Good vibrations: Volunteers soothe dogs with singing bowls

Twice a month, Helen Hedtke and Cal Nowels come to Freedom Service Dogs with Tibetan singing bowls in their bags, healing in their hands, and love in their hearts. As part of our enrichment program for puppies and dogs, these talented and devoted volunteers bring soothing sounds and relaxing energy work to our mama dogs and their new pups, and to adult dogs who have just returned to our kennels for advanced training and placement with one of our clients.

Helen, who has been involved with various modalities of energy work since 1992, was introduced to Tibetan singing bowls eight years ago. These metal bowls vibrate and produce a rich, deep tone when struck with a mallet, as well as a humming sound when the mallet moves around the outer rim of the bowl in a circular pattern. Scientific studies have shown that Tibetan singing bowls can promote relaxation and offer powerful healing properties. Helen was trained in the Peter Hess Sound Massage system, which teaches the therapeutic use of singing bowls, through the Peter Hess Institut in Vienna, Austria, and her six singing bowls of varied sizes were made in Austria specifically for energy work in the body.

“After getting my training, I knew I would use it with animals,” says Helen, a horse and dog lover who has been volunteering at FSD for 10 years. After meeting Cal in a yoga class and sensing a kindred spirit, Helen taught Cal to play Tibetan singing bowls. Both women play the bowls for competitive horses at an equestrian center, as well as at a horse and mule rescue and a therapeutic rescue and sanctuary for dogs and other animals. Helen and Cal are also certified practitioners of Reiki, an energy healing technique in which they use their hands to deliver energy to the body, improving the flow and balance of energy to reduce stress and anxiety and support healing.

Cal started volunteering at FSD in 2016, and since then, the two friends have been coming to our facility twice a month to share their healing skills. In 2022, they started playing singing bowls and doing Reiki for the mama dogs and babies in our nursery. “The moms have come to FSD from their guardian’s home to have their babies, so it’s a time of transition that can be stressful for them,” says Helen. “Their pups are just a couple of weeks old, so we play softly since their eyes and ears are newly open. The vibrations in the bowls mimic their heartbeat, which is very relaxing. The pups typically settle down within 10 minutes, and pretty soon they’re all sleeping on top of each other. The mama dogs usually fall into a relaxed sleep state too, giving them a brief respite from their mothering responsibilities.”

“We know when we’re reaching them by their body language. They start by yawning, then stretching, then sitting down, then lying on the floor, and then their eyes soften and eventually close. If there’s a puppy pile, we know it’s a good session!” -Cal

Helen and Cal emphasize the importance of closely watching the reaction of the dogs and pups as they play the bowls so they know when to adjust to a different modality, such as Reiki. “Some dogs respond positively to the vibrational tones, but others may be overstimulated or bothered by it. We have to use observation and intuition, and be very fluid,” says Helen. “We do what the animals tell us.” Adds Cal, “We know when we’re reaching them by their body language. They start by yawning, then stretching, then sitting down, then lying on the floor, and then their eyes soften and eventually close. If there’s a puppy pile, we know it’s a good session!”

After playing for the moms and pups, Helen and Cal move to our “in for training” kennels, where adult dogs stay after returning from 10-12 months in the home of their puppy raisers. These dogs are also experiencing a time of transition, so the singing bowls and Reiki can calm and relax them as they adjust to their new situation.

FSD staff members can attest to the beneficial effects of Helen and Cal’s energy work. Says Kennel Manager Megan Neilson, “Our adult dogs love it! Cal and Helen are able to quiet down a kennel of barking dogs pretty quickly; it’s really cool!”

Adds Reproduction and Genetics Manager Allison Peltier, “The dogs tend to be much calmer, fall asleep easier, and have a sense of relaxation about them for several hours after the sessions. Some dogs prefer Reiki over bowls and vice versa, and Cal and Helen do a great job determining which would be most beneficial for a particular dog or litter. Even the neonatal puppies, who don’t have their eyes or ears open, benefit from the vibrations the bowls create and the energy of Reiki. Whenever Cal and Helen are here, the kennels are quiet, dogs are at ease, and stress is low. Even the staff tend to be calmer!”

Helen and Cal are adamant that sound healing is not “woo-woo,” as some people might imagine. “There is a scientific basis to this modality,” says Cal. “Singing bowl vibrations decrease respiration and heart rate, and release tension in the body, and the effects can last several days. The Sound Healing Research Foundation is a great resource for those who’d like to learn more about this modality.” 

Both women experience the healing nature of the singing bowls for themselves as they play. “It’s mutually beneficial work,” says Helen. Agrees Cal, “We get more than we give. It’s very rewarding.”

We’re always in need of enrichment volunteers who can spend quality time with the adult dogs in training at our facility. Learn about all our volunteer opportunities at Freedom Service Dogs here.

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