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Dogs may prefer silent treatment to the radio when they are home alone

Before leaving a dog alone for a few hours, many people flick on the radio so their pet does not feel abandoned.

However, new evidence suggests that they may prefer a bit of peace and quiet.

Dogs get stressed and agitated when left on their own and are separated from their owner, and studies have suggested that classical music, or the radio, may help calm dogs down.

But Dr Deborah Wells, director of the Animal Behavior Center at Queen’s University Belfast, thinks that may not be the case.

Dr Wells recruited 60 dogs and isolated them in a room on their own for 30 minutes. They were either left in silence; with Mozart’s Sonata K448 playing from a speaker; or an audiobook of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone read by Stephen Fry.

After half an hour they were reunited with their owner before returning to a room on their own and listening to the next one. This was repeated so each dog listened to nothing, an audiobook and a classical music song on repeat.

Scientists recorded the dog and tracked how it behaved, clocking how long it took for it to sit and lie down, how often it barked or looked at the speaker, and various other metrics.

Marginally better than Harry Potter

Analysis found there to be very little evidence to suggest either audio made a difference, with Mozart performing marginally better than Potter’s exploits at Hogwarts, but neither reached any level of significance.

“The conclusion we came to was therefore that auditory stimulation in the form of either classical music or audiobooks harbors little welfare advantage in situations where dogs are separated from their owners,” Dr Wells told The Telegraph.

She added it was “possible” dogs may benefit more from peace and quiet than listening to an audiobook or Mozart.

“In an ideal world, a dog would be able to control its environment and turn enrichments on and off! We have actually been trying to explore dogs’ sound preferences to find out what types of auditory cues they would choose to listen to – but it’s still in its early stages,” said Dr Wells.

The findings fly in the face of various other studies that have shown dogs settle quicker and are calmer when listening to soothing sounds, but Dr Wells said this could be because past studies used dogs in kennels, a high-stress environment.

“Animal shelters can regularly exceed 100 decibels in noise,” the researchers write in their paper, published in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science.

“The control condition in the present investigation, by contrast, was a quiet and secluded area, with only low levels of background noise (<30 dB).

“Extreme levels of noise can be stressful for dogs, with recording studies detrimental effects on canine welfare.

“It is possible that relative silence has similar welfare advantages to classical music for dogs, which may potentially explain the conflicting results between this paper and prior research.”

Dogs may not be alone in preferring quiet

Experiments in other animals show that dogs may not be alone in enjoying some quiet time, with tamarins and marmosets shown in a 2007 study to prefer silence over music when given the choice.

“We deliberately studied dogs in a controlled environment outside the home and were not focusing on dogs left alone while their owners went to work – I think there is another study entirely in that one,” Dr Wells said.

“My suspicion, however, is that dogs would habituate to whatever type of auditory stimulation is left on fairly quickly and any welfare benefits, if there were any, would be relatively short-lived, regardless of the nature of the auditory cue.

“Sometimes, only turning an auditory cue on before leaving the house can also serve as a bit of a trigger to a dog that gets anxious when left alone.”

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