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.
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.
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.
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.