Classical music has always been a part of my life. My father listened all day long on the radio, played Beethoven sonatas on the piano from memory, and brought the family to Carnegie Hall for concerts as much as we kids would tolerate it. As an adult, I am now an avid listener. Would playing classical music in the house help our foster boy Lobo to relax?
When we first met Lobo, we were told he had anxiety and would benefit from doggie daycare while we were at work. We were told he was very destructive, an escape artist, didn’t get along with all dogs, had bitten one or two people, and might be anxious or fearful if left at home without people. His past record had proven this to be true; in a stabile home environment, with two loving sister dogs, and two doting pet parents, we felt that this could change. If we were to adopt Lobo, he needed to get along with Fiona and Secret. We needed to feel confident that he would not hurt them or the house and that he wasn’t fearful for himself while we were not at home. We were a bit taken aback at the laundry list of challenges, but we felt we saw the inner dog.
Imagine three pups left alone in a completely silent house. For eight hours. A little noise might be most welcome! Quiet strains of violins and cellos fill the air. Classical music can of course be very soothing. I recall as a kid I would sometimes become so relaxed that I would nod off during a performance. I was deathly afraid of falling asleep and tumbling over the balcony rail onto the people below in the orchestra seats… That of course never happened! However, what I came to understand is that a well-played symphony or sonata can induce a deep, almost meditative state which is very calming and restorative. I now look forward to concerts as time for reflection as well as appreciation of fine music – and I do still nod off sometimes!
Knowing Lobo suffered from anxiety, we thought classical music might hold the key to helping him relax in his new environment. If music soothes the savage breast, would it prevent our Lobo from having a freak out when we were not home? For a resource, I turned to what I’d known from childhood: WQXR, the classical music radio station of New York. My father built a crystal set to listen to this station when he was a kid – it’s been around for over 70 years. Lobo, Fiona and Secret could chill all day listening to Beethoven, Brahms and Bach and skilled announcers with soothing voices. I crossed my fingers and hoped Beethoven and his brethren would work their magic on our big fella Lobo.
The first week we experimented with four hours of day care for Lobo and four hours home alone with Fiona and Secret and classical music radio. I arrived home full of trepidation and found… nothing wrong. All three dogs happy to see me, but no bleeding, limping, piles of poop or puddles of pee, no couches torn asunder or molding chewed to shreds. I breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
What we discovered under Lobo’s big dog exterior, is a sweet boy who can play a little rough and likes to bark loudly at times, but whose heart is pure gold. He is obedient, coming inside whenever we call, and loves to stay near his humans in the house, even when the other dogs are outside. He is very troubled whenever I sneeze – he rushes to me, looks at me with a clearly worried expression, and wags his tail nervously, even jumps in my lap sometimes. I have to sneeze now with caution! This dog was so worthy of love and attention – what dog is not? – and his loving nature spoke to us louder than words. We worried about the effect of adding him to the pack; would our two girls be happy with this new addition?
The second week we went full force with our hopeful experiment. We left the dogs alone together all day, 8 1/2 hours, while we were at work. I prayed that it would be okay. That no dog would come to harm. And that Lobo was not anxious or afraid. And that our living room and kitchen furniture would be intact. When I arrived home, a bit early because I was nervous, all three dogs were thankfully fine. What did this mean? It meant that we could officially adopt Lobo, who is now a happy member of the pack.
Looking back a year later, I see a pack of three dogs who love each other and get along very well. Like all siblings they have their differences, but at the end of the night they always cuddle up together very sweetly. We have begun traveling with them and they have adopted the camping trailer easily as a second home away from home. They are a united force, adaptable and happy in their shared bond of family.
Is it the classical music they listen to all day which has led to harmony in the pack? I am sure it is a contributing factor. Once a routine is established, dogs fit into it quite comfortably. The classical music playing in the house has become part of the familiar routine for Lobo and the girls, along with giving them cookies before we leave the house, and letting them out into the yard as soon as we get home. Thank you, Beethoven, for bringing the inner dog out to shine in our sweet Lobo! I can safely safe the girls are happy that Lobo is part of the pack.