Smart Pet? Audible Wants Fido to Listen to Jane Austen

We all talk to our dogs. But Amazon may have some new tech on the way that may make it possible for them to talk back. Josh King has the story (@abridgetoland).

NEW YORK—You think your dog is pretty smart. But is your pet smart enough to digest Jane Austen?

The folks behind Audible, the Amazon-owned company and largest seller of narrated books, want your dog to listen to Pride and Prejudice and other classic literature. The company is teaming up with famed Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan on an aptly named new service called Audible For Dogs.

The pitch to pet owners isn’t to turn Fido into a canine scholar but rather to keep him calm and happy when you leave for work.

“I’m always looking for ways where people don’t feel guilty, worried, (or) stressed when they leave their dogs alone,” Millan told USA TODAY.

Millan says the separation anxiety your pet feels can result in bad behavior: incessant barking that disturbs neighbors, destruction of furniture or pee in the wrong place. Or you dog could just end up downright depressed.

“Dogs are social animals, so they need to engage with someone,” he says. With Audible, “people can feel that the dog has company.”

While most dog owners will indeed go to great lengths to ensure the happiness of their four-legged family members, you can’t help but approach Audible For Dogs with a healthy dose of skepticism. So is Audible barking up the wrong tree?

One immediate question: Why not just play music, or turn on the radio or TV when you leave the house?

“It’s the consistency of a tone that allows the dog to stay in that (relaxed) frame of mind,” is Millan’s answer. It’s why meditation works, he says, and it is why Audible works.

Audible cites a 2015 academic study at Hartpury College in the U.K. that showed that listening to audiobooks rather than music reduced stress in the animals. In follow-up research conducted with 100 dog participants through Millan’s Dog Psychology Center, 76% of dog owners who played audiobooks for their dogs reported an increase in calm, relaxed behavior in their pets over a four-week period.

Millan recommends you exercise your dog and get them in a relaxed state before you play an audiobook. If possible he also advises owners to listen with their dogs at first and to experiment with different titles.

Millan and the team at Audible are curating audiobooks from an Audible catalog with more than 350,000 titles and audio programs. He says you should choose a book narrated by a person of the same gender as their primary master, played at average volume on an in-home listening device such as the Alexa-driven Echo device, which conveniently, Audible’s parent Amazon sells.

Audible of course has additional motivation for the launch of Audible For Dogs: namely the potential to attract new users.

“The idea that not only does this introduce dogs to listening but introduces their owners as well is exciting to me,” says Audible Chief Content Officer Andy Gaies.

Audible doesn’t disclose how many millions of subscribers it has, but Gaies points out that half the people who tried Audible in the past year, had never listened to an audiobook before.

Though you can purchase Audible titles on an a la carte basis, the primary way users tap into Audible content is through a monthly $14.95 subscription, which includes one credit per month that can be applied to any audiobook, regardless of price, plus other discounts. The books recommended for dogs are priced the same as other Audible titles. As part of Audible's initial trial, you can download one audiobook for free. The company has set up an Audile For Dogs landing page.

Audible wouldn’t reveal what it is paying Millan, but says the partnership is ongoing. Millan has recorded videos explaining the canine appeal behind a rotating set of curated titles.

Launch titles include Austen’s Pride and Prejudice performed by Rosamund Pike, Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood performed by Noah, W. Bruce Cameron’s A Dog’s Purpose performed by William Dufris, Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain performed by Christopher Evan Welch, Maria Goodavage’s Soldier Dogs: The Untold Story of America’s Canine Heroes performed by Nicole Vilencia, and Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows performed by Shelly Frasier.

“Your dog will never wax poetic about Rosamund Pike’s nuanced performance of Pride and Prejudice, but you will return home to a calmer, happier best friend,” Gaies says.

Millan also recorded an original audio book for the service called Cesar Millan’s Guide to Bringing Home a Shelter Dog, which you can download for free. Through the end of the year, Audible will donate a dime per download of the title to Long Island’s North Shore Animal League America, the world's largest no-kill rescue and adoption organization, up to a total donation of $250,000.

Gaies concedes the offering of Audible For Dogs is a little unconventional. We’re “focusing on why this is real and why this isn’t just a mistimed April Fools’ joke,” he says.

“Part of the fun spirit of this—people ask me, `so what makes you nervous about launch?’ And I tell people it’s the reaction from the cat community—they’re going to tell us, `why not us?’ The truth is there is no plan to launch Audible For Cats anytime in the near future. “

Email: ebaig@usatoday.com; Follow USA TODAY Personal Tech Columnist @edbaig on Twitter

© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved


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