harmonies influence them (23).

Music is the most common therapeutic use of sound, but other modalities such as chanting, tuning forks, and nature sounds have been employed by sound practitioners. Music therapy has been well studied in humans. It has been shown to be useful for many conditions, including neurologic rehabilitation, dementia, and pain (5, 24, 25). Music also improves quality of life and assists with concentration and relaxation (26).

Sound therapy has been studied in a variety of animal species. Cows were more likely to come into the milking parlor if they were signaled by music (27). An increase in growth rate was seen in chickens exposed to music, and stress was reduced in layer chicks when sound was used for enrichment (28, 29). A pilot study in horses suggested that eating decreased when jazz was played, but increased with country music (30).

Music therapy and sound enrichment are low cost, easy modalities to enrich the lives of captive animals. Whether it be a short term stay in a veterinary clinic or shelter, or long term captivity in a sanctuary or zoo, sound can play a key role in enhancing the welfare of these animals. Wells found that the quality of life for Asian elephants and gorillas was improved through auditory enhancement. Gorillas showed a tendency toward relaxation and a reduction in stress behaviors with rainforest sounds and classical music (31). Elephants had a significant decrease in stereotypic behaviors with classical music (32).

Dogs also respond well to environmental enhancement with sound. Classical music decreased stress behaviors in kenneled dogs better than heavy metal, pop, and conversation (33). Heart rate variability, a measure of stress, also improved with classical music in kenneled dogs. This change was still measurable after 9 days of music therapy, meaning the dogs did not habituate to the music (34). And yoga music was effective in reducing stress behaviors in the veterinary setting (35).

Four types of psychoacoustically arranged classical music were tested by Leeds, Spector, and Wagner. Results suggested that all classical music does not have the same effect on behavior in dogs. Varying the instrumentation and tempo produced differences in results, with slower tempos and simpler sounds having the greatest calming effect (5). In the second phase of the research, music with the most calming effect was tested against normal classical music. Twice as many anxiety behaviors were reduced with the psychoacoustically arranged work (5).

Work has also been done with cats. In a study of young, middle-aged, and older felines, results showed that they preferred music with frequencies and tempos similar to what is heard in feline communication. The young and older cats responded more than the middle-aged subjects (5). Psychoacoustic principles that stimulate the nervous system have been used for enrichment in cats, but data is not yet available on its efficacy (36).

Environmental sound is important even when the individual is not cognizant of the surroundings. A study of 12 cats showed that respiratory rate and pupil diameters changed depending on whether classical music, pop, or rock was played during spay procedures. Classical music had the most positive effects, pop was intermediate, and heavy metal caused increased respiratory rate and pupil diameters, indicating a stress response (37, 38).

While research in sound therapy is promising, variability among studies does exist. In a more recent study of Lowland gorillas, only natural sounds reduced stereotypic behavior; classical or rock music did not (39). Similarly, a study in kenneled dogs did not show a difference between psychoacoustically arranged classical music when compared to other types of music. Normal classical music did best at reducing stress, and heavy metal increased stress induced behaviors (40).


Music is just one aspect of the vast array of sounds affecting the complicated auditory and nervous systems in animals and humans. When we consider species and individual differences in communication, sensory processing, and adaptation, it is not surprising that music research is revealing trends but no definitive answers.

While it is clear that noise has a detrimental effect on many species, the effects of music are not as apparent. We may be witnessing challenges similar to studying any complementary modality. For example, subjects in an acupuncture study may all have the same clinical disorder but require very different points due to their underlying nature and imbalances. They all receive acupuncture, but a set of points that helps one individual may not be appropriate for the other. In our conventional mindset of controlling every variable (i.e., all subjects receive the same acupuncture points), we may make incorrect conclusions from the data.

Conversely, further research with larger numbers of subjects may show us that species variation does exist, and we may find that one species prefers nature sounds while another requires classical music. But if we apply holistic concepts to acoustic therapy, we are more likely to find that an understanding of physical, emotional, environmental, and bioenergetic factors are needed to design an appropriate therapy plan. Truly effective sound therapy may need to be prescribed on a case by case basis.


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