In search of ponies: Tunes may be tortuous

It's a beautiful day so you decide to spend time with the pooch.

He eagerly bounds into the car, settles in the seat beside you, and off you go — windows down, radio cranked.

Bouncing down the road, head keeping time to your favorite tune, you have a broad smile on your face. It's perfect.

Your pooch — not so much.

Welcome to Doggy Gitmo, Noriega Nightmare, Psy Ops Central.

Turns out, your dog ain't a fan of your beats and the only mood those sultry tunes are likely to put your pal in is anxious and depressed or they could even cause aggression.

It's quite logical really. Humans cover their heads at the permeating crow of a rooster and inversely, the crooning of Barry Manilow might be enough to send Fido chewing through a wall and the yowling sounds of some pop stars may make your cat think he just wandered down the nighttime alley of his dreams.

Case in point, remember that time you flipped on the radio right before you left for work and returned to find the dog had dug up the carpet under the door? Well, if recent research is any indication, he wasn't missing you; he was trying to escape sheer torment.

The heart, you see, is something of a unique internal metronome that creates musical comfort zones as do the tones and pitches of communication, converging to determine how creatures respond to music — what they like and what they don't.

That is nothing new, and scientists have known for years that music reaches well beyond the ears. Well enough, in fact, that it can calm you in an elevator on your way to an unpleasant appointment or serve as a torture device that can make you want to put your head through a wall, or, surrender a small isthmus.

About two years ago, Wisconsin animal psychologist Charles Snowden — in a study titled, "Affective responses in tamarins elicited by species-specific music" — conducted research to see if the same were true in the animal world and learned animals are indeed musically inclined, just not to our music.

Snowden worked with a composer to create music similar to the sounds tamarins make in communal and threatening situations, and then played the scores for a group of captive tamarins along with human music. The threat-modeled music agitated the monkeys, the communal scores calmed them and the human music, well it turned out they found silence preferable to the clamoring of hairless apes.

Excluding large breed dogs, whose characteristics are closer to humans, other research has produced similar findings in domesticated animals. With their high sensitivity to sounds and vibrations, to them, a few minutes of rap can be like a Richter 10 and heavy metal like Ahab's storm.

But if you really love your pet, you can make up for all the horrors you've perpetrated with your speakers, because, in the wake of studies like Snowden's, a new breed of music has surfaced.

That's right, not only can you get a CD of tunes specially composed for your dog, cat or horse, some companies even offer specially designed stereo systems on claims they optimize frequencies pets like.

Of course if the research is accurate, that's a lot of trust to put in the pen of a composer.

For instance, with a couple of wrong notes, a cat relaxation CD might turn your feline friend into a version of Ellie's "Church", climbing straight out of the dark recesses of Stephen King's imagination.

And unless one is in the business of breeding critters and needs a professional advantage, notes going the other direction could put pets "in the mood", which probably just spell trouble for the furniture legs and potential embarrassment if company comes over.

That's enough to make you wonder if maybe we should just leave the howling and yowling to them, after all, as Duke Ellington put it, "The wise musicians are those who play what they can master."

Sharna Johnson is a writer who is always searching for ponies. You can reach her or on the web at:

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