Music; one of the most important things in my universe. I listen to music almost all the time and I truly believe it is the language of my soul. Music has gotten me through every single hardship I have ever experienced and aside from writing it is my favorite form of art.
When we talk of rehabilitating, helping and training fearful dogs, we often talk about counter-conditioning, mental enrichment, environment managing and all these other techniques that are without a doubt super important, but I have noticed something has been missing. What happens when we’re not training? When, for whatever reason, we just don’t have that bag of treats ready or maybe it’s the middle of the night but our dog is experiencing severe anxiety? What do we do? I fully believe that music can play a great role in helping our reactive dogs.
For one, by default, these dogs are very sensitive to sound. They can react to a can falling on the floor three rooms away. They can be afraid of a person sneezing outside the house. There is no sound that escapes them and every sound makes them alert. I think it can be a very positive experience for them if we utilize their alertness to sound in a good way. First, music will somewhat cover up outside noises. Second, it may just calm them down in a way you didn’t even think was possible!
5 years ago I adopted Bailey and on the drive home she was crying as I was holding her in my arms. I quietly sang Hey Jude to her, because it’s the song that always calms me down when I’m experiencing anxiety. When we came home the poor bug was so terrified she refused to fall asleep - and her lack of sleep was a big problem in our first few weeks. I put on The Beatles’ vinyl record in the evening and any time I left her alone. I quickly started noticing she’s responding to it really well. In fact, she fell asleep much quicker than if the record wasn’t playing. This is how Bailey’s love of music was born.
Ever since then, we’ve been using music to soothe her anxiety. We spend every New Year’s Eve listening to music and as soon as I turn it on I can feel her fear and nervousness gradually diminish. Our favorite picks for surviving the fireworks are Ed Sheeran’s first album and any ballad Elvis Presley has ever written.
I wish I could lend her my headphones when we go for walks. Maybe if she could listen to James Vincent McMorrow as she is strolling around our neighborhood with me, she wouldn’t experience such anxiety. But I don’t want to shoot for the moon - I’m happy that music can be a calming tool for us when we are at home, or in the car.
I think if music can touch a human’s soul in a way that lets us know everything will be alright, why couldn’t it do the same for our dogs?
Bailey has a favorite song. The one song that I can always count on to calm her down. This song is also my favorite song in the universe and I wonder if there is some correlation. Maybe my Bailey can feel my soul relax when I am listening to it? Maybe this experience alone feels soothing for her? Sometimes I wish I could ask her these questions. Until that happens, all I can do is observe my little bug how she is nervous because of some weird sound outside and then the second I put on the song she curls up into a ball inside her crate and falls asleep, knowing she is always safe. The song I am talking about is Something New. Listening to it is a cosmic experience.
If you have a reactive and fearful dog I would recommend you try playing some songs to them and see how they respond. I’d start with calming songs and then try out different styles, depending on how they are responding. You can also try playing them your own favorite songs and see if they have the same connection to them as you do (or maybe just feel your love for it)!
To help you out a little bit, I created a playlist of 10 songs for calming down fearful dogs! We’ve listened to all of them a countless times and they have all worked like magic for little B. Click on the titles to listen to them on YouTube!
How do your fearful dogs respond to music? Do you have any song recommendations or experience you’d like to share? Comment below!
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