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Listening 'Through a Dog's Ear'

Listening 'Through a Dog's Ear'

"Through a Dog's Ear" by Joshua Leeds and Susan Wagner (Boulder, Colo.: Sounds True, Inc., 2008)

“Through a Dog’s Ear,” by Joshua Leeds and Susan Wagner, is a wonderfully informative and eye-opening book about the relationship between dogs and their human guardians. The authors discuss the environments in which humans and canines cohabitate and look at the amount of stimulation — and, more often than not, over-stimulation — in our midst.

Leeds and Wagner want readers to become more self-aware of the soundscape in our environments — our homes, at work, and outdoors — and to assess whether those soundscapes positively or negatively impact our well-being. 

They cite research that supports the need to include our animal companions in our quest for a more “sound” and “harmonious” environment because dogs (as well as other animal species) tend to have strikingly similar reactions to auditory stimuli as do their human guardians. While the authors include examples about the effects of sound and various types of music on other animal species, such as cats, marsupials, and elephants, their focus is on man’s best friend — the dog.
    
They make a number of astonishing points. One is that “over-stimulation of auditory senses can have as significant an effect on our animals as it does on humans.” Many of us who live with dogs know how sensitive our canine friends’ ears are. They hear someone coming to our front door long before we ever do; they react to the distant sound of another dog or a cat out in the neighbor’s back yard while we barely hear the same sound. 

It stands to reason, then, that dogs' ears are far more sensitive to not only what we humans consider mundane or innocuous sounds, but that their ears are going to be more adversely affected by sounds that are merely annoying to us.
    
Second, simple music (which is qualified throughout the book as certain types of modified classical music) is part of the solution to some problems our furry loved ones face in our world of anxiety-producing sounds — a world that is not only unnatural for our canine friends but is an environment we impose upon them. 

Dogs were meant to be chasing rats or herding sheep somewhere in the English or Scottish countryside. They were not meant to be city-dwellers living amid the cacophony of noise — the constant din of traffic, people yelling, and construction work. Even suburban lifestyles are not very natural to dogs or other animals, and yet we subject them to these sound environments without regard for the effects.

Unhealthy sound environments disrupt and even erode the dog’s nervous system. The authors' proposed solution: Music. Certain kinds of music can help alleviate nervous over-stimulation in our canines.
    
The authors suggest dog owners take a “sonic inventory” of their environments and come up with a plan to mitigate the biggest offending noise producers. Noise reduction tactics, obviously, but more purposed is the inclusion of well-selected music played at certain times to enhance our pooches' well-being. 
    
It came as no surprise to me that studies have shown classical music to have a relaxing effect on dogs, while heavy metal music resulted in more agitated behavior. What was more surprising to me was that “dogs may be as discerning as human when it comes to musical preference,” according to a study done by Irish animal behaviorist Dr. Deborah Wells. Her research concluded that music that is easily processed by the brain has the most relaxing effect on canines as well as humans. 

Active listening requires more energy and thus is not as relaxing, whereas once the brain recognizes a musical pattern, it can then relax and go into a more passive listening mode and allow the brain to relax. The more complex the music, the more it changes and surprises the listener, the less relaxing it will be.
    
Another “aha” moment for me in this book was the following statement by the authors: “A simplified solo piano at about 60 beats per minute seemed to be the right sonic formula when tested against even slightly faster, more complex solo, trio, or full orchestral classical compositions.” Evidentially what is the best for healing the human condition is also equally effective for our animals. 

I love my dog, always have and always will. He is a joy to our lives. After reading this book, I have a heightened awareness of soundscape in our home. Thankfully, we have a genuinely calm home environment with relatively few obnoxious noises, at least to our human ears. 

However, I have begun to notice some noises like squeaky drawers in old furniture, the buzzing sound of hair dryers, high beeps of electronic devices, such as stovetop timers, microwaves, clothes dryers, all vying for our attention with high-pitched noises. I have discovered that some of these have alternative loudness settings (such as my clothes dryer) and have turned it down to the softest level. 

So, I feel gratified on a personal level having read this very enjoyable and informative book. And I know more than ever that my dog really does like to listen to me practice at the piano and guitar.  

Leslie Lehnhoff

Leslie Lehnhoff coordinates a continuing education program for a Seattle-area senior living organization.

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