On admission to rescue and rehoming centres dogs are faced with a variety of short- and long-term stressors including novelty, spatial/social restriction and increased noise levels. Animate and inanimate environmental enrichment techniques have been employed within the kennel environment in an attempt to minimise stress experienced by dogs. Previous studies have shown the potential physiological and psychological benefits of auditory stimulation, particularly classical music, within the kennel environment. This study determined the physiological/psychological changes that occur when kennelled dogs are exposed to long-term (7 days) auditory stimulation in the form of classical music through assessment of effects on heart rate variability (HRV), salivary cortisol and behaviour. The study utilised a cross over design in which two groups were exposed to two consecutive 7 day treatments; silence (control) and classical music (test). Group A was studied under silent conditions followed by 7 days of test conditions during which a fixed classical music playlist was played from 10:00-16:30 h. Group B received treatment in the reverse order. Results showed that auditory stimulation induced changes in HRV and behavioural data indicative of reduced stress levels in dogs in both groups (salivary cortisol data did not show any consistent patterns of change throughout the study). Specifically, there was a significant increase in HRV parameters such as μRR, STDRR, RMSSD, pNN50, RRTI, SD1 and SD2 and a significant decrease in μHR and LF/HF from the first day of silence (S1) to the first day of music (M1). Similarly, examination of behavioural data showed that dogs in both groups spent significantly more time sitting/lying and silent and less time standing and barking during auditory stimulation. General Regression Analysis (GRA) of the change in HRV parameters from S1 to M1 revealed that male dogs responded better to auditory stimulation relative to female. Interestingly, HRV and behavioural data collected on the seventh day of music (M2) was similar to that collected on S1 suggesting that the calming effects of music are lost within the 7 days of exposure. A small '9-Day' study was conducted in attempt to determine the time-scale in which dogs become habituated to classical music and examination of the results suggests that this occurs within as soon as the second day of exposure. The results of this study show the potential of auditory stimulation as a highly effective environmental enrichment technique for kennelled dogs. However, the results also indicate the requirement for further investigations into the way in which auditory stimulation should be incorporated within the daily kennel management regime in order to harness the full physiological and psychological benefits of music.
Keywords: Behaviour; Classical music; Cortisol; Dogs; Heart rate variability (HRV); Stress.
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