Before leaving a dog alone for a few hours, many people turn on the radio so their pet doesn’t feel abandoned.
However, new evidence suggests that they may prefer a bit of peace and quiet.
Dogs become stressed and agitated when left alone and separated from their owner, and studies have suggested that classical music or the radio can help calm dogs.
But Dr Deborah Wells, director of the Center for Animal Behavior at Queen’s University Belfast, thinks that may not be the case.
Dr. Wells recruited 60 dogs and isolated them in a room alone for 30 minutes. Or they left them silent; with Mozart’s Sonata K448 playing from a loudspeaker; or an audiobook of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone read by Stephen Fry.
After half an hour they were reunited with their owner before returning to one room alone and listening to the next. This was repeated so that each dog heard nothing, an audio book and a classical music song on repeat.
The scientists recorded the dog and tracked how it behaved, recording how long it took for it to sit up and lie down, how often it barked or looked at the speaker, and various other metrics.
Slightly better than Harry Potter
The analysis found that there was very little evidence to suggest that any of the audio made a difference, with Mozart performing marginally better than Potter’s exploits at Hogwarts, but none reaching any level of significance.
“The conclusion we reached was therefore that auditory stimulation in the form of classical music or audio books harbors little welfare advantage in situations where dogs are separated from their owners,” Dr. Wells told The Telegraph.
He added that it was “possible” that dogs benefited more from the peace and quiet than from listening to an audiobook or Mozart.
“In an ideal world, a dog would be able to control its environment and turn enrichments on and off! In fact, we have been trying to explore the sound preferences of dogs to find out what kinds of auditory cues they would choose to listen to, but it is still in its early stages,” said Dr. Wells.
The findings contrast with several other studies that have shown dogs settle faster and are calmer when listening to soothing sounds, but Dr. Wells said this could be because earlier studies used dogs in kennels, a high-stress environment. .
“Animal shelters can regularly exceed 100 decibels of noise,” the researchers write in their paper, published in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science.
“The control condition in the present investigation, by contrast, was a quiet, secluded area with only low levels of background noise (<30 dB).
“Extreme noise levels can be stressful for dogs, with studies recording detrimental effects on canine well-being.
“It is possible that relative silence has similar welfare benefits to classical music for dogs, which could explain the conflicting results between this article and previous research.”
Dogs may not be the only ones who prefer quiet
Experiments on other animals show that dogs may not be left alone to enjoy some quiet time, with a 2007 study showing that tamarins and marmosets prefer silence to music when given the choice.
“We deliberately studied dogs in a controlled environment outside the home and didn’t focus on dogs left alone while their owners went to work — I think there’s another study entirely on that one,” Dr. Wells said.
“My suspicion, however, is that dogs would get used to any sort of auditory stimulation left to them fairly quickly and that the welfare benefits, if any, would be relatively short-lived, regardless of the nature of the auditory cue.
“Sometimes just turning on an auditory cue before leaving the house can also serve as a trigger for a dog who becomes anxious when left alone.”