Doggie Sound Baths Are Obviously a Thing in 2023
Plus, the other effective holistic ways to get your dog to a zen place.
Your pet wants you to read our newsletter. (Then give them a treat.)
His collar may read “Zen,” but don’t let the name fool you. When Letizia Silvestri adopted her then-6-month-old Terrier, he was far from it.
“I remember the shelter said, ‘He’s a very special dog, and he has a lot of aggression issues. Are you sure you want to adopt him?’” Silvestri tells The Wildest. But she decided to take the leap. After all, it was the height of the pandemic, she was looking for a companion, and her work as a corporate event planner had stalled, so she had plenty of time on her hands.
Although Silvestri had experience training dogs, Zen ended up being even more difficult than she’d anticipated. “He was jumping all over, scratching, biting — he was completely out of control,” she says. “I remember I couldn’t even put my hands close to his face because he would start peeing on himself. He was so scared.”
Zen was on high alert at all hours of the day and night, and Silvestri worried that the lack of sleep was making his problems worse. She tried every trick in the book to calm him down: Positive reinforcement training, tiring him out during the day, giving him plenty of treats — none of it seemed to make a dent in his anxiety issues. When she consulted with dog behaviorists and trainers, they told her she might want to think about medicating him, giving him away, or even putting him down.
Desperate for a new approach, she considered what helped her during times of high stress that might help little Zen, too. The answer came in the form of a singing bowl. Yes, you read that right. Stay with us.
Spurring Healing Through Sound
When Silvestri started playing the small instrument, a fixture of sound healing, to Zen, something changed. “He started licking me, relaxing, and the best thing is he started sleeping during the day. We were building that trust,” she remembers of those early sessions.
She then signed up for classes to learn more about the science of what was going on in Zen’s restless mind: During sound healing, also called sound bathing or sound meditation, instruments that emit deep, low, reverberating tones are played to facilitate shifts in brainwave activity. The thinking is that the unique frequencies of gongs, singing bowls, and tuning forks can guide the listener out of fight-or-flight mode and into a more relaxed brain state, sometimes even putting them to sleep. While there hasn’t been all that much research on sound healing, one study found that adults reported feeling significantly less tension, fatigue, and anger after sitting through a singing bowl session, while another ruled sound meditation to be just as effective as silent meditation for turning around a bad mood.
While the nervous systems of dogs don’t directly match up to those of humans, Silvestri walked away from her training thinking that this ancient practice could help animals find calm, too. And from there, her company, Altha, was born.
Holistic Ways to Help Your Dog Chill
Altha facilitates sound healing for humans and pups, sometimes alongside other mind-body practices, such as hypnosis, movement, yoga, and meditation. While a typical sound bath session lasts 60 to 90 minutes and features a lineup of instruments from drums to gongs to tuning forks, Silvestri adjusts the experience for dogs to avoid any potential sound triggers. (Most dogs don’t love rain sticks, for example.)
When she plays for pups — either in private sessions or in small group environments — she says they tend to be curious at first; perking up with the whir of a bowl or the ding of a fork. But after a few minutes, she watches their ears fall and their bodies chill out. Often, they’ll curl up in a ball and fall asleep despite the distractions. Their eyes become very heavy. They might snore. Later, Silvestri hears from the pups’ parents that they are noticeably more relaxed and less on edge, as if the serene sounds are still reverberating through their paws.
In the future, Silvestri has plans to roll out her calming service in shelters to help anxious dogs near and far. She also hopes to hold more sound baths for four-legged companions and their humans who could use some healing. Dog parents in Los Angeles can stop by one of her sound sessions or pay a visit to Den Urban Dog Retreat, a dog spa that also hosts sound baths on occasion.
As for the rest of us? Here are a few other mental health exercises you can try at home to lead to one seriously zen dog:
Tapping is the practice of applying pressure to certain parts of the body, while saying positive mantras, in order to release tension. It’s something that Silvestri picked up from another holistic healer, so you might want to work with a professional to figure out exactly where your pup’s soft spots are.
Sit in meditation together.
OK, your dog might not be able to sit still for your entire loving-kindness meditation, but Silvestri still sees value in hitting the mat together or at least staying in the same room during your meditation. “Dogs are very, very connected to us, and so sometimes they tend to absorb our energy,” she observes. So when you take the time to find peace and quiet, you might just be giving your pup permission to do the same.
Play them a singing bowl.
While you won’t become a renowned sound healer overnight, Silvestri notes that learning the basics of singing bowls — the first instrument she used with Zen during the pandemic — is pretty straightforward. Plus, there are plenty of YouTube tutorials you can access.
Turn on some healing recordings.
You can also bring soothing sounds to your living room by playing your pup an online sound bath recording. While the vibrations of live sound healing sessions are unmatched, these recordings can be a helpful stand-in in a pinch. These days, Silvestri will play Zen five to 10 minutes of sounds every morning after they meditate together. While he still has the feisty energy of a Terrier, she finds that this sound session is enough to make Zen truly live up to his name. “He’s the sweetest dog ever,” she says. “And he’s truly transformed.”
The next time they try to kiss your face while you’re in corpse pose, let them.
What are the best ways to manage a dog’s pain?
Gallant CEO Dr. Linda Black on how you can affordably give your dog a long and happy life, thanks to science.
Nothing to fear here The Last of Us fans — ’shrooms are great immune-boosters.
In fact, it chills them out.
A (literal) spoonful of medicine.
Emma is a writer, editor, and environmentalist based in New York City. She is the senior sustainability editor at mindbodygreen, the author of Return To Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us (April 2022), and the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self-Care. While she doesn’t have any pets of her own, she is a loving dog aunt to Pip the pup.