Shelter dogs destress with Canine Lullabies

The tunes by songwriter Terry Woodford, who has worked with marquee names, are played at animal shelters

WASHINGTON •Even if you were a long-time music fan, the name Terry Woodford might not ring a bell.

In a music career that started in the early 1960s and spanned a quarter-century, Woodford, 75, was involved in generating successful songs for marquee names as well as less-famous acts.

These days, however, his musical creations do not get played on the radio, have not been sampled by Cardi B and are not a powerful presence on Spotify.

They are played to dogs - lots of dogs. Canine Lullabies, as Woodford calls his latest works, marry the sound of a human heartbeat to traditional lullabies.

Imagine London Bridge, but with New Age-y music and vocals atop an insistent thump-thump.

The tracks have been played at animal shelters across the United States and beyond, including in Britain, India and Australia, to help reduce barking and generally lower the stress levels of their canine constituencies. And the folks who care for these homeless pooches give the tunes strong reviews.

Ms Lisa Morrissey, a dog trainer and behaviourist who consults with shelters in Pasco County, Florida, said she heard about Canine Lullabies in 2016 while researching the burgeoning genre of music meant to pacify shelter dogs.

"I was looking for aids to help calm dogs arriving into a high-volume, high-anxiety and incredibly stressful environment," she wrote in an e-mail. "I have found the shelter dogs respond and calm faster listening to Canine Lullabies, versus other calming/separation anxiety music."

But Woodford's dog music was not originally intended for dogs.

The origin of Canine Lullabies was something of a happy accident, a by-product of one of his previous missions - to create tunes that would quiet crying babies.

Rather than reinvent the wheel and compose entirely fresh music, he figured in 1985 that he would use traditional lullabies, devising the wrinkle of adding the heartbeat. The notion was that listening to it would remind babies of hearing the heartbeat of a person holding them.

He says it worked, both at hospital nurseries and at the homes of newborns.

"If we're in a chaotic environment, we're drawn towards structure and order," he said, offering his explanation for the music's cross-species enchantment.

"So these songs, the lullabies, are very simply structured. And then I think not only the babies, but also the animals, are drawn to the human compassion in the singer's voice and the familiarity of the heartbeat."

So what was previously called Heartbeat Lullabies is now known as Canine Lullabies and it represents part of a tiny sub-genre of music now used to soothe shelter dogs.

Although Woodford says he is not uninterested in science, he will be the first to say that research played no role in spawning Canine Lullabies. Neither, for a long time, did anecdotal evidence from parents of newborn babies.

He became a believer upon visiting a shelter in Colorado Springs, where he was living at the time.

"I'm walking down the aisle and all the dogs are jumping and barking and (the shelter employee) had an old boombox in the corner," said Woodford, who now lives in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

"She turned it on and, within 15 seconds, every dog laid down in its kennel and it freaked me out."

He soon took the same music and packaged it for dogs. Now, he estimates, it is played in about 2,500 shelters.

The Canine Lullabies income has not exactly dwarfed Woodford's earnings from his music-business days. He provides CDs, or downloads, for free to shelters and animal clinics. And some have come back for more.

Recently, he said he received an e-mail from a manager at the Humane Society for Hamilton County in Noblesville, Indiana, requesting a CD. She noted that the shelter already has a copy.

"But we play it so much," the manager wrote, "it has become worn and damaged."

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 16, 2018, with the headline 'Shelter dogs destress with Canine Lullabies'. Print Edition | Subscribe