Great Rexpectations: Audible sells audiobooks to dogs
With a global population of seven billion humans to sell to, you’d have thought that Audible would probably want to tap out that market before moving onto other species. Apparently not. The Amazon-owned company already has its second big demographic in sight: the 80 million or so American dogs that haven’t so much as chewed a Dickens novel, let alone read it.
The idea isn’t that your dog will be able to discuss themes or narrative structures with you, or even understand the words. The aim is to combat canine separation anxiety by providing a soothing voice for them to focus on in their owner’s’ absence. To that end, the company has opened up a section of the site devoted to dogs – or more specifically their credit card-wielding owners – providing classics such as Pride and Prejudice, The Wind in the Willows and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Although if you do pick the latter, it’s important to sit down and talk to your pet about the historical context of the book.
The new scheme is endorsed by canine behaviourist Cesar Millan – who had a show appropriately titled Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan. Millan told USA Today that audiobooks (as opposed to podcasts or music) are particularly good at keeping dogs calm because of the “consistency of a tone”.
The idea that music and sounds can alter animal moods is nothing new – I once wrote about a study where it was revealed that cats hated AC/DC – but you may be a little sceptical of the intentions of a company that sells audiobooks telling you that paid audiobooks are the best way to keep pets calm. Audible points to two studies to back up its claims that audiobooks are a dog’s best friend: the first is a 2015 study from Hartpury College which found that 31 dogs in rescue centres prefered a good book to a variety of different music. They enjoyed Michael York’s reading of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, apparently.
Given that a rescue centre isn’t a direct analogue to an owner’s home, Millan did his own experiment with 100 dogs and reported that 76 of them showed signs of being more relaxed over a four-week period.
This doesn’t explain why you wouldn’t just let your dog share your audiobooks, unless you’re worried it’ll spoil the ending. Nonetheless, Millan and Audible recommend that you pick a book narrated by the same gender as the owner, played at an average volume on a speaker of some kind. Completely coincidentally, they recommend the Echo, manufactured and sold by Audible’s parent company Amazon.
Personally, unless your dog is a total booksnob, I’d just whack on a calming podcast for him or her. But if you really must buy fiction for your pet, a little advice: The Lovely Bones is considerably less dog-friendly and more traumatic than it sounds.