Soothe That Not-so-Savage Beast

Playwright and Poet, William Congreve, coined the often mis-quoted phrase — “Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast.” He wasn’t (as far as I know) really talking about animals, but meant it as a metaphor. However, taking the idea literally has merits!

A friend of mine swears she tamed her skittish and hard-to-handle Arabian gelding with classical music. Many animal shelters pipe in instrumental music to help keep the animals calm. Dog experts Nichole Wilde and Patricia McConnel mention playing music as a possible soothing influence on dogs with separation anxiety.

Because of Kita’s problem in that area, I invested in a couple of CDs claiming to calm the savage beast of Separation Anxiety. Most don’t do what they claim!  However, THROUGH A DOG’S EAR, isn’t bad!  It was developed through research on how the canine nervous system responds to sound. The CD records pianist Lisa Spector playing various slowish classical pieces like Bach’s PRELUDE, with tempo and dynamic variations that psychoacoustic expert Joshua Leads determined would amplify the already-calming effect.

I’ve had pretty good results with this recording. However, I have to say that I’ve had just about the same results with recordings of the slower, lower-key pieces of Bach and Mozart. The selection of orchestra or chamber music on those two CDs were designed as background music for humans, so I suppose it’s much the same idea.

Music is no “magic wand” though! To get a dog that’s hyped up — agitated, barking and/or jumping out of his skin with excess energy — a few tinkling tunes won’t do much. For a dog that’s in full stress mode with anxiety – panting, drooling, eyes dialated,and nervously pacing – the music can’t calm her down.  However, to keep an already calm dog’s tension from escalating or persuadin well-exercised dogs that it’s time to settle down — it really helps!

Kita is really helped if music is playing when I leave the house.  Of course, I’ve had to work hard to avoid all the triggers that make her anxiety levels spike, but the music is a good tool to keep things on an even keel. It even works to keep her other fears in check – like her fear of the ice-maker in the refrigerator!  It also helps the daycare and boarding dogs – a lot!

When there’re a lot of dogs running around the yard, they are tiring each other out, but they’re also revving each other up!  (It’s just so exciting for the average, “only” dog to have so many playmates that they don’t WANT to slow down!)  However, if I don’t find a way to persuade them to take a break or two, they may get so wired that they might not continue making good social decisions!

Before we get to that point, my usual practice is to bring everyone inside, ask everyone to SIT, and hand around milk-bones or another crunchy treat .Then,  I put one of the classical CDs on, and ignore the dogs.   In less than 5 minutes, they’re all curled up in their favorite spots in or out of crates in my office.

Now, you might say they dogs are tired and eating the treat is what settles them down long enough to realize a nap sounds good. Well, that is why I feed them the treat! But, the funny thing is if I forget to turn on the music — as happened today — the dogs lie down , but only for a few minutes before they pop up again! If I add the music to the mix, then we get more like a half hour before they’re ready to rumble! It’s not a hard-and-fast rule! Any number of things — the cat peeking in the room, ice falling off the roof, a truck rumbling by — can get them excited again in an instant. Still, it does really seem to extend that nap break.

So next time you need to calm things down, try a little classical music! Not just for the dogs, but to help yourself, too! I find the music I originally put on to make the dogs subside, causes all those worrisome thoughts in my own brain to settle down. Not only do I get the quiet to write by “soothing” the doggie “beasts” with Bach or Mozart, but I get a creative and focusing boost for myself!

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