Dogs and sound

I love silence. I mean I covet silence. Living in an urban environment, we are assaulted by sound all the time, ALL the time. When I was in college my dorm was right next to train tracks. I never really got used to that. Now, living in an urban environment, there are festivals, fairs, and most notably a car show/fair every year that is the noisiest nuisance traffic clogging affair I have ever seen. It draws over a million people and makes national news…

Anyway, my dislike for the car show aside, there are perks right? Parks, amenities right outside your door, the farmer’s market, I have a small lake and hiking trail right nearby. And when it’s quiet on a Sunday morning, it’s beautiful. Just the sound of the wind in the leaves- it’s perfect.

What does all that sound pollution do to Reggie? He is skittish, to put it mildly, with loud noises, bangs, when we’re outside. Fireworks, thunder, the crackle of a fire, an airplane overhead, sometimes helicopters, gunshots, and if he is in an already sensitive mood a car door slamming will set him off. One time we were walking downtown and someone got out of their car and slammed the door shut and turned around to look and in doing so wasn’t looking where he was going and walked right into a portion of a building (a storefront) and hit his head. A man that was walking by stopped and said “oh my gosh is your dog really old??” and I had to say, “ no, no he’s only three…”.

In a previous post I explored a dog’s sense of sound. Dogs can hear higher frequencies than humans. Because of this we need to be more sensitive to sound in our environment. But this might be treating the symptom and not the cause. What about the source, the shelters and the breeders environments? Just like I have probably irreparably damaged Reggie and not desensitized him to fireworks but in fact made it worse, are the initial environments our dogs exposed to setting the stage for it anyway? Did I (and Reggie) not even have a chance?

This summary is from Canine Behavior & Acoustics by Patricia McConnell, PhD, CAAB for ASPCA. Shocking statistic: noise levels in shelters regularly exceed 100dB. A subway train is 95dB and a jackhammer is 110dB. Loud right? Noise affects the physiology, psychology, behavior, and cognition of animals. It affects the body (physiology) by increasing or decreasing heart rate, causing muscle contraction or relaxation, high blood pressure, stress, etc. When Reggie goes to daycare he is placed in the quiet room or at the front desk with the receptionist during break time depending on the day he is having to reduce stress and lessen the risk of a seizure.

Psychologically, sound can induce certain effects. Every time I open the treat bag Reggie comes running. He knows the sound of that particular bag. That sound induces arousal. However, fireworks are a negative effect and send him running to the corner to hide.

Vocal communication degrades very quickly in noisy environments. And yet we repeat, yell, point, and get frustrated when our dogs don’t understand and don’t obey when they are in a visually and auditory stimulating environment and you expect them to focus on and understand you. Majority of the time, I can’t understand the person I’m talking to in that kind of environment, I can’t fault Reggie.

Back to the extreme decibel levels- if it’s noisy you move away right? In a shelter the dog can’t move away. In your car when you’re blasting Katy Perry your dog can’t get away. In your living room when you’ve got the TV on at level 40 because you need to hear it in the kitchen while you’re making dinner your dog’s ears are more sensitive and can’t necessarily get away from the higher frequencies. This can affect behavior. Do what you can to decrease unpleasant sound and noise.

The challenge? Decrease sound. Learn to use your voice less, and for absolute voice commands use your voice properly. Your dog must come when called, but how do you call?

Short staccato sounds (claps, clicks) have been shown to increase speed and activity while long slow sounds (whistles, whooooaaa) slow and calm animals. Sharp, short sounds (hey, ah) stop or draw the attention to you.

Not even knowing I do this with Reggie. When he starts getting distracted on a walk, I click my tongue at him to bring him forward and continue walking. Occasionally that is followed with a treat if it’s a rough walk! I am sensitive to sound with him; I keep the radio very low or off in the car. A dog’s hearing is four times more sensitive than a human’s and many dogs begin to lose their hearing as they age. I do not want to be a contributor to that.

Pay attention to your sound environment and covet silence, your dog may thank you!

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One thought on “Dogs and sound

  1. What a great post! I am constantly reminding my boyfriend that if MY ears hurt from the music in the car, Zeke’s definitely do too-please turn it down! My sounds to Zeke also follow the above rule. When we’re canicrossing I clap to ask him to speed up, say “eeeeeeeasy” to slow down and “oy!” if he’s about to trip me! (;

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