Do Dogs and Cats Like It if You Leave the Radio or TV on When You Leave the House?

Do Dogs and Cats Like It if You Leave the Radio or TV on When You Leave the House?


A survey of about 2000 British dog owners
conducted in early 2017 found that around 40% of dog owners admitted to leaving the
radio on when they left the house so that their dog wouldn’t be lonely, while another
32% admitted that they did the same thing, just with the TV. In yet another British study, this time in
2015, it was found that 38% of those respondents left the radio on and 22% the TV. Whichever study you look at there, this practice
is shockingly common, at least in Britain. But do your pets like this? Starting with our canine counterparts, while
the research we have thus far isn’t exactly robust, it would appear that, at least in
the case of music, yes, in some cases dogs do respond to this in a positive way. For example, consider the results of research
conducted in 2002 by psychologist Deborah Wells from Queen’s University in Belfast. In a nutshell, Wells’ study involved randomly
playing music through some speakers for a group of about 50 dogs at a re-homing shelter
in the UK and noting what, if any, effect it had on the them. After a baseline reaction was found by observing
the behaviour of the dogs when no music at all was playing, researchers then played one
of three CDs- for those unfamiliar, a kind of round shiny object people used to store
music and other data on, often used for playing music in their hitched up covered wagons. Each CD contained a curated playlist limited
to a specific genre, in this case, pop, classical and heavy metal. Finally, a fourth CD contained the sounds
of a human conversation. So what were the results? The study found that classical music appeared
to have a definite calming effect on the dogs with there being a noticeable decrease in
the amount of noise and activity, and an increased number of dogs choosing to simply lay down,
compared to when there was either complete silence or the sounds of human conversation
piped into the room. On that latter point, it is interesting to
note that the human speech didn’t seem to make any difference to the dogs. Meanwhile, music by the heavy metal band Metallica
seemed to agitate the dogs present. Finally, pop music, which included the likes
of Brittney Spears, much like the sounds of human conversations, appeared to have no observable
effect on the animals. Moving on to a study in 2017 conducted at
a shelter operated by the Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the
researchers attached heart monitors to the dogs to attempt to better determine the effect
the music was having on them on top of just visual observation. The results? Professor Neil Evans of the University of
Glasgow notes, “Overall, the response to different genres was mixed highlighting the possibility
that like humans, our canine friends have their own individual music preferences. That being said, reggae music and soft rock
showed the highest positive changes…” However, beyond potential personal preference,
there may actually be something else going on here that is significant in helping to
determine which types of music and sounds a given type of dog will like or not. To see why, let’s now look at cats. While the studies are limited to date, the
data so far seems to indicate that cats do not respond to music nearly as well as dogs…
at least at first glance. An important thing to remember here is that
cats’ hearing spectrum is different than a human. Further, it turns out what frequencies their
brains are more tuned to pay attention to are also in a different range. Thus, given both of these things, what they
consciously hear when they listen to our music is different than what we hear. Given this and other animal studies that have
shown animals tend to respond more to sounds within their own vocal range, researchers
at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, led by psychology professor Charles Snowdon, decided
to see what would happen if they made “cat music”- essentially music that was tuned to
center in the frequency ranges and tempos cats pay most attention to. In this case, as cats’ vocal range is about
one octave higher than a human’s, they had composer Professor David Teie create music
in this range. As for tempo, they went with approximately
the average rate a cat purrs at, as well as a separate piece of cat music with a tempo
equivalent to that of a kitten suckling. And, it turns out, when playing this music
to 47 cats in the study compared to playing two different classical music pieces, the
cats did indeed react significantly more positively and pay more attention to the cat music, whereas
the human classical music garnered fewer positive responses and reactions, and even those that
did react positively to this music took approximately an additional minute to seem to notice it
at all. As for the cat music, while not every cat
responded, the ones that did tended towards a positive response in the form of purring
and sometimes even rubbing up against the speaker playing the music. This may also help explain why it takes so
much longer to train a cat to obey verbal commands, even when offering a food reward. For example, consider a study done in 1915
at the University of Colorado which seemed to show that cats were colorblind. In it, the experimenters had one jar wrapped
in gray paper, and another in color paper. If the cat touched the colored jar, they’d
get a tiny fish as a reward. 18 months and 100,000 tries later, the cats
used in the study had only been 50% successful at picking the right jar the first time. Clearly they couldn’t see color, right? Wrong. Given cats have both cones and rods, further
experiments have been done in more modern times using electrodes monitoring the cat’s
brain, definitively proving cats can see colors. So why couldn’t they figure out which jar
to pick to get the treat they wanted? While you might think just to screw with the
researchers- cats gonna’ cat- it turns out that even though they can distinguish a variety
of shades of color, their brains just aren’t really wired to pay attention to colors, though
if one spent enough time training a specific cat, you can get them to do so. It just takes an astounding amount of training
before the color registers consciously. For example, the aforementioned “fish” experiment
was re-done in the 1960s, and this time it was found that if working with an individual
cat long and consistently enough, they would learn to pay attention to the color, but it
took a whopping average of 1550 tries per cat for them to learn to pick the colored
jar. Once they did, they consistently picked it
as they did indeed want the treat inside. Going back to sounds, this may be why, as
any cat owner knows, if you call your cat using super high pitched vocalizations spoken
rapidly like “kitty-kitty-kitty-kitty” cats tend to come more quickly than if saying the
exact same thing just speaking in normal tones and speeds where they may not respond at all. Thus, while studies would need conducted to
test the hypothesis, it may be when talking about verbal commands that perhaps cats aren’t
just being dicks as they appear, but rather, you’re not speaking in tones and at tempos
their brains naturally consciously pay attention to without significant training. Whatever the case, going back to dogs, it’s
hypothesized by the researchers of the University of Wisconsin-Madison study that this may be
why different dogs respond slightly differently to different types of human music given that
different breeds of dog have different vocal frequency ranges and resting heart rates. If your curious, breeds like the Labrador
have some of the closets vocal ranges and heart rates to humans, with our music likewise
generally centered around our vocal ranges and the tempo of our heart rate. On a similar note, a 2010 study, also done
by Professor Snowdon studying cotton-top tamarin monkeys, whose heart rates are approximately
twice a typical humans and vocalizations roughly three octaves higher, likewise found that
music centered around these frequencies and tempos seemed to appeal to the tamarin monkeys,
both in its ability to agitate the monkeys and to calm them, depending on the composed
pieces of music. Further, the tamarin monkeys had no such responses
to human music played for them. Moving on to leaving a TV show on for your
pet, the hypothesis is that familiar background noises, particularly human speech, will sooth
your furry companion. However, the data on whether this actually
works or not isn’t robust enough to mention, and it is noted in the aforementioned music
study that playing sounds of human conversation appeared to have no effect on the dogs compared
to silence. Of course, if one played a recording of a
dog’s master talking, this might change the results, but no study to date we could find
has ever tested this hypothesis. That said, for anyone who has ever used a
web cam with a speaker to talk to their pets while away from home knows, the animals most
definitely respond to this speech, though whether this is enjoyable for them or a big
confusing tease is anyone’s guess. On another anecdotal note, in areas where
significant outside noises seem to stress a given dog, causing a lot of barking and
the like, many owners claim that drowning out this noise with TV, radio, or a noise
maker seems to help keep the animals more calm. As for cats and TV, there doesn’t seem to
be any real data here either. But we’re just going to go with the age-old
“Cat’s don’t care” as that seems to apply to our feline friends at least 99.99% of the
time, particularly as in this case what is being shown on TV is not typically within
the vocal ranges and tempos of speech that cats otherwise respond to anyway. Cats also, of course, don’t typically suffer
from separation anxiety to the extent that dogs often do, further perhaps making this
not matter. But to conclude, while the data to date is
limited, it does at least so far seem to be pointing to your furry forced friend enjoying
it when you leave some music on for them, though for best results you need to tailor
the music to the animals, with cats responding best to specially made cat music. And if you’re now wondering- yes, this does,
in fact, exist for sale online. This is thanks to the aforementioned composer
Professor David Teie. Since the cat study he took part in and a
subsequent Kickstarter where he raised an astounding quarter of a million dollars despite
a massively more modest initial goal, he has gone ahead and composed a cat music album
for sale online, technically making him the biggest musical star in the world to our feline
masters.

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