September 20, 2022
Compared to the dark times of 2020 and 2021, our canine companions are finding themselves left home alone more often. And for the 3.2 million dogs who joined families during lockdown, this may come as a big shock.
From boredom, depression and separation anxiety, some dogs can find being home alone tough. In fact, the RSPCA estimates up to 85 percent of dogs may be struggling to cope.
And we know Bonfire Night is one of the dates in the diary dog owners dread the most. The loud crackles, bangs and flashing lights can frighten and confuse even the calmest pets and can be nothing short of traumatic for the 50% of dogs who are noise sensitive. Just like with people, music can affect how dogs think, feel and act.
So what is the best music to play your pooch?
To find out, we analysed 25 of the UK’s most popular radio stations over a 12-hour-period.
Using studies suggesting dogs prefer a variety of genres to stimulate them, songs with low dynamic range to avoid startling them and a tempo (bpm) like their own heartbeats to relax them, we then ranked the stations on their suitability for Bonfire Night.
Top of the Pups is Smooth FM, scoring an impressive 7.3/10 – the highest of the 25 radio stations in our study.
Across a 12-hour period studied, Smooth FM played songs with a low average energy score (3.9/10), signalling tunes didn’t have many sudden shifts that might cause stress and anxiety.
The station’s playlist also has a lot of genre diversity (8.3/10), minimising the effects of habituation which can leave dogs bored and disengaged – and more likely to take out this frustration on your furniture. It also nods to the fact that dogs having their own individual music preferences, as identified by researchers at the University of Glasgow. Who knew?
Smooth FM’s playlist also featured songs with an average tempo closest to that of a dog’s heartbeat (9.6/10). Research suggests that dogs respond best to music with a Bpm (beats per minute) similar to their own heart rates - around 60-160 bpm depending on the breed. This mimics the feeling of relaxation puppies seek from their mothers' heartbeat when snuggling into them.
Don't fancy Smooth FM?
Runner’s up are BBC Radio 1, scoring 6.7/10 overall. The station gets a perfect 10/10 for the variety of genres it plays in a day, together with a good score for the average tempo of its playlist (7.3/10) and low energy score (2.9/10).
Making up the rest of the top five are Heart 80s (6.2/10), Kiss FM (5.8/10) and Magic Soul (5.7/10) - all scoring above average in our study.
What's a no-go for the doggos?
We should think twice before putting on Radio X (2.4/10), Planet Rock (2.6/10), Virgin Radio (2.7/10) and Absolute Classic Rock (also 2.7/10) which performed poorly. These stations’ tunes featured tempos in excess of a dog’s heartbeat, within the same genre (mostly rock) and had high energy which could induce anxiety.
According to Anna Webb, Dog Behaviour Expert and host of A DOG’S LIFE podcast:
“Bonfire Night is a stressful time for pet parents. Dog can hear sounds that we can’t and their fight or flight response is easily triggered by unusual noises. The random explosions of fireworks can cause their anxiety levels to soar and unlike us, they don’t appreciate their entertainment value.
Radio’s constant noise can help deflect from outside stimuli and provide a calming comfort, whether you’re home or not. This is especially true if they are used to a station that you leave on for them when you go out thanks to positive association. Close windows, blinds and curtains to muffle fireworks, too and set up a safe space for your pooch, like in a crate covered by a blanket or a throw over the kitchen table. A chew can also activate a natural calming behaviour that releases happy hormones and distracts dogs from what’s going on outside.”
We also spoke to Karlien Heryman, Head of Pets at Pets at Home:
“Dogs have much better hearing than us, so pick a quieter level than you would do if you were listening.”
So this Bonfire Night when you want to make sure your four legged friend isn’t distressed or bored, pop on Smooth FM at a lower volume.