These Ears Are Made for Listenin’

These Ears Are Made for Listenin’

donkey listening to guitar
Natalia and donkey Cometa Libera Photo: Deea Wolf

What makes a good listener? Empathy? Understanding? Making eye contact? Giving great advice?

According to many communication experts, the best listeners are those with the ability to just be quiet, not interrupt and concentrate fully on what someone is saying without getting distracted.

Donkeys are famous for their calm and steady nature and reluctance to do anything in a hurry. Anyone who spends time with donkeys will tell you what good listeners they are. From the knowing in those deep, brown eyes to the slow turning of those big, beautiful ears to face you.

So, what is it that donkeys hear when we play them a tune, and can animals have an emotional response to music?

Psychologists at Emory University in Atlanta found that birds have a similar response to their own music as we do to ours. Lead researcher Sarah Earp explains,

“Both birdsong and music elicit responses not only in brain regions associated directly with reward, but also in interconnected regions that are thought to regulate emotion. That suggests that they both may activate evolutionarily ancient mechanisms that are necessary for reproduction and survival.”

The sounds and patterns that animals use to communicate are often highly complex and should not be underestimated. According to Jen Mapes of National Geographic,

“Scientists argue that the nature of music may be deeper than previously thought – and may suggest an inherent knowledge of music that is shared by many animals, including humans, birds, and whales.”

Some donkeys enjoy ‘singing’ along with a trumpet or violin, as if responding to a fellow donkey braying. Dogs may howl when they hear a piano, just as their wolf ancestors howl to communicate in the wild.

There is no doubt that animals recognise more than just noise when they hear our music. Their reactions vary, depending on the volume, tempo and genre.

Studies have shown that jazz and heavy metal music can cause animals such as cows, dogs and horses, to feel agitated, while classical and country music can help them relax.

We seem to like the idea that animals share our musicality. YouTube is awash with dancing dolphins, pop star parrots, musical monkeys and trunk-swaying elephants, performing on command.

But don’t feel bad if your pet is not blessed with any particular musical talent, or if your donkey doesn’t even bray. He will make an excellent groupie and will love being your number one fan.

Video used with kind permission of Christopher Ameruoso, who performs music for animals. One of his favourite fans is Hazel the donkey.

Top Video Credits:

Georgi the donkey and Jonny on guitar, courtesy of Eva Maria Avril at Eselgarten Pondorf in Germany.

Donkeys Bramble and Bobbin at Florence Road Festival in Brighton, with staff from East Clayton Farm in Sussex.

Da Vinci the donkey and sanctuary volunteer playing Amazing Grace on the violin, courtesy of Tina Brown at the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada

Jessica Lee singing Wagon Wheel by Old Crow Medicine Show with donkeys Bunny and Tee, courtesy of A Donkumentary blog in Texas.

Pintofmilk and his entry for Irish restaurant chain Supermac’s jingle competition, in which he came second place. Featuring Noinin the donkey.

Header Photo: 

Deea Wolf, author of international art and travel blog Nomad Deea


Pet Acoustics Sonic pet products by Janet Marlow

7 Scientific Studies About How Animals React to Music Meredith Danko, Mental Floss, 4 November 2015

Scientific Studies on Animals Reveal Just How Much Music Shapes the Natural World Jordan Taylor Sloan, Mic, 2 July 2014

Music Genre’s Effect on Horse Behavior Evaluated Christa Lesté-Lasserre MA, The Horse, 18 Jan 2013

Birds’ brains respond to music the same way human brains do Alasdair Wilkins, Gizmodo 12 December 2012

Birdsong: is it music to their ears? Sarah E. Earp and Donna L. Maney, Emory University, Atlanta, 28 November 2012 

Do Animals Have an Innate Sense of Music? Jen Mapes, National Geographic, 5 January 2001 

Copyright 2018 Amy Swift

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