A couple weeks ago, I was out walking my dog with a friend and her two dogs. One of her dogs is a sweetie, but the other is a real handful. As we discussed the behavior problems she was struggling to tame, she mentioned that she was using special music CDs for dogs.
"For dogs?" I asked.
"For dogs," she replied. "It's called 'Through a Dog's Ear.'"
"What will they think of next?" I chuckled.
"Don't laugh," my friend said, "One of their CD's is on the Billboard list of best-selling classical albums!"
OK, that got my interest. I tracked them down on the Internet and contacted Lisa Spector, co-founder of Through a Dog's Ear to find out more about this classical canine music.
BJG: I recall that old RCA logo of a black and white dog listening to the horn of a wind-up gramophone -- their slogan was "His Master's Voice." That's what comes to mind when I read the name of your company, Through a Dog's Ear. Tell me more about music and dogs.
LS: I'm a concert pianist and I used to own a music school. In 2003, I attended a seminar on psychoacoustics -- the study of how sound effects the human nervous system -= with sound researcher Joshua Leeds. After that, I started applying those principles to my piano students. I learned how to use music to charge -- or discharge -- their nervous systems. I found it was extremely effective in helping them calm and focus.
About that time, I was also a volunteer puppy raiser for Guide Dogs for the Blind and I was raising a very high-energy puppy. I began to notice that when I played the slowed-down, simplified, re-arranged, classical music I used to relax my piano students, my rambunctious pup would be snoozing in no time. The music I had used with my students also worked on this dog!
I began to wonder if the psychoacoustic principles I learned from Joshua would also benefit dogs, so I approached him with the idea of collaborating on creating music recordings to calm canines and relieve anxiety issues. We then went into two years of clinical testing. The results inspired us to launch Through a Dog's Ear, which currently consists of a book and a music series for dogs.
BJG: I learned of your music from a friend of mine who told me that one of your CD's made it to the Billboard list of best-sellers among classical recordings. How did that happen? Are there a lot of dog owners among classical music fans? Or, are there just a lot of dog lovers who want to soothe and calm their rowdy canine companions?
LS: I actually think it's really about dog lovers wanting to help their dogs - whether that's providing music that creates a healthy sound environment, or playing the music to help their beloved canines with an anxiety issue. We love our dogs, and they are so adaptable. We bring them into our human environment and expect that they'll simply adjust. They love us and really try, but sometimes it can be very difficult for them. Creating a healthy, balanced sound environment is essential to their good health and emotional well-being. Through a Dog's Ear is an inexpensive sound therapy for dogs.
People regard their pets part of their family. So it's wonderful that the music of Through a Dog's Ear benefits both two-legged and four-legged family members -- calming both canine and human nervous systems.
BJG: What are some of the behavior issues that Through a Dog's Ear is being used for?
LS: Most people are usually skeptical at first that music can actually relieve their dogs suffering. But they hate watching their dogs suffer with anxiety issues so they're willing to try anything they think will help. When they see how much the right prescription of music helps their dogs, they turn into evangelists, telling all their dog-lover friends. That's how you heard about us and that's how most people hear about us.
Our music helps relieve separation anxiety, excessive barking, excitement with visitors, obsessive compulsive disorder, fearful and reactive issues, pre-and post surgery, etc. You name the issue, and it can help. Almost all canine anxiety issues originate in stress and music gets to the heart of the issue, as the individual pieces have been selected and/or rearranged to gradually reduce the heart rate. This is accomplished naturally by progressively slowing rhythms and simplifying auditory data. Natural principles of resonance (tone) and entrainment (rhythm) are applied to every composition.
Trainers love using our music in classes with fearful and reactive dogs, as it helps calm both canines and their human companions. Just this week I got an email from dog trainer Caryn Charlie Liles. She wrote: "I opened my first school in January 2012 and have Through a Dog's Ear playing during all of my classes, not just Cranky Canine classes for reactive dogs. It is amazing what a difference it makes. If we forget to hit play before Cranky Canine classes, we have a 'barky' class and once the music is back on, they settle. It's like they're yelling at us to turn it on!" (www.whattapup.ca)
BJG: You sent me a CD for driving in the car with your dog. I tried it out when my dog and I drove two hours to San Diego to visit my mom. I couldn't really tell any difference in my dog's behavior (she's just naturally a mellow mutt) but I noticed that I felt calmer! Is that supposed to happen... or did I just imagine it?
LS: Yes, that is supposed to happen. A customer suggested we change the title from "Music to Calm Your Dog in the Car" to "Music to Calm Road Rage." Our "Driving Edition" is actually designed for "Driver Alert/ Dog Relaxed." The CD starts with slower simplified classical arrangements, and then gradually picks up tempo and increases complexity to create a balance of body relaxed, mind alert for the driver. Many people tell me they put it on when driving, even without dogs in the car.
In addition, the CD has a 23-minute track called "Travel Prep" that is designed for dogs with automobile anxiety issues. And the CD's liner notes include instructions for the training protocol.
BJG: What other special recordings do you have for various doggy situations and behavior problems? And what kind of scientific evidence do you have that they work?
LS: In addition to the clinically tested "Calm your Canine" series and "Driving Edition," we have a CD called "Music for the Canine Household." It includes cello and english horn as well as piano, and is designed to help people feel calm but stay awake at home while their dogs settle. (Some people even report that it also helps them by inspiring creativity.) Again, we applied the psychoacoustic principles of "Body Relaxed/ Mind Alert" while simultaneously creating a sound environment that helps dogs settle when they are with their people.
Last year we collaborated with dog trainer Victoria Stilwell and launched the "Canine Noise Phobia" series. We included CD's called "Fireworks, Thunderstorms, and City Sounds" that are being used for both prevention and treatment of canine noise sensitivities. The combination of our clinically tested calming music, progressive sound effects, and Victoria's science-based training protocol makes this very cutting edge.
BJG: I have six cats as well as a dog. Do you have any music for felines?
LS: We love all animals and are very interested in creating other cross-species music. Currently, we are actively researching an upcoming product line, "Through a Cat's Ear." Stay tuned.
For more information, visit www.throughadogsear.com
Follow BJ Gallagher on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BJ_Gallagher