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Meet Joshua Leeds and Lisa Spector, Creators of "Through A Dog's Ear"

Clinically demonstrated music to calm canines and humans

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Through A Dog's Ear Book Cover

Through A Dog's Ear Book Cover

Joshua Leeds/Lisa Spector
Music has always been a big part of my life. Unfortunately for me, playing music is not my gift (I tried!) but I do enjoy reading about and listening to a wide variety of music genres. Besides the obvious enjoyment of music, I am very interested in learning about the effects that music has on a person. I can't do my gym workout without my energizing music, and I often use calming music to fall asleep at night. So when I saw a press release about "clinically demonstrated" music used to calm down dogs, I was keenly interested to learn more. How was this music clinically demonstrated, and does it really work?

While in New York City for the 2008 Westminster dog show, I had the pleasure of meeting with the creators of Through A Dog's Ear, a 4-year music research project, book, and collection of music CDs designed to calm dogs and reduce some of the "noise pollution" in both dogs and human's lives. Joshua Leeds, a published psychoacoustics researcher, and Lisa Spector, an accomplished pianist and Julliard School graduate, filled me in on why and how this project came into being, the research behind it, and what is coming up for the future of this relatively new area of study.

It all started about four years ago, after Lisa Spector had attended a lecture by Joshua Leeds on psychoacoustics -- the study of the effects of music and sound on the human nervous system1. Spector had noticed that as she practiced piano over the years, her dogs would find her playing and lay under the piano, deeply relaxed. She approached Leeds about co-producing a "music for dogs" CD that she could sell in her local pet store. Leeds, a music producer and an accomplished researcher in the field of sound and psychoacoustics, was not so sure that he wanted his name on a product that may or may not be backed by science and his years of research in the field. Music for dogs? He was very aware of the effects that music has on the human nervous system: people will move to the beat, tap their toes, calm down or speed up as they relate (knowingly or not) to the rhythm. This is a natural process called musical entrainment, which is when things align; in this case, our body movements, heart rate, and even brain waves, to the rhythm of the music. Dogs have not been noted to wag their tail or tap a paw to the beat of music. Would dogs be affected by music in the same way as humans?

Leeds decided to check out the research journals at a local university. Not finding much, he then traveled to a veterinary university library to continue the research. It was at the veterinary university that Leeds found the study titled: The influence of auditory stimulation on the behavior of dogs housed in a rescue shelter2 by Deborah Wells that started him on the journey of researching the effects of music on dogs.

The Wells study had determined that the most effective music for calming dogs in a shelter situation was classical; much more so than pop or heavy metal. Is all classical music created equal as far as the calming effect? Could the principles of psychoacoustics be applied to make it even more effective? Leeds agreed to work with Spector on creating some music for dogs to find out.

I mentioned to Leeds and Spector, who are both extremely knowledgeable about music -- not only how it is played, but also how it is created -- that I am a complete "newbie" and that they would need to go slow with me. They were both very good at explaining at how they created this "psychoacoustically designed" music; later found to be even more effective than "regular" classical music.

Music selection was made from Spector's vast knowledge of the classical greats, such as Bach, Chopin and Mozart, among others. Spector and Leeds emphasized that the works were never added to (they are perfect as they are), but they did at times slow the tempo, lower the pitch (for deeper, more resonant sound), remove some of the other musical "voices", and repeat some sections to simplify the auditory data for the listener. By doing so, the music gradually reduces the listener's heart rate and respiratory rate, producing a sense of calm. Both Leeds and Spector recounted stories of how difficult it was at times to stay awake and alert during a long day of recording!

Scientifically evaluating the effects of this music --->

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