Even if youâre a longtime music fan, the name Terry Woodford might not ring a bell. But some of the artists with whom he worked as a songwriter, producer or engineer probably do: the Supremes, the Temptations and the Commodores.
In a music career that started in the early 1960s and spanned a quarter-century, Woodford was involved in generating successful songs for marquee names as well as less-famous acts. Some of Woodfordâs collaborations still resonate: âScratchinâ,â an instrumental by Magic Disco Machine, has been sampled by Grandmaster Flash, Run-DMC and dozens of other artists.
These days, however, Woodfordâs musical creations donât get played on the radio, havenât been sampled by Cardi B and arenât a powerful presence on Spotify. Theyâre played to dogs â lots of dogs.
âCanine Lullabies,â as Woodford calls his latest works, marry the sound of a human heartbeat to traditional lullabies. Imagine âLondon Bridgeâ but with New Age-y music and vocals atop an insistent thump-thump.
The tracks have been played at animal shelters across the country and beyond â including in Britain, India and Australia â to help reduce barking and generally lower the stress levels of their canine constituencies. And the folks who care for these homeless pooches give the tunes strong reviews.
Lisa Morrissey, a dog trainer and behaviorist who consults with shelters in Pasco County, Fla., said she heard about âCanine Lullabiesâ in 2016 while researching the burgeoning genre of music meant to pacify shelter dogs.
âI was looking for aids to help calm dogs arriving into a high-volume, high-anxiety and incredibly stressful environment,â she wrote in an email. âI have found the shelter dogs respond and calm faster listening to âCanine Lullabies,â versus other calming/separation anxiety music.â
But Woodfordâs dog music wasnât originally intended for dogs. The origin of âCanine Lullabiesâ was something of a happy accident, a byproduct of one of Woodfordâs previous missions: to create tunes that would quiet crying babies. Woodford, 75, said he was serving as a judge at an arts festival in Huntsville, Ala., in 1985 when he met a woman who worked as a recreational therapist at day-care centers. She challenged him to create music âthatâs not so condescending for our kids.â
âAre you kidding me? Iâm a big-time record producer!â he recalled thinking, affecting a puffed-up, self-mocking tone. âI donât want to make music for kids!â
Yet he rose to the challenge. Rather than reinvent the wheel and compose entirely fresh music, Woodford figured heâd use traditional lullabies, devising the wrinkle of adding the heartbeat. The notion was that listening to it would remind babies of hearing the heartbeat of a person holding them. He says it worked, both at hospital nurseries and at the homes of newborns.
âIf weâre in a chaotic environment, weâre drawn towards structure and order,â Woodford said, offering his explanation for the musicâs cross-species enchantment. âSo these songs, the lullabies, are very simply structured. And then I think not only the babies, but also the animals are drawn to the human compassion in the singerâs voice, and the familiarity of the heartbeat.â
So what was previously called âHeartbeat Lullabiesâ is now known as âCanine Lullabies,â and it represents part of a tiny subgenre of music now used to soothe shelter dogs. Other offerings include iCalm for Dogs,Â âRelax My Dogâ and what may constitute the latest, if unofficial, entry in the field: âSong for Daisy,â a 15-minute track by singer-songwriter Gnash â best known for his hit âi hate u, i love uâ â composed last year to help pacify his adopted Maltese terrier, Daisy.
Research exploring musicâs impact on animal shelter residents has tended to yield positive findings. For example, a 2002 study that tested the impact of a variety of musical styles on the behavior and barking of shelter dogs found that classical music encourages relaxation and quiet, while heavy metal does largely the opposite; a 2012 study largely echoed those findings. A 2017 study determined that shelter dogs responded slightly better when exposed to reggae or soft rock, as opposed to Motown, pop or classical. (As a measure of the seriousness of his undertaking, Gnash consulted the researchers of the 2017 study before fashioning âSong for Daisy.â)
Meanwhile, although Woodford says he is not uninterested in science, he will be the first to tell you that research played no role in spawning âCanine Lullabies.â Neither, for a long time, did anecdotal evidence from parents of newborn babies.
âI hate to admit this,â Woodford said, âbut I got emails and phone calls for 13 years about how people would play the âHeartbeat Lullabiesâ for their dog, and it would calm them and keep them from barking, and I just kind of said: âOh, come on. .â.â. I mean, is this really real? Are you people reading things into this?âââ
During those years, some shelters had started playing the music in their facilities. One was in Colorado Springs, where Woodford was living at the time. Upon paying a visit, he became a believer.
âIâm walking down the aisle, and all the dogs are jumping and barking, and [the shelter employee] had an old boombox in the corner,â said Woodford, who now lives in Muscle Shoals, Ala. âShe turned it on, and within 15 seconds every dog laid down in their kennel, and it freaked me out.â
He soon took the same music and packaged it for dogs. Now, he estimates, itâs played in about 2,500 shelters.
The âCanine Lullabiesâ income hasnât exactly dwarfed Woodfordâs earnings from his music biz days: He provides CDs, or downloads, for free to shelters, rescues and animal clinics. And some have come back for more.
Recently, Woodford said, he received an email from a manager at the Humane Society for Hamilton County in Noblesville, Ind., requesting a CD. She noted that the shelter already has a copy.
âBut we play it so much,â the manager wrote, âit has become worn and damaged.â
Duncan Strauss is a longtime journalist and host ofÂ WMNF Tampaâs weekly radio programÂ âTalking Animals.â