HALF MOON BAY -- Lisa Spector didn't go to the prestigious Juilliard School to learn how to play piano for dogs. But touching man's best friend through music has become her life's calling -- and life has never been better.
Five years after producing her first CD of music designed to soothe anxious canines, the classically trained pianist has built a career that marries her love of Chopin and Rachmaninoff to her passion for dogs. She and business partner Joshua Leeds have now produced an entire suite of Fido-centric music, "Through a Dog's Ear," which has sold more than 250,000 CDs and downloads. They recently introduced a line of music for cats.
"It's become like two full-time jobs," said Spector, 51, who sold her Half Moon Bay music school two years ago to focus full time on her growing company, BioAcoustic Research Inc. "But it's not a job, really. I love it."
Spector came up with the idea behind "Through a Dog's Ear" about a decade ago after she noticed how her own dogs relaxed when she played quiet compositions. She approached Leeds, an expert in the field of psychoacoustics, which focuses on how sound affects the human nervous system, and a partnership was born.
Spector and Leeds' latest product is iCalmDog, a portable music player loaded with Spector's classical arrangements that owners can bring to the veterinarian's office or leave with their pet at home or in a shelter. (Spector said they researched the name and are not worried about a certain Cupertino-based technology giant slapping them with a trademark-infringement claim.)
The elliptic cylinder plays for roughly five to 12 hours before needing to have its battery recharged, Spector says, depending on how loud the volume is set. It connects to smartphones and computers and can be used as a speaker for either device.
One fan of the player is Lori Brown, who runs a small rescue outfit for Italian greyhounds in Hawaii. Brown plays the iCalmDog for six dogs currently under her care.
Laka, 10, won't go in her crate by herself without hearing the iCalmDog, Brown said. Cyrus, a hyperactive 6-year-old, likes to snuggle with it.
"If I set it down, he'll kind of go where it is and curl up and lay there," Brown said. "It is pretty amazing."
"Through a Dog's Ear" consists of simplified arrangements of themes by such classical composers as Bach, Beethoven and Schubert. Spector typically plays the music at a slower than normal tempo while Leeds removes the higher frequencies from the notes during postproduction.
The music is particularly well-suited, Spector said, for dogs that are sensitive to living in a human environment, with its cacophonic array of noises, from car horns and police sirens to jackhammers. Spector and Leeds have produced three CDs specifically designed to acclimate dogs to these urban sounds, as well as thunder and fireworks, in collaboration with Victoria Stillwell, star of the TV show "It's Me or the Dog" on Animal Planet.
Leeds has conducted two studies with veterinary neurologist Susan Wagner that provides some empirical support for the music's calming effect.