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Ben plays with his pal, Cooper, while Justice looks on...

Ben plays with his pal, Cooper, a Golden Retriever. They are about the same age and first met when they were two months old. Justice, in his first visit to the park, is still a bit young to be...

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Comment by Sue and Cash on May 6, 2011 at 9:50am
Is that your piano playing?  Love the music!   My Cash many golden retriever pals and one is named Cooper also.
Comment by John Bell Young - Mike Connolly on May 7, 2011 at 5:48pm
Yes, that's me playing in the video. It's the first few bars of a Schubert Sonata. At the time I was conducting research, in connection with an article I was writing, about the effect of music on canine behavior. My dogs hear a great deal of (mostly classical) music every day by virtue of living with me --I'm a concert pianist --  but I was fascinated by several studies of the calming effect that music can have on anxious dogs.   And so I often serenaded my boys with piano music, the tempos and character of which I soon learned was both helpful and appropriate to helping them to relax. One book, "Through a Dog's Ear" by Dr Susan Wagner, in cooperation with the pianist (and agility trainer) Lisa Spector, is especially remarkable, and I recommend it enthusiastically. The authors, by the way,  make the book available free of charge to bona fide shelters and rescues who find the five CDs of music that are included to be exceptionally valuable in keeping those poor imprisoned dogs calm, steady, and sane.
Comment by Sue and Cash on May 7, 2011 at 6:35pm
So can that mean also that if your into alternative rock and you like it loud, that can make your dog more wound up?  I tend to not turn it up load when Cash is in car with me and try to not have intense heavy rock but rather mellower music.  I can see how that would have a major impact on your dog with the deep bass pounding in the rear of the car.  Interesting stuff for sure.  Thanks.
Comment by John Bell Young - Mike Connolly on May 7, 2011 at 8:38pm
Yes, that's exactly right. Dr Sue Ann Lesser, the distinguished veterinarian and lecturer who is a leading authority on the effect of music on the canine brain and nervous system, told me more or less exactly what you intuit here. Handlers, trainers, and behaviorists use all kinds of music to influence and indeed, rev up  their dogs, for a particular purpose. Dogs that must stay alert and active  in the ring, for example,  or in competition  (especially in Canine Freestyle, of which Dr Lesser is an award winning practitioner) react more favorably to certain kinds of music than others. 
As far as anyone knows, dogs have no interest nor any ability to discern the aesthetic and formal elements of music (though certain behaviors I've observed from time to time in my own dogs are so peculiar as to inspire me to challenge the long held notion  that dogs have no emotional connection to musical substance) Rather, what dogs respond to are the more basic elements of volume, tempo, and timbre. The loud, twangy, and metallic timbre of an electric guitar (or the loud, twangy, and metallic timbre of a violin played badly, for that matter) has been shown to stimulate as well as irritate dogs, while more dulcet, acoustic instruments, such as a cello, oboe, or French horn, when playing music  quietly in slow to moderate tempos, induce relaxation, calm, and even drowsiness.
      I observed, for example, that my lab, Ben responds best to the woodwind rich textures of certain orchestral music, such as the the first movement of Scriabin's First Symphony or, again for reasons of instrumentation,  to the symphonic works of Brahms. Likewise, the dark hue of a rich mezzo-soprano or alto voice also seems to calm him. Ever since he was a puppy,  these works, and others like them have exerted on Ben an effect not unlike a sedative. For its part, the piano is a more versatile instrument than most, and can both excite and comfort a dog. When played quietly, slowly, and with the hushed restraint and ambrosial quality of tone (no matter the make or quality of the instrument, or the acoustic ambiance of the hall or rehearsal space)   that a master pianist brings to it, a piano, and certain piano music, can soothe a dog's nerves significantly. However, if  the piano is played loudly and frenetically,  with choppy seques and few if any dynamic contrasts, a dog's response may likewise be defensive: noisy, uneasy, and anxious.


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