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Musical Dogs

            On our summer car trip upstate, both dogs were uneasy and grumpy and tense. Cricket was perched behind my neck and squiggling around; Butterfly was car sick in the backseat and panting. I had brought CDs with me (no, I don’t have an iPod) because I knew we’d be moving from one radio signal to another, and we needed a steady stream of music to get us through the six hour drive.

"Did you know that it's raining?"

“Did you know that it’s raining?”

Cricket and the deep dark sadness of it all.

Cricket and the deep dark sadness of it all.

            I tried Yo Yo Ma playing Bach first. Cricket used to do very well with classical music when I was walking on the treadmill. She’d start out antsy and annoyed with me for not playing with her, and within a few minutes she’d be asleep on my bed.

            But in the car, Bach didn’t work.

From everything I’d read, I assumed that the dogs would do best with instrumental music, so I stuck to my guns and tried more Yo Yo Ma. This time it was his Appalachian Waltz CD, including “Butterfly’s day out,” but still no luck.

            I tried Nina Simone next. She has a low, cello-like voice, that I find comforting; but something about her tone, maybe the melancholy sourness in her songs, left the dogs grumpy. And they didn’t like Peggy Lee either, or Gavin DeGraw, but they fell in love with Martina McBride.

Martina Mcbride

            I’m not a country music aficionado, but I’ve liked Martina McBride since I first heard her sing Independence Day, a paean to abused women and their children. It is a heartbreaking, tragic, empowerment song, and Martina McBride makes the pain bearable. I always thought I was being affected by the words of the song, but now I think that the reassurance comes through in her voice itself, so much so that my dogs recognized it and responded to it.

The dogs listened to the Martina McBride CD and relaxed, for as long as the music lasted. I had to play the CD three times during the drive, returning to Martina each time the girls started to pant or bark or wiggle with anxiety.

            Maybe, instead of Prozac, I should buy Cricket an iPod, and special headphones, so she can listen to Martina McBride when she gets anxious. She could wear the headphones at the groomer’s, and on walks, and when anyone, anywhere, makes a noise.

I also discovered, by accident, that when the girls were antsy and climbing all over me at home, my humming could calm them down. Cricket, especially, likes to rest on my stomach while I am humming, so she can feel the vibrations of the sound.

Cricket is digging for more music.

Cricket is digging for more music.

"Sing it, Mommy!"

“Sing it, Mommy!”

As a kid, my brother used to whisper sweet nothings to our dog, saying nasty things in a sweet voice, and he thought the dog was so stupid for not understanding what he’d really said. But maybe she just knew better than he did, knew he was posturing with his words, covering the genuine bond he felt with her so he wouldn’t have to look silly.

Dogs know that words can be lies, or complications, and are unnecessary for real communication.

Martina McBride’s voice seems to bypass the wordy part of the brain and go straight to the emotions. I think, just like my dogs, I would be able to appreciate Martina McBride no matter what language she chose to sing in.

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

71 responses »

  1. I think the sweet dog you had as a kid knew how your brother felt, not just the sound of the words. Mine don’t seem to react to music unless I’m singing along, Chester raises his little flat face and gives me a shrill howl. 😉 I’ll have to try humming,

  2. My last dog loved car rides. His only complaint was whenever we had to stop for a red-light. He would get VERY annoyed and start barking… until we were on our way again.
    My Gracie.. I can’t even whisper the word C-A-R. She starts jumping for joy. She’s a quiet angel in the car.. Thankfully..!!
    PS.. I would’ve gladly chauffeured just to listen to Nina Simone.
    (Where to Miss Daisy?) 🙂

  3. How wonderfully spoiled your pups are! (I believe that is how it should be for all!) I will remember your solution for our next road trip! Currently, the pups listen to our local country music station during the day at home and the satellite country station when in the car. HAppy travels to you all!

  4. Rachel,
    Thanks for Paying attention to anything I have written.
    I am a musician, and do enjoy Country music I
    . love all kinds of music, including Bach and the Classics.
    Your pups have good taste, although as a musician i do not define her as a country musician.She’s more country pop. A real talent none the less.
    The main thing is, you had a good trip, and love your furry friends.You Know they love you more, don’t you?
    Wish I could write as well as you!

    • She came in around the point when Country music actually became pop music, playing on mainstream radio. Otherwise I’m not sure I’d ever have heard her music. What kind of music do you play? I worked at piano and guitar for a long time, and did not get very far.

      • So you do know Country after all if you can explain Martina’s niche that well.
        As Waylon Jennings said, ” I got my first guitar when I was fourteen.” That’s the truth.
        My first music lessons were drum lessons at nine years old.
        After that guitar lessons at fourteen and voice lessons at sixteen.l
        I have been in the normal high school plays and musicals, sang in choirs and Barbershop quartets, the Singing Hoosiers and more bands than I can really remember.
        I usually don’t talk about it , but for some reason I don’t think you will take it as bragging.
        Most genres appeal to me, I take it one song at a time.
        I took Piano lessons, but am not very good on the key boards.
        I have performed on stage as a front man lead singer, and have played the Guitar, Banjo Mandolin, Harmonica, Drums,Trumpet Harmonica and Bahldran in front of thousands of people. I don’t mean total, I mean the size of the audiences.
        You can see why I don”t talk about. It sounds like I’m making it up.
        This is getting too long. but you may have inspired me to write about my experiences, It’s something I know.
        The trick is not making it sound like it’s all about me.
        Am I wrong there? You are the writing coach.
        You’re not going to send me a bill are you?
        If you do I’ll write a blog about how broke musicians are.

      • This is EXACTLY what you should be writing about! The secret is to write about how it felt to live through it all, and acknowledge the internal conflicts. But never leave out the joy. We love the joy!

      • Thanks for your encouragement Rachel.
        I’m leaving for Florida tomorrow for Thanksgiving.
        I’m taking my guitar , a book, my best furry friend and my wife. Not necessarily in that order in case any one of them read this. I think I’ll leave the laptop at home.
        God bless and have a wonderful Holiday.

  5. From our home in the country to Adelaide is 5 hours driving. I used to transport rescue dogs from here to their new homes in the city. I remember one dog who cried for most of the trip and I tried Classical and Light Classical. We were about an hour away from our destination when I gave up and stuck on a CD of the Dixie Chicks. Seeing the effect, I wished I had put the girls on much earlier :o)

    • There’s something about those country girls. I’ll have to try the Dixie Chicks on my dogs. It’ll be a good thing to build up a pile of music that works so I don’t drive myself crazy.

  6. Sorry, I’m not a country fan. Others are and that’s great for them.

  7. Enjoyed the post and definitely feel the pain! Here’s a couple of albums we tried on our two doxies and Shih Tzu (all indoor dogs) when those sharp ears hear everything outdoors — and start a barking contest — at an inopportune time. “Through A Dog’s Ear: Driving Edition” and “Through A Dog’s Ear: Music To Calm Your Canine Companion, Volume 1”, by Lisa Spector. You can check out the track list and see they’re classical selections, but I will attest to their effectiveness on our pups! Hope you find them helpful, too.

  8. The vibrations when you’re humming seem like the vibrations a foetus feels from music. It’s great you persevered to create calm for the dogs.

    • I was thinking about the mommy’s heartbeat idea when the humming reaction came up. I remember a puppy toy that had a heart insert, it had a heartbeat and it stayed warm inside of a stuffed puppy, so the dog could pretend she was back in the puppy pile. One of my human nephews liked it too.

  9. Maybe we should try it with different music in the car too :o) I like Peggy Lee very much and you’re right, Nina Simone is really a goddess ( I love Sinnerman) hope Easy likes it too. btw: the first picture is GREAT!

  10. That is so true! Try Tiziano Ferro. He’s an Italian singer. I only understand half of it and that’s only because I speak Spanish and it’s very similar ti Italian. My 2 favorite songs (probably bc they come in Italian and Spanish so I understand them are: “Sere Nere” (ITL) “Tardes Negras” (SPA) and “Ti Scatterò Una Foto” (ITL) “Te Tomaré Una Foto” (SPA). I can listen to them over and over. I also love Martina McBride. I’ve never noticed my dogs respond to music, really. Yours must truly be “musical dogs”! I loved the post!

    • Cricket knows some French and Hebrew, but I haven’t tried her on Italian yet. I used to take voice lessons and my teacher had me working through songs in Italian. there’s something calming about singing words you can’t understand.

  11. Luz Maria loves the car but Diego pants and shakes every time I take him. Maybe I should try Martina McBride. 🙂

  12. Charley loves be read too, anything goes but children books seems to be favorite ;0)

  13. ps such sweet photos btw

  14. Bailey loves when I sing “Happy Birthday” to him. I think he thinks every day is his special day. Which, of course, is! 🙂 The photo with the “Sing it, Mommy!” caption made me laugh out loud. Love your stories as always. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  15. Amazing! I’m going to try this.
    -Terry from

  16. No dogs in my life any more (seem to have become a cat lady), but you’ve inadvertently given me some great recommendations for CDs — other than Yo-Yo Ma — that I didn’t have. Can’t wait to listen! 🙂

  17. Oh dear…we had the musical cats and dogs for three hours on the weekend…it sure is a delight!!

  18. Thank you for putting us on to Martina, a singer none of us knew before. We like country music of all sorts: at its best it is both higly perceptive, intelligentlky written and very moving indeed!

    • I love when lyrics make sense and are sung clearly. It’s a low bar, but most people seem to fall underneath it. Though, to be fair, when i find out what a lot of singers are actually singing about, I wish I didn’t have to know.

  19. Hi Rachel,
    This One’s For the Girls…perfect Martina song for you and your girls.

  20. Martina has long been one of my favorites. You should also try out Mary Chapin Carpenter on Cricket and Butterfly. As much as I love Sheryl Crow, I think she might be a bit much for those two. 🙂

  21. I just wanted to tell you that I nominated you for the Shine On Award. You can see the post on

  22. Loved this piece and it reaffirmed what I discovered while driving the 4,244 miles from Northville, Michigan to Talkeetna, Alaska; dogs really do respond to music! My poor Alaskan Malamute and German Shepherd Dog were confined to the back seat of my Ford Escape for nine and a half consecutive days of driving with only brief ‘bathroom breaks’ and overnight stops. During some of those days we covered over 700 miles and drove for eleven plus hours. They often became antsy and I soon discovered that by playing some soothing music like CDs from Dave Arkenstone and Enya I could calm them and allow them to find a comfortable spot and sleep. It was a difficult time for them but their reward is life in rural Alaska and I know if they could talk they’d tell me it was all worth while. I couldn’t imagine life up here without my four legged companions and remain convinced that ‘dog people’ are the best. Thanks again for the great piece!

    • I used to listen to Enya all the time. I’ll have to try her on the dogs, though I don’t think anything would make them tolerate that much time in the car. Maybe if I let Cricket drive…

  23. Funny coincidence. I was tasked with curating a couple of hours worth of mp3s for the background music at our condo Holiday Party and came across an oldie but goodie engineered mix of Martina and Elvis doing Blue Christmas. It was really a great blend of voices on what is perhaps my fave Christmas classic.

  24. I live in an apt so I have cats they are like dogs, so human, they love car rides.

  25. I was just telling someone else that my hubby (who is a DJ) insists that one of our cats loves hip-hop, and the other likes country. I hate both genres so I’m pretty sure he’s just trying to convert me via cats. All the animals seem to like it when I sing, however – so that already tells me they have bad taste in music.

    Oh, and my Bengal loves the car as long as we don’t go over 30mph 🙂

  26. At one time, I cared for three dogs, and they all gathered around while I played the piano. I really think that they liked the music.

  27. Many dogs are sensitive to music. I once had a family dog (Spitz-mix) who would sit by my chair when I practised the piano. My Lucy loves Yo Yo Ma playing Bach, Glenn Gould’s everything, but she is not very impressed by Leonard Cohen. I sing to her before bedtime, and her two favourite songs are Hush and For Sentimental Reasons. 🙂

  28. Thank you for liking my blog post! I see you’re a big dog lover, too…I’ve really enjoyed the posts I’ve read so far!

  29. Thank you for liking my post / drawing of Darwin. Darwin is my aunt’s dog. Reading about your dogs and music brought back memories of my beloved dog, Rusty. He loved opera and would come racing into the room where it was playing so that he could sign along. Really.

  30. I’ve just tweeted this and three other of your wonderful posts 🙂

  31. I wonder if Martina has read your blog?


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