No one likes leaving their dog at home all day, but many of us have devised ways to lessen the pain of saying goodbye each morning. Some provide special treats or toys for them to enjoy when they’re home alone, others hire dog walkers to pop in, book them into doggy daycare, or even get another pet to keep them company. But one of the most common solutions is leaving the TV or radio on for them.
I’ll admit, I’ve done this before. Although honestly I’m not sure what I’m trying to achieve when I do. It just feels natural to relieve my dog’s boredom in the same way I do my own. But as we’re becoming increasingly aware of the distress separation anxiety can place on our pets, many people have taken dog entertainment a step further.
Introducing, Dog Podcasts
Humans are crazy for podcasts, and with dozens of new titles being announced each day we shouldn’t be surprised dog podcasts are now a thing. In recent months we’ve seen a surge in specialist audio programming for animals. Spotify just launched a podcast specifically for dogs who had been left home alone. Optimistically titled My Dog’s Favourite Podcast it features soothing sounds, music, and “dog-directed praise and stories” from smooth voiced actors.
The content isn’t only designed to be pleasant (phrases include classics like “you really are the best dog in the whole world”), the audio was also selected to block out stressful sounds they hear during the day, like traffic or strangers walking past.
The streaming platform claims My Dog’s Favourite Podcast may help your pet “bark less and sleep more” when you’re out. But the thinking behind the show goes beyond the usual, “What would I say to my dog if I were home?” Producers were informed by the research of psychologist Alex Benjamin from the University of York. His study, “Who’s A Good Boy,” looked at how human voices affect animal behaviour and informed the content created for the episodes.
This isn’t Spotify’s first foray into animal programming–before dog podcasts they were already hosting playlists to stream for your pets. A survey into what their customers were playing for their animals was particularly illuminating–it turns out they like classical and soft rock.
They’re not the only platform with animals in mind though. Since 2017 Audible for Dogs has offered a collection of curated audio books to play for your pet. While Spotify worked with university researchers to decide what they might enjoy, Audible used volunteers. They gave 100 people an Amazon Echo device and asked them to keep track of their dog’s responses to different content.
Of course, people have been looking for entertainment for their pets long before huge brands jumped on board. One of the most famous providers is television and internet channel DogTV. They started out as a San Francisco cable show in 2011 before they began streaming globally (for a fee) in 2012. According to the site, DogTV’s programs are “scientifically developed to provide the right company for dogs when left alone” and have been developed over the years with some of the “world’s top pet experts.”
DogTV was the first sign that there was a lucrative new entertainment market in guilty owners who were willing to pay for a regular subscription to make their pets happy. More recently Relax My Dog Video Streaming has launched and ambitiously boasts that its programs are able to help 87% of dog viewers relax. Similarly to DogTV, they claim their content was developed with experts and is the result of over seven years of research.
Dogs of YouTube
If you don’t have an Audible or Spotify subscription, and are hesitant to sign up to a paid provider, there are literally countless other options on YouTube. Relax My Dog uploads free videos, but Calm Your Dog, Little Paws & Family, and Paul Dinning are popular too. Mostly consisting of classical music, cute animals, ambient sounds, and nature scenes the videos are pretty relaxing for humans.
But Can Dogs See TV and Understand Podcasts?
Ahhh, the big questions. A lot of the statistics around the impact of these channels come from the companies making them, so should be taken in that context. But studies looking at dog’s Heart Rate Variability (HRV)—the time intervals between heartbeats—have shown music does have an impact on how they feel. Classical, reggae, and again soft rock are called out as common favourites as animals find their tempos relaxing. Heavy metal and electronic music were seen to cause more anxiety.
In terms of podcasts, dog are known to understand several words and phrases. Repeated comments like “good boy” can even trigger the release of feel good chemicals like dopamine. Although, if you want a dog-friendly voice around it’s best to turn to one of the aforementioned podcasts designed for animals. Speaking to Bustle, dog behavioural expert Sharon Jennings cautioned that leaving the radio blaring all day is less of a vibe: “Radio can be good as long as there isn’t too much human voice on it,” she says. “So talkback radio is a no no.”
When it comes to TV, yes dogs can see the screen and studies show they’re able to recognise figures like animals and faces. Their eyes register images faster than ours though, so what we see as smooth motion they see more like a flickering film. Some programming (like DogTV) keep this in mind and screen their footage at a higher frame rate.
One Final Note
Speaking to the New York Times, celebrity dog trainer Cesar Millan (who collaborated with Audible) urged owners to not think that leaving a podcast or audiobook going is a cure for all their pet’s anxieties. None of these options will vanish boredom and nerves, they’re just a tool to manage them. Animals will always be more receptive to these options if they’re in a tired, post-exercise phase and nothing will make them feel as safe as their owner’s voice. All in all, it’s a reminder that the best thing you can do for your pet is spend quality time with them.