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When I initially thought about creating music for dogs five years ago, I had no idea of the enormity of dogs with sound phobias. Looking back, it was a rather naïve concept. I had noticed that my dogs and dogs in my care seemed to show their enjoyment of my piano playing by snoring quite contentedly by my side when I was at the piano. By the time I started playing the piano at age seven, our family dog, Doodle (a rather excitable cocker spaniel), loved to just come lie by my pedal foot and sleep. Even in her senior years when deaf, as soon as I started playing the piano, Doodle would come from any part of the house and lie down near the piano.
When first exploring the idea of music for dogs in 2003, I recalled having taken a seminar with sound researcher Joshua Leeds on psychoacoustics – the study of the effect of sound on the human nervous system. I’d started applying the psychoacoustic principles of resonance (tone) and entrainment (rhythm) with piano students at my music school. I became so adept at helping student with ADD relax and focus, as well as picking up the energy level of sluggish children, that I wondered how I ever taught without this knowledge. I contacted Joshua and asked him to participate in what is now known as the Through a Dog’s Ear Project (currently consisting of a book and music series released in March ‘08).
Simultaneously, I became a volunteer puppy raiser for Guide Dogs for the Blind. My first dog was a very high energy lab puppy that found trouble everywhere he looked. I was willing to try anything to calm him so I could at least have a few minutes of daily productivity. I started experimenting with Joshua’s application-specific soundtracks that were being used in clinics and classrooms around the world.
Previous to my Guide Dogs volunteering, I found myself between dogs and was doing a lot of pet sitting. I’ll never forget Tank, a 90-pound, very happy and energetic nine-month-old puppy. (His owners thought his full size would be about 60 pounds, but that’s what you get when you name a dog “Tank”.) Tank loved to tear around the house, running at the speed of lightening and smiling around every corner. I noticed that when playing a psychoacoustically-designed composition of Bach on the piano, Tank would stop running and start snoozing, all within a minute! I was so amazed at the effect of Joshua’s re-arranged music! By slowing music down, lowering it an octave, and simplifying the patterns, Tank’s behavior shifted completely.
Joshua and I teamed up with veterinary-neurologist Susan Wagner to test this specially designed music in humane societies, boarding facilities, vet clinics, and homes. You can find the results of our tests at http://throughadogsear.com/research and read about the similarities between the canine and human nervous system reactions to this music. Although we were amazed with double-phase clinical testing, it has been even more astonishing to receive daily emails from all over the world. People share their heart-warming stories of how Through a Dog’s Ear music has helped their dogs, and in some cases, even saved their lives. I knew that my piano-playing helped calm dogs, and I knew after clinical testing that it could help relieve some anxiety issues (separation, thunderstorm, excitement with visitors, etc), but I never would have guessed that it prevented one dog from jumping out of windows!
When I’ve been asked if creating musical soundtracks for dogs is what I always wanted to do with my life, my answer brings a smile to my face. “No, I didn’t graduate from Juilliard so that I could create music to help dogs. But, in all honesty, I couldn’t possibly imagine doing anything that makes me happier.”
Further Through a Dog’s Ear information and sound samples can be found at ThroughADogsEar.com.