5 min read


Can Dogs Remember Songs?



5 min read


Can Dogs Remember Songs?


Humans seem to carry songs in our heads and hearts. There are songs, often ones we do not like that get stuck on our heads. There are other songs that we associate with times in our lives and they trigger a range of memories and feelings every time we hear them. But what about our dogs? 

Many owners will leave music playing for their pets when they are not home. Do our dogs have favorite songs and tunes that they will remember? There are biological reasons why humans remember songs that also explain how music makes us feel. For our dogs, they have a different capacity to appreciate and remember music than their human companions.


Signs Your Dog Likes a Song

When we play music, we assume that our dogs are having the same experience that we are appreciating. The sense of hearing in dogs is much greater than that in humans. As a result, the dog will have reactions to music that are not the same as humans. 

When it comes to showing us what they remember, we need to observe them with an understanding of their previous exposures. A dog's reactions to music may be serving a different purpose altogether than human responses to sound. 

For example, some sounds are frightening to dogs. There are pitches that dogs interpret as if they were a call from other dogs. With an understanding of the dog's prior experience and the current context, you may have fun sharing musical experiences with your dog.

Dogs are very sensitive to loud noises. Many dogs are afraid of loud noises. They will respond by acting fearful. You may see your dog cowering, shaking, getting as low to the ground as possible. The frightened dog will have lowered ears and a tucked tail. Some dogs will respond to loud noises and become agitated. They will run about, pacing and barking. The anxiety may lead them to dig and scratch as if trying to escape.

Dogs do have abilities to remember. They show strong reactions to owners who have been away for prolonged periods of time. The dog's recognition is evident in their behavior. They will run to their owner, crying and whimpering in excitement. You may see their tail wagging and the dog will seem excited. 

Similarly, when the dog is presented with stimuli that are familiar, they will show signs of recognition. If the stimulus is exciting to them, they will be more active, alert, and may even be prancing and focusing their eyes on the target. 

There are forms of music that are calming to dogs. When dogs are calm, they are quiet. They lay down and rest. The dog may even appear submissive, blinking and licking their lips. When you are interpreting your dog's behavior, consider the context of the situation and your dog's previous experiences to interpret how your dog is feeling in the moment.

Body Language

Some signs that your dog remembers a song include:

  • Barking
  • Digging
  • Shaking
  • Cowering
  • Ears Drop
  • Pacing

Other Signs

More clues that your dog knows a tune are:

  • Excited Behavior
  • Howling Along
  • Calming Down

The History of Dogs Remembering Things


Dogs have better hearing ability than humans. They can hear sounds at higher frequencies than we can, by far. The middle ear and inner ear of the dog is very similar to the human ear. There is an ear drum, middle ear bones and neurological pathways to the brain. The hearing of the dog is better than human hearing due to their outer ears. 

The dog has 18 muscles in the ear. These muscles allow them to position the ear to bring in more sound. In the wild, the sense of hearing is important to help dogs survive. Their sense of vision is weaker than their sense of smell and hearing. 

Their hearing abilities help them to detect danger and to locate resources. Wild dogs and wolves will communicate by howling. Dogs will respond to prolonged sounds of a higher pitch by howling. These calls help them, in the wild, to find one another. Some believe that the howl of the lone wolf is a celebration sound.

Dogs do not have the same memory abilities as humans. Many of their memories are due to imprinting or early experiences that shape their responses. Dogs will retain specific skills with repetitive practice and reinforcement. Humans have episodic memory. This means that humans will recall specific events in time. 

Dogs do not have episodic memory. This makes dogs so much fun. They live in the moment. The memories that are strongest for them are experiences connected to strong positive or negative events. For example, dogs will retain and respond to training with strong positive praise and reward. 

They have the capacity to associate sound with experiences and learn associations. Think of Pavlov's dogs who, when conditioned by the association of a bell with food, would salivate when they heard any bell. When it comes to the capacity to remember music, it is more likely the dog is responding to associations with sound if the dog is remembering the music at all. 

The Science Behind Dogs and Music


The groove you feel when you listen to music has a biological basis. One reason people remember music is because of repetition. We hear the music over and over. When we like a song, we are more inclined to turn it on and listen to it repeatedly. Our brain networks form connections and associations when we listen to music. 

We associate the music with events and feelings. These associations strengthen the memory of the song in the brain. The rhythm and pattern of the music also make it memorable. Humans are more inclined to remember songs from their childhood and youth than later adult years. 

Scientists have explored why animals appreciate and respond to music.

Surprisingly, your dog does not really like your music. There are physiological reasons why dogs do not share your appeal. Animals prefer music that is at pitches matching their communication frequencies and heart rate. 

For example, apes like very high pitched sounds with a very fast beat. Cats like music in tempos and pitch that matches the sounds they use to communicate. Studies with dogs have shown that they can have particular tastes in music. This has been studied by playing different types of music to dogs in animal shelters. 

Dogs do not really like pop music and seemed to be indifferent to it. Heavy metal music stimulated the dogs to bark and become agitated. When played classical music, the dogs became calm. It is harder to find the type of music that dogs will respond to because dogs will vary in size, heart rate, and vocal pitch. For example, a Mastiff has a slower heartbeat than a smaller dog. 

It may be possible to train your dog to respond in a particular way to a musical sound or a song. On their own, dogs may not remember a specific song by name but, they will react to the music in accordance with their own body rhythms. 

Teaching Your Dog to Sing


You can teach your dog to sing! Remember that dogs like soft music. You can begin by exploring what types of instruments and sounds your dog will respond positively to. Many dogs, for example, like the acoustic guitar. 

Then, you will train your dog to bark when they hear the music cue. For example, if your dog naturally barks when there is the sound of a horn, say "Sing" and give your dog a treat. You can add a clicker and train your dog to sing to the clicker command.

Another way to teach your dog to sing is to sing, yourself, and find the pitch that will encourage your dog to howl. Dogs are triggered to howl when they hear high pitched and prolonged sounds. When your dog is howling, give praise. Pretty soon you can have fun with your human-hound duet.

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Written by a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel lover Pat Drake

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 05/07/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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