Sound Therapy

Keren Bellos
Pets & Vets Magazine, Vol 1, Issue 9, 1999.

To say composer Robert Boyd has a diverse audience is something of an understatement.

His therapeutic music is used regularly by people with sleeping disorders and terminal illnesses, by autistic children, and even pet owners, ensuring the 61-year-old Western Australian also has a group of four-legged followers.

Possessing an appreciation of the bush, Robert blends natural sounds and bird songs into his music, and dogs, cats, birds, horses and cows are amongst the animals who have experienced the tranquil atmosphere his harmonies create.

While Max the dog lies on a settee, relaxing near the ghetto blaster as he listens to Robert's Jurong Bird Park album, his owner Cazee Carew explains that music has become a very important part of his life.

For about a year, both Max and Cazee have enjoyed the Jurong album - which features the sounds of 8000 birds inhabiting Singapore's famous Jurong Bird Park.

According to Cazee, the music has a pacifying effect on Max and is particularly useful when he is stressed.

"I''s like giving a child a teddy bear. it just makes him very, very calm," she says. "As you can see, he sits beautifully when the music's on."

Sound is one of the most effective methods of reducing stress.Robert says many people do not consider the benefits of using it as a calming or therapeutic medium for themselves, let alone their pets

He emphasises that domesticated animals are entirely dependent upon the care of humans and those who decide to own a pet not only accept responsibility for the animal's physical welfare, but also its psychological well being.

Robert says that all too often an animal's ability to appreciate music is underestimated.
"Animals are very responsive to sound," he says.
"Dogs are walking ears and noses and it is well known that they hear higher frequencies than humans. They have a better range of hearing not so much in the low frequencies, but in the high. You can drop a pin close enough to a cat and its ear will twitch towards that noise which you wouldn't have heard at all."

Whilst playing at festivals, Robert has observed that birds also appreciate music and he has received many anecdotes from people with copies of his Jurong and Kings Park albums.

"They have noticed that the local magpies come and sit about or the parrots move near the window. I know that when I set up in Kings Park at the Wildflower Festival, it's quite noticeable that parrots will come and sit in the trees and birds seem to move in a bit closer."

For years, Robert has been aware of his ability to influence animals with music and as a child "probably annoyed the family cat something awful" by singing certain notes and conducting other experiments.

"I even kept some pet snakes when I was a kid and they used to respond too and they haven't even got ears! Their sensor is their tongue and when I was playing music, their tongues would stay out and vibrate. Snakes put their tongues in and out all the time, it disappears and flicks out, but when the music was playing, their tongues would stay out and just vibrate, so they were listening through their tongues," he says.

The experiments revealed sounds could either advantage or disadvantage an animal and Robert says it is easy to tell which music will be of benefit.

"If an animal doesn't agree with the musical sounds that you play, it'll take off, but if it likes the musical sound, it'll lay down and enjoy it."

Cazee remembers when she and Max first listened to the Jurong album. Her attempts to turn it off were met with some surprising results.

"I went to put my hand down to turn off the cassette and Max growled" she says. "He didn't want me to turn it off. He's an intelligent dog and he was showing me he was interested in the tape."

Watching Max listening with his nose down, it became obvious to Cazee that he was enjoying the music, so she decided to purchase the allbum.

Ever since, Cazee has made sure Max has access to a copy of the album wherever he goes, whether it be in the car, while visiting friends, or just to keep him entertained.

"I suppose it's like with a child, you want to give them something to play with, so I guess I pop it on to keep him very calm and occupied."