Real Simple staffers played them for their pets. Here’s how they responded.
Most dog owners admit that it’s hard to leave their furry friends behind when they leave the house. Some play the television to keep their dogs from feeling lonely. Others talk through puppy cams and load up on interactive dog toys. America’s favorite “dog whisperer,” Cesar Millan, wants owners to consider an audiobook instead.
Today, Millan kicks off his new partnership with Audible, Amazon’s audiobook platform. In addition to narrating two exclusive (and free!) advice books for owners (Cesar’s Guide to Bringing a Home a Shelter Dog and Cesar’s Guide to Audiobooks for Dogs), Millan curated a collection of six audiobooks from Audible’s library. Milan says these audiobooks, which he independently tested on 100 volunteer dogs over four weeks, made the pups appear calmer and more relaxed.
“Dogs’ communication is sign language,” he says. “But they live in a world of human communication, which is a lot of sound. So I knew this was going to work. To me, it’s common sense.”
Half of the books feature male narrators, such as Trevor Noah, who reads his memoir Born a Crime, and the other half have female narrators, like actress Rosamund Pike, who reads Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. This allows owners to pick the voice that best corresponds to the dog’s “alpha,” the person he deems his pack leader (Millan says every dog has one—even when he has two owners).
Millan recommends introducing the audiobook, via an Amazon Echo or another device, after a long walk. Sit together and hit play. When you zone out listening, Milan says the dog will imitate what you do and then recognize the audiobook when you play it in the future.
“We want the dog to stay calm for a long period of time when the owner leaves,” he says. “Then the human won’t feel he’s betraying or abandoning the dog. We want to remove all those negative feelings.”
Audiobooks aren’t cure-alls for dogs with stress and separation anxiety (Millan says exercise is by far the best medicine for these issues), and dogs still shouldn't be left unattended for long periods of time, even if they have audiobook to listen to.
Still, we sent five Real Simple editors home with an Echo for some fun, unscientific testing. Each tester introduced the audiobooks to the dog and then played them over the course of three to five days. Though two staffers were able to watch their dogs from the office via camera, the rest of the testers played the audiobooks while they were still in the house and watched the dogs from another room (so the jury is still out on whether the dogs would act the same way when left alone). Here are the owners' honest thoughts.
Owner: Chelsea Burns, beauty editor
“We played Mary Poppins and The Art of Racing in the Rain for Penny. She really didn’t respond to either. She was lying on the couch when we turned it on, and she didn’t even flinch from the position she was in prior. After a bit she got up and went over to her food bowl, but wasn’t acting any differently than she normally would. She did go up and sniff the Alexa when we first brought it out, but other than that she went on as normal. I will say that she is a pretty laid back, docile dog anyway. We do leave the TV on while we’re gone/at work so she’s used to other voices, which is why I think she wasn’t too affected by it.”
Chunk and Apollo, Harlequin Great Danes
Owner: Heather Muir, beauty director
“Chunk and Apollo were play fighting (jumping, play biting, etc.) as my husband and I were cleaning up dinner. We set up the Alexa and played Mary Poppins, as we watched from one side of our kitchen island. They each made their way to our Lovesacs and laid down. Apollo had his paws under his chin and appeared to be listening. Chunk flopped her head over (like she always does). So it seemed to have a calming/relaxing affect on them. When we changed books/voices, they each perked their heads and ears, then laid back down. They’re fairly used to TV and radio so their behavior wasn’t super different, but it took them from a playful state to a chill one for sure.”
Rosie, Lab-Shepherd Mix
Owner: Filomena Guzzardi, editorial production director
“Rosie definitely had a little head-tilt reaction when she first heard the Mary Poppins audiobook. She was calm and relaxed when I first played it, and I was also there chilling out next to her. Even though I played the audiobook non-stop for the next few days, she was still stressed. But I loved Alexa, and I would definitely buy the audiobooks to calm Rosie (and myself), when necessary.”
Grant, Lab-Hound Mix
Owner: Stephanie Sisco, home editor
“My 7-year-old lab-hound mix is usually pretty mellow, so I wasn’t anticipating much change when I turned on the audiobook. However, when I started The Art of Racing in the Rain, Grant became even more relaxed—falling right asleep and seeming not to care that we were cooking dinner nearby. The next day, I swapped to a female narrator and he seemed less interested (my fiancé is definitely his “master” in the household).”
Ranger, American Dingo (aka Carolina Dog)
Owner: Brandi Broxson, articles editor
"My dog, Ranger, is on the anxious side when he’s home alone during the day. He’ll bark at a neighbor closing their door or even a loud passing car. I left The Wind and The Willows audiobook on for him while I was at work and watched him on a puppy cam. Unlike the TV, which he seems to tune out, he actually seemed to be engaged with the book. He picked his head up when it first came on and soon settled into a relaxed state on his bed. Best of all, no anxious barking. I think the soothing voices and steady word pacing put him at ease. I also played it when I was home with him and even found that I was more relaxed."