How to Soundproof a Dog Crate

You can’t. It’s almost impossible for the average person to soundproof a dog crate against low-frequency noises like thunder, or even against most higher frequency noises. Here’s why.

  • Soundproofing is bulky, so you need lots of space. You essentially need to build a room around the crate. A room with walls thicker than the exterior walls of your house.
  • The necessary materials are specialized, expensive, and heavy.
  • You need to be willing to give up the portability of the crate.
  • And even if you can do all this, you can’t soundproof it against low frequencies (e.g. thunder, fireworks displays). And this is generally the reason why people try to do it in the first place.

If you take my word for it that you can’t soundproof a dog crate, nor can you currently buy a crate that is soundproof, skip to Section 7 about sound masking for some practical help. Otherwise, read on for the information that every acoustician and civil engineer will tell you.

How Sound Travels

The transmission of noise into a room [space] is aided by the multitude of paths sound can find to penetrate the architect’s defenses. The most prominent paths are (1) airborne noise outside the room that sets the common wall into vibration, which in turn radiates sound into the rooms, and (2) noise originating in the vibration of a solid structure that propagates along the structure and sets surfaces in the room into vibration. If the above paths are efficiently blocked by properly designed partitions and resilient mountings, then flanking paths can become important. Some flanking paths are obvious, such as the propagation through a false ceiling or crawl space and window-to-window transmission. Others are more insidious, such as porous cement block, poor seals between walls and ceiling or floor, gaps around wall penetrations, and back-to-back electrical outlets.

Kinsler et al, 1999, p. 379

In other words, sound gets into enclosures like houses, rooms, and crates in all sorts of ways.

So imagine your dog crate sitting in the middle of a room. Maybe it’s wire or plastic. It even could be wood, although that may not be any better, since wood transmits sound from the outside of the crate to the inside very well. What would it take to block all those paths into the crate? (Don’t forget the floor and the door!)

How Soundproofing Works

To soundproof a space, you need to use a combination of specialty materials, which are very dense and expensive. You need to disconnect that space from all other structures because sound can travel straight from exterior walls and the floor through to the interior via the building materials. These materials must be decoupled to break up the paths. That can mean, for instance, a double-stud or staggered stud wall setup. Normal walls, even with insulation in the air pockets, transmit sound very well. At lower frequencies, those air pockets can even become resonating boxes.

If attempting to soundproof a crate with barrier methods, you would need to isolate the walls and roof of the crate, for example, by building another structure around it. You would also need to decouple the crate and structure from the floor. The barriers would have to be heavy and vastly larger than the crate itself. For instance, a concrete bunker such as this World War II bunker from Hirtshals Beach in Denmark would not be sufficient to prevent the sound of thunder from penetrating. Engineers compute the permeability of materials with regard to sound and publish ratings. A wall of solid, densest available, 8-inch concrete blocks would have a Sound Transmission Class (how soundproofing is rated) of 57 (National Concrete Masonry Association, 2012).

Sound transmission class, or STC, provides a single-number specification of the acoustic isolation characteristics of a particular soundproofing material.

Kinsler et al, 1999, p. 380

The higher the STC, the better the soundproofing. The rating of 57 for the concrete blocks would be decent, except for the fact that the ratings don’t apply to frequencies under 125 Hz, which is smack in the middle of the frequency range of thunder. Even this bunker, with its thicker walls, would not keep out the sound of thunder. Not to mention that enclosures for living things need doors.

The highly regarded Soundproofing Company has illustrations of some typical wall soundproofing solutions. Again, even these professionally designed installations are unlikely to be effective in the low-frequency range of thunder.

Demonstration of the Failure of Absorptive Materials To Soundproof a Crate

This article on soundproofing from the Los Angeles Film School clears up some misconceptions about soundproofing. Acoustic foam, such as that shown in the photo, is not designed to prevent the transmission of sound. It is used to adjust room acoustics.

This material is not for soundproofing

But we really want to believe that foam and blankets can protect us from sound. So I ran a home experiment to see whether covering a crate with a couple of bedspreads (a common recommendation) could prevent low-frequency noise from entering a crate in even the smallest amount. (Spoiler: no.)

I used a Sony Bluetooth XB speaker with 20 Hz–20,000 Hz bandwidth to generate brown noise from an iPhone app called White Noise. I chose brown noise because it has more low frequencies than white or pink noise. I placed the speaker approximately 2 feet from the back corner of the crate and 5 feet from the microphone placement at the front of the crate.

Naked crate on the left, 3-4″ thickness of bedspreads covering the top, back and sides of the same crate on the right. Speaker to the back right of the crate in both cases.

I used an iPad Air 2 with Studio Six Audio Tools to record and analyze the sound inside the crate. I used the Fast Fourier Transform tool to capture peak values.

This plot shows frequencies on the x-axis going across the bottom. Like a piano keyboard: the low frequencies are on the left (and have low numbers) and the high frequencies are on the right. (K stands for 1,000, so the highest number is 16,000.) Frequencies are measured in cycles per second or Hertz.

The y-axis shows sound pressure level (not technically the same as loudness or volume but we’ll informally use those terms) in decibels. But the trick is that the software I used to analyze the sound in real time computes the volume at each frequency area separately. I juxtaposed the graphs for the crate uncovered and covered. The blue line is the uncovered crate and the red line is the covered crate. You can see that there is no significant difference between the sound in the crate when covered or uncovered from the lowest frequencies to somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 Hz. Since there is a random element to brown noise, and I made the plots at two different times, the agreement between the two lines is remarkable. It tells us that covering the crate with two bedspreads did nothing to prevent the low-frequency sound from entering.

Somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 Hz, the lines start to separate. This is exactly what the physics of sound predicts, because the higher frequency waves are smaller and more easily absorbed (more on that in the next section). But the maximum difference of 7 dB at about 5,000 Hz is not enough to make a significant difference. The inside of the crate will not be free of higher frequency sounds. Some of these sounds will be absorbed by the bedspreads. But they will still be perfectly audible inside the crate.

Covering a crate with absorptive materials can accomplish something, though. It dampens some higher frequencies inside the crate. Some people find that to be a “cozy” feeling. Maybe dogs do, too. There are several reasons a dog might like a covered crate. Protection from the sound of thunder is not one of them.

Why Low Frequencies Can’t Be Well Controlled

Sound waves vary in size according to frequency. High-frequency waves like hummingbird song are tiny, fractions of an inch long. But low-frequency waves are huge.

Sound waves are pressure waves, and they pass through gasses, liquids, and solids. They are longitudinal waves, which means the oscillation is in the same direction of the propagation of the wave. But they are conventionally drawn as transverse waves, because longitudinal waves are hard to visualize and draw.

The diagram shows one wavelength of a 60 Hz wave. This low-frequency wave is 18 feet long. And drawn to scale, the red line represents a tw0-inch wide wall of a crate. That crate wall is much too small to have any soundproofing effect. In acoustics, we would say that such a wall would be “invisible” to the large low-frequency wave.

This is the problem with low-frequency waves. They are too large to be absorbed or blocked using barrier methods (Elliot & Nelson, 1993).

Crates on the Market

I am not going to link to the crates that market themselves as protecting dogs from thunder, because they make very misleading claims. Some have some good characteristics. One has a sealing thermoplastic door. Another is decoupled from the floor (but unprotected from noise traveling through the air). But no “protective” crate addresses the issue of low frequencies. It is physically impossible for them to protect your dog from low-frequency sounds. Yet that is the focus of their marketing claims.

Active noise control was originally used for dampening low-frequency sounds and is the only noise control solution for these frequencies that doesn’t depend on bulky materials (Elliot & Nelson, 1993). Ford Motor Company has put out a prototype of a dog crate that incorporates active noise control technology. If they do a good job on this, it could work. It would have to be more sophisticated than most noise-canceling headphones, and probably incorporate feedforward rather than feedback technology. (Feedforward systems are fascinating, and in acoustics they depend on the fact that electrical signals travel faster than sound. Check out my thesis on active sound cancellation for an explanation.)

If You Really Want to Give It a Go—Nope, Sorry

OK, I tried. I wanted something I could recommend. I thought about whether it would be worth it to cover a blanketed crate with a sheet of mass loaded vinyl to pick up a few decibels of protection. But that stuff isn’t designed for household use and probably not safe for chewing puppies (some products are controlled and have health warnings attached). Plus it’s heavy, probably smells, and would make the crate hot inside.

I consulted an engineer who manufactures a unique low-frequency sound absorber and designs room acoustic treatments. His unit costs more than $1,000. But I definitely know people who would spend that to help their dogs. He said, essentially, that there were too many variables to be able to recommend his product across the board. And that depending on the room, his unit might end up weighing more than 1,000 pounds. I was offering a holy grail of sorts: a free link that might attract him some customers. And he didn’t even nibble.

It was great to run across an informed, ethical person who wouldn’t even consider making tenuous promises. I’m not going to link to his business here since he convinced me it just wasn’t relevant enough. But if anyone wants to talk to the right person to custom-design a home sound barrier (or a recording studio or home theater), drop me a line and I’ll put you in touch.

Sound Masking: A Better Solution

Currently, the best acoustical help we have for dogs who are afraid of thunder and low-frequency fireworks is sound masking. I covered that extensively in my recent webinar at The Science Dog. The recording is not for sale (participants got access for a month), but I will be giving the webinar again. For some basic information, you can check out my sound masking post.


It is heartbreaking to care for a dog who panics at certain sounds. We desperately want to help them. It is no wonder to me that people buy all sorts of products that promise to “cure” sound phobia or sound reactivity.

Go ahead and cover the crate if it helps to limit visual stimuli or makes your dog feel cozy. But know that you can’t keep the thunder out that way. The high-priced crates that claim to do so can’t either. Save your money for something that will help!

The best way to help your dog is to see a veterinary behaviorist, a veterinarian who is knowledgeable in behavior, and/or a credentialed dog behavior consultant. Desensitization and counterconditioning, often with meds on board, is what the experts recommend to treat this condition. And sound masking or taking the dog away from the source of the sound entirely are the best management techniques from a physics standpoint.

Copyright 2019 Eileen Anderson


Elliott, S. J., & Nelson, P. A. (1993). Active noise control. IEEE signal processing magazine10(4), 12-35. Available at

Kinsler, L. E., Frey, A. R., Coppens, A. B., & Sanders, J. V. (1999). Fundamentals of acoustics. Fundamentals of Acoustics, 4th Edition, by Lawrence E. Kinsler, Austin R. Frey, Alan B. Coppens, James V. Sanders, pp. 560. ISBN 0-471-84789-5. Wiley-VCH, December 1999., 560.

National Concrete Masonry Association. (2012) Sound Transmission Class Ratings for Concrete Masonry Walls. TEK13 1-C. Retrieved from:

Photo credits: WW II bunker from Wikipedia Commons taken by Tomasz Sienicki and used according to this license. Acoustic foam courtesy of CanStock photo. All other images copyright Eileen Anderson.

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“I Will Never Use the Shock Collar Again!”

foxhound and black lab playing in a field

This is a story from a client of one of my professional trainer friends. Let’s call my friend “Phoebe.” My friend had met the client for some coaching for her young, exuberant dog, Raven. But it was a very long distance for the client to come. My friend received this email after she hadn’t heard from the client in a while. Some details were altered for privacy, but I’ve left the email essentially as the client wrote it because she tells the story so eloquently.

I am sharing the story because people need to know what can happen to their dogs in the unregulated profession of dog training. This is what can happen to a dog and their owner at the hand of a trainer who uses aversives.

Phoebe and I are both in awe of this email and how much Raven’s owner loves her dog. We appreciate her generosity in letting us share her cautionary tale.

Dear Phoebe,

Our last correspondence was in late April, I think.  A lot has happened since then with my elderly dad’s health.  As for me, I am hanging in there but a month ago I got knocked over by a friend’s dog who was here to play with Raven.  The dog plowed into me from the back and down we both went.  I ended up with pretty bad damage to my knee.  I’m getting around now but carefully.

Now for the tragic part.  Raven continued to be a handful and I couldn’t travel to see you. I was told by a friend about a local trainer who would come to the house to help.  The main problems were, are, and continue to be a weak recall and difficulty controlling her if she sees a cat, another dog, a squirrel, or other things of interest.  So, I met with the trainer.  I adamantly refused to work with the e-collar but after the third session, I gave in. I think her words were, “well, we can train her with an e-collar or you can let her run out in the road and get hit by a car.”   She promised me it would only be used on vibrate and a 1 or 2 setting.  I watched a session here and was a little reassured but not totally comfortable and never comfortable enough to handle the control myself. 

Anyway,  in May, we needed to be gone for a long weekend.  The trainer asked if Raven could stay at her home and she would work with her for that time. Raven liked and had played with her dogs before and all had been fine.

Now for the part that breaks my heart.  When the trainer returned Raven on Monday afternoon, she was a different dog.  She got out of the car and was cowed, would not make eye contact, her back was humped up, and her tail was between her legs. She appeared to be frightened and worried.  I burst into tears.  I got a lecture from the trainer on my inappropriate ways of working with Raven.

We went through the house to the back yard. She took Raven off-leash, Raven saw the cat and started to run toward it. She was given a shock that had her yelping and threw her to the ground.  I was a basket case.  The trainer took Raven back inside and put her on a “place” cot in the kitchen and I was told to leave her there for several hours then crate her and make her depend on me for everything–bathroom breaks, food, play, etc… 

The trainer left.  Raven laid on the cot and shivered.  I took the e-collar off immediately and put in a box–it will never be used again!!  She was afraid to get off the cot, and it was 2:00 AM before I got her to get off and come up to bed with me.  It took two weeks for her to start greeting friends normally (people she knows and loves). Before that, when they would come, she would run up to my bed and hide.  She is now greeting people.  It was also that amount of time before she would take a treat from anyone.  She would not come to the kitchen/den area (where she had been forced onto the cot) for weeks.  Only last week has she started coming in and watching TV with us some nights.

Before, our custom has been to feed her then carry our dinner into the TV room on trays. Raven would climb up on the footstool or on the love seat and stay with us till time for to have a potty break before bed.  But now, most of the time she looks around the door and chooses to go outside through the garage and not even come in or through the kitchen/den area (we have a doggie door that goes from den to outside). She is uncomfortable eating her dinner in front of us.

Phoebe, I am embarrassed and ashamed that I let this happen.  I thought it would be safe and you know I would never let anyone hurt Raven. But the long and the short of it is that I did.  I have had little contact with the trainer since. She texted a few times and asked how I was (because of the knee) and how Raven was.  I told her. After her last text, I told her that I would continue to work with Raven with reward based training only.  I have not heard since and I am not going to initiate any contact.  

I have started from scratch again. We continue to work on basics with only rewards.  Raven is consistent in the sit, wait, down, up and come without distraction. It is so easy still for me to fall into the “beat myself up” game.  I am heartsick that I have let this happen but it isn’t helpful to her or me to continue to dwell on it.  I must move forward. You had mentioned that I have one session left. If that is still available, I am hopeful that you can see us and advise me on how to proceed.  I just wish you were closer or that I did not have the constraints of my dad and my injured knee….but I do. 

First, how brave is Raven’s owner? Fear of being judged or an “I told you so” would have stopped many people from getting back in touch with their original trainer.  But she did it out of love for her dog and as an expression of her own values. And she is willing to share her story to help others.

Phoebe was saddened and devastated right along with Raven’s owner, of course, and more than glad to see them again. They have had two sessions in person and are planning some remote training sessions. Raven is recovering. Let this ring loud and clear to others who may have been pushed into a wrong turn with their dogs’ training. R+ trainers want you and your dog to be happy. They are familiar with the pressures that can push you to try aversive methods like shock.

Dog Training Is an Unregulated Industry

Raven’s owner and Raven are victims of an unregulated industry. Every professional positive reinforcement-based trainer I know has stories like this. Many of the dogs they work with have fears or aggressive behaviors that have been previously installed through aversive training.

In most professions, the trainer’s behavior would be unthinkable. The list of unprofessional behaviors from this “trainer” is long.

  • She hurt and terrorized Raven via the shock collar.
  • She lied about her intentions, telling Raven’s owner that she would only use the collar on the two bottom settings.
  • She blamed, bullied, and threatened Raven’s owner.
  • She failed to be transparent and did the bulk of the punishing training out of sight of Raven’s owner.
  • She exhibited ignorance about how dogs and people learn.
  • She had no response when confronted with evidence of Raven’s persistent trauma.
head shot of a black lab who is looking at something

No matter the skill level of a trainer, or whether they use the aversive only occasionally or “on a light setting,” there are always risks with aversive training. Veterinarians, credentialed behavior consultants, and professional organizations agree on these risks and recommend training with positive reinforcement. But the problem here was not only the shock collar. It is also that—in my opinion—the trainer was incompetent. This so-called “trainer” was willing to cause a dog permanent harm in order to suppress behavior, no matter the cost to the dog. She either had no knowledge of dog body language or did not care that she had left the dog with longterm trauma. Not all dogs will respond as dramatically and pitifully as Raven, although with this level of aversive use, it’s likely.

I support the movement toward regulating the dog training industry. I believe trainers should be required, at a minimum, to be transparent about their methods and the alternatives to those methods. Otherwise, stories like Raven’s will continue to be common.

Predictable Consequences of Aversive Training

Raven was terrified as a result of the shock training, and her fear got attached to the cot, to locations in her owner’s house, and to the activities of her owners. (These are textbook examples of the generalization of fear.) At the time of this writing, six weeks after the shock training, Raven still trembles in the kitchen at home.

tri-color rat terrier with big ears lying on a blue mat

One of the things I do in this blog is to show how dogs’ behavior correlates with the science as we know it. Usually, that’s in the context of positive reinforcement-based training. But understanding the effects of aversives is important, too. Raven’s responses to aversive training are in keeping with the science. Those responses included escape/avoidance, generalized apathy, and learned helplessness. And enduring fear. Some dogs would alternatively have developed retaliatory or redirected aggression.

Telling an anecdote about one dog and one trainer doesn’t in itself “prove” that aversives have fallout. But we don’t need it to. That fact is already amply supported in the science. What telling the story does is to show you what those observations of textbook fallout look like in real life. I hear or read several of these stories per week. I hear about the doodle with nervous diarrhea and colitis—he wears two shock collars because his owners have electronic fences both outside and inside the house. I hear about the dog who bit his new owner after receiving a painful “correction” at the direction of a self-proclaimed trainer. I see with my own eyes the terrier who has been so mistreated on the agility field that he cowers at the start line. My trainer friends are frequently the cleanup crew when a dog has been reduced to a pitiful wreck by an aversive trainer. It takes a toll on them.

The false dichotomy presented by the aversive trainer—well, we can train her with an e-collar or you can let her run out in the road and get hit by a car—is unfortunately a fairly common tactic. Aversive trainers will say the dog will run into traffic and die, or become unmanageable, or bite someone and get euthanized—unless aversive methods are used. But this is not what the science tells us. In fact, there is evidence that behavioral euthanasia correlates with aversive training methods. The very opposite of what the aversive trainers claim.

Helping the Dogs and Humans Recover

I can relate to what happened to Raven’s owner. I once had a dog whom I desperately loved, but who was wreaking havoc with my life and was a danger to my smaller dog. I used aversives (a prong collar and forceful handling) because those were the solutions offered to me by the people who claimed authority about dog behavior and training. My situation felt untenable, and that was the only way out that I saw. I am so sorry, just as Raven’s owner is. And we are both learning better ways.

Raven’s owner was brave. She came back to Phoebe and told her the whole truth of what happened. Use of aversives has fallout on owners, too. We don’t know how many are too embarrassed to seek help after their dog has been abused in the name of training, much less to describe the sad situation so thoroughly. Or how many run out of money for training. So kudos go to Raven’s owner for protecting Raven from further abuse from the so-called trainer. Raven’s original problems of not coming when called and over-arousal in the presence of other animals are straightforward to address, and Phoebe is helping this sweet dog and loving, honest owner to go forward.

Copyright 2019 Eileen Anderson


Siracusa, C., Provoost, L., & Reisner, I. R. (2017). Dog-and owner-related risk factors for consideration of euthanasia or rehoming before a referral behavioral consultation and for euthanizing or rehoming the dog after the consultation. Journal of veterinary behavior22, 46-56.

Photo Credits

The photo of my rat terrier, Cricket, on the blue mat belongs to me.

The three photos featuring the black lab are by Peter Wadsworth and were uploaded from Flickr to Wikimedia Commons according to the licenses of the two sites. They are shared under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. The dog in the photos is not connected with the story in this post in any way.

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Sound Decisions: A Webinar on Dogs and Sound

Have you struggled to protect your dog or your client’s dogs from intrusive sounds?

You’ve probably heard the advice to cover a dog’s crate in heavy blankets or even acoustic foam if the dog is scared of thunder. But does this practice create a barrier against sound? How much? Are you sure?

I will be giving evidence-based answers to this and many more questions about dogs and sound at my upcoming webinar at The Science Dog on July 24, 2019:

Sound Decisions: Helping Your Dog Cope With a Noisy Human World

Trainers need to understand basics about sound science and technology to perform desensitization and counterconditioning effectively with client dogs. They need to be informed about the science of sound to help with management solutions. And pet owners often search for methods to protect their dogs from bothersome sounds. Many of the solutions commonly offered for both these problems are not supported by evidence.

Here’s just a bit of what I’ll be covering.

How Can We Protect Our Dogs From Sounds That Bother Them?

Whether our dogs are sound-reactive, sound phobic, or happily normal, there are times when we want to protect them from sounds. I will be discussing the major suggested methods: barriers, wearable devices, music, and masking.

I’ll discuss both the why and the how. For instance, I tested the sound levels in a crate when covered and uncovered. I used an app that does some math to compute the sound pressure level over a broad range of frequencies. I’ll share the results of my test in the webinar and explain how it matches what the science tells us.

How much sound is absorbed by the cover on the crate? I’ll show you.

How Can We Play Sounds That “Sound Right” To Dogs?

In dog training, there are also sounds we do want our dogs to hear. We need accurate, high fidelity sounds when counterconditioning. I will be sharing important information about the characteristics of digital technology. You’ll find out why generating high fidelity sound—high fidelity for dogs’ ears—is difficult. I’ll tell you the best ways to get around these limitations when it is possible to do so.

Low-frequency sounds like thunder and fireworks are uniquely challenging to reproduce. High-frequency noises like beeps and whistles have a different set of challenges. I’ll suggest some best practices for both. And I’ll also offer an alternative way to get a less intense version of a sound trigger for desensitization and counterconditioning when lowering the volume doesn’t help.

We need to approach sound with the same scientific rigor that we do behavior science. I’m uniquely qualified on the subject. I have a master’s degree in music from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and a master’s degree in applied science (acoustics) from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Come to the webinar on July 24th and let’s get started.

Sign up for the webinar here!

Copyright 2019 Eileen Anderson

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If Your Dog Is Afraid of Fireworks, See Your Vet Now

What are we here for this time?

Every year I post an article about last-minute things you can do to help your dog who is afraid of fireworks. We are coming up on Canada Day and U.S. Independence Day, and that means bangs and booms. Over the years I have tweaked my list. I’ll be posting it in a few days.

But this year I am posting earlier with the most important tip of all.

  1. See your vet.

If you see your vet now to discuss prescription drug possibilities, you have time to make sure they work for your dog and your vet can adjust them if necessary. There are new products on the market, as well as several options that have been around for years.

Here is what Dr. Lynn Honeckman, veterinary behavior resident, says about the benefits of medications.

Now is the perfect time to add an anti-anxiety medication to your firework-preparation kit. The right medication will help your pet remain calm while not causing significant sedation. It is important to practice trials of medication before the actual holiday, so that the effect can be properly tested.

There are a variety of medications or combinations that your veterinarian might prescribe. Medications such as Sileo, clonidine, alprazolam, gabapentin, or trazodone are the best to try due to their quick onset of action (typically within an hour) and short duration of effect (4–6 hours).

Medications such as acepromazine should be avoided as they provide sedation without the anti-anxiety effect, and could potentially cause an increase in fear.

Pets who suffer severe fear may need a combination of medications to achieve the appropriate effect, and doses may need to be increased or decreased during the trial phase. Ultimately, there is no reason to allow a pet to suffer from noise phobia. Now is the perfect time to talk with your veterinarian.

Dr. Lynn Honeckman

Sound phobia is a serious condition. The best way to help your dog get through the coming holidays in the U.S. and Canada is to contact your vet for help. Call now.

Copyright 2019 Eileen Anderson

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Teaching Your Dog to Self-Interrupt

What are the neighbors doing?

Here is something I taught with positive reinforcement that enhances Clara’s life and mine. I’ve taught her to respond positively to being interrupted, and even to interrupt herself. This trained behavior helps us get along smoothly from day to day, and also helps keep her safe in the world.

Self-interruption is related to a whole batch of desirable dog behaviors. I mean desirable to us humans, but they are beneficial to the dogs, too. People refer variously to reorientation, offered attention, checking in, and more. Even recall is related. By whatever name, these are safety behaviors. When you can get your dog’s attention easily, and when they offer attention on their own, you can get them out of many emergencies without a fuss.

What Does Self-Interruption Look Like?

Over the years, I have taught Clara to interrupt her own behavior when there is something intense going on in the environment. She stops and checks in with me. If she’s next to me already, she turns and looks at me. If she’s across the yard or in another part of the house, she runs to me. This ability to turn away from something that’s bothering her has the effect of lowering her arousal. Self-interruption also means it’s easy to get her out of sticky situations. She does most of the work herself!

Clara was a feral puppy and came to me with suspicions of humans preinstalled. She is eight years old now (today!). She now has some other people besides me in her trusted circle, and can happily walk on-leash in densely populated areas. She’s good with bicycles, baby carriages, wheelchairs, and all kinds of assistive equipment. All kinds of people in all sorts of attire. She would rather not be approached, but if people have moderately polite body language, she can tolerate it. I generally arrange things so she doesn’t have to interact.

At home, she keeps an eye on the neighbors, city and construction workers, the neighborhood dogs, and other animals. But instead of fence-running, endlessly alarm barking, or evading me, she generally takes a look, expresses her opinion with a huff or two, then checks in with me.

You can see it in this unedited video. Instead of being glued to the fence and barking at the neighbors, she watches, checks in with me twice on her own, and turns on a dime when I call her. She also responds instantly when I suggest we go inside.

The video is badly recorded—sorry!

This is normal everyday behavior for her. She has learned to interrupt her own fixation on things that bother her. This was all taught with classical conditioning and positive reinforcement.

Training Self-Interruption

Clara was well prepared to learn self-interruption because I classically conditioned her as a puppy that another dog barking made wonderful food happen. I didn’t want her to “catch” my reactive dog’s habits. It worked. Classically conditioning a dog to any stimulus and then providing the goodie yourself is going to have the effect, over time, of them reorienting to you when the stimulus occurs. This gave Clara and me a jump start on interruption training.

This time it’s a squirrel

But you don’t have to do that to teach dogs to interrupt themselves. I’ll tell you the two behaviors my teacher helped me teach.

The first thing is to interrupt the dog a lot and pay super well for it. At first, only interrupt when you think their attention is wavering away from whatever has their focus. For example, when they are turning toward you anyway. If they are playing, perhaps they have taken a break and are looking around. Call them, then reinforce like crazy when they come. Gradually, you can start to call them in more difficult situations. And sometimes you can do like I did in the video and encourage the dog to go return to what she was doing. (I don’t usually encourage her to go back when she is worried about something she sees, but this time she seemed to want one more look and I thought it would work out all right.)

What I have described is part of many recall training plans. But if you do it enough and the dog will probably start to offer the behavior without a deliberate cue from you. Treat like crazy! Then build up the habit with reinforcement.

In the video, I had kibble in my hand. But Clara’s habit was built with things like roast chicken, spray cheese, and cat food in a tube!

A second thing to do is to teach the dog that treats fall from heaven whenever anything weird happens in the environment. Does a jogger appear out of nowhere? Treat! Someone drops a garbage can lid next door? Treat!

Did you notice in my video that the first time Clara runs to me is after there is a loud noise? She knows noises make treats happen. So instead of getting upset, trying to locate the noise, and barking in that general direction (which I guarantee is what she would have done without training), she runs to me.

Most of the things that get her attention in the yard worry her a bit. It may be interesting to watch the neighbors and what goes on in the street, but it’s not usually fun. Trained self-interruption gives her a way to get “unstuck.” If there’s too much going on, we go into the house, and she is glad to do so.

Because of positive reinforcement training, I never have to fight to get Clara’s attention. I don’t have to yell or nag. This dog who arrived with so many strikes against her is a dream to live with. Besides making life more pleasant, her responsiveness makes it safer for her to go out and about in the world. I can always “reach” her, and her recall is practically reflexive.

Related Posts

Click the image below to check out the other posts in Companion Animal Psychology’s Train4Rewards Blog Party!

Copyright 2019 Eileen Anderson

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Posted in Desensitization and Counterconditioning, Dog Training | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

Edit Yourself: A New Writing Course for Dog Professionals

If you are a professional dog trainer, you probably have to write a lot. If you have a small business, hiring a copyeditor every time you put out a document is not feasible. But my new course provides a practical way to help you create more polished and professional writing.

You can learn how to edit your own writing.

Lots of you teach skills all day, and often to more than one species. You know to break behavior into small chunks to build new skills. That’s what this course does. Although nothing can substitute for the work a professional editor or copyeditor does, in this course, you will learn to look at writing like they do. You will learn more than a dozen things to look for. Fixing those will improve your writing bigtime!

Putting better writing out into the world starts a cascade of good things for your business. It helps you establish authority and demonstrate competence. It helps you attract clients. And clear written communication skills can help you keep them and get good outcomes.

“Edit Yourself” can help you make your writing better. And you don’t even have to provide the writing that you work on. I do.

“Edit Yourself: Writing Skills for Dog Trainers”

“Edit Yourself” is open for enrollment now on Lori Nanan’s Canine Online Courses platform. The course has 16 lessons, 34 activities, and 21 worksheets. There are also four videos, including two interviews with accomplished writers in the dog training world.

Here’s a peek at some of the lessons and activities in the course.

Text: list of chapters and activities in Edit Yourself course. A Capital Idea Show Your Good Breeding Heading Your Way A Number of Things... 7 Use Strong Nouns The Utilization of Nominalizations Precipitates a Minimizing of Robustness Lose (Most of) the Romance 8 Leaving the State of Being Finding a Stronger Verb than "To Be" and Kicking Out Its Buddies There Is and There Are 9 Getting All Those Words to Agree and Stay in Line Nouns and Verbs and Tenses, Oh My! (Subject-Verb Agreement) I Misplaced My Modifier! 10 Lists: Determining a Format and Making Them Parallel Bullets or Numbers? Getting Lists Parallel Is the Tricky Part 11 Will You—Can You—Work 8–5 and Stop Dilly-Dallying Around? Hyphens and Two Kinds of Dashes 12 Whose Voice Is It Anyway? Voice: Your Face To the World Contract That! One Weird Trick To Warm Up Your Writing

Each activity has an explanation of the issue and several examples. I explain how to identify a particular problem and how to fix it. With issues of style, I also discuss the reasons one might “break the rules” and not fix it.

Really, No Writing!

You don’t have to write for this course; you do that all the time for your business anyway and you don’t need extra writing assignments. Instead, you will tinker with and fix what I write for you. Some of the “bad” examples are straight from my older blogs! That’s where you’ll practice. Then you can take your new skills straight to your own documents.

A systematic way to find common style and readability errors can change the way you think about writing and take your skills to a new level. As you internalize these guidelines and practice editing, your new habits will flow into your writing. You’ll get more things right the first time and know what to look for when it’s time to polish your document.

People have asked me what level of writing skill they need to take the course. The material is helpful at all levels. You don’t need advanced writing skills.

Beyond Proofreading

This is neither a proofreading course nor a grammar course. There are hundreds of apps and online courses for those. In “Edit Yourself,” you learn to make your writing more polished, professional, and readable. You learn to catch common errors and mishaps. And you go about it in an organized, systematic way. For instance, several of the problems you learn to spot can be found by simple document searches. Others are a little trickier, but once you learn to look analytically at your writing, your good habits can generalize.

a worried looking brown dog looks at some text pinned to the wall

Not Just for Dog Trainers

This course focuses on principles of writing that apply to more than writing about dogs. It is helpful to anyone who writes nonfiction and in particular those who write for their business. Since my world is the dog training world, the course is aimed at people in that world. There is a lot of doggie content in the material. (Did you know there are rules for capitalizing dog breeds? Do you know where to find those rules?) Not just dog trainers, but behavior consultants, vets and veterinary staff, dog walkers, dog groomers, and shelter and rescue folks will all benefit.

This course is awesomely put together and extremely useful for writers of any genre. It’s very easy to follow, the instructions are clear and concise, and it helps you remember the ”rules” of writing in a fun way. 

Antonia Čirjak

The Nuts and Bolts

After you have practiced different editing challenges, you will create a personalized list of issues to check when you are finishing up any document. I provide a master list of the issues students work on, and you can cut any that aren’t important for you. By the end of the course, you’ll know what you need to focus on. (Two of my own personal problems are too-long sentences and overuse of the word “that.”)

“Edit Yourself” is a self-paced course. There are group discussion areas tied to each activity, and you can choose how much you engage. Your work is completely private; you don’t turn anything in. But you can ask questions of other students and me when you need more help on a topic.

“Edit Yourself” is opening at an introductory price of $129, and you can get an additional 25% discount using the coupon code LAUNCH. This discount applies through June 30, 2019. That price is under $100, less than you would pay for an hour of a good copyeditor’s time.

Enroll in Edit Yourself: Writing Skills for Dog Trainers!

Read more about the course.

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3 Reasons a Little Dog Might Not Lie Down on Cue

small rat terrier won't lie down and her belly is off the floor

Cricket almost lying down. Note the space under her chest.

When I first started training dogs, things that didn’t work were a mystery to me. Why couldn’t I reward Summer with chasing squirrels like everybody said I could? Why couldn’t I find that slot in the layout of her teeth where the experienced trainers said she should hold the dumbbell? And why, oh why, could I not teach Cricket to lie down on cue? At first, I saw everything through the lens of disobedience: my dogs were wrong when things didn’t work out. As I learned more about training, I realized these things were on me. There was something I was doing wrong. But often, I still couldn’t figure out what it was.

When your primary source of dog training information is the internet, you are at a disadvantage. (Ironic, eh, for a dog blogger to say that!) What I mean is that even the way you identify and describe a problem can lead would-be helpful people down the wrong path. When you are new, you don’t have the information to assess the problem to begin with.  So you can’t describe it well.

Back in 2007, when I was just starting to train, the situation was worse, because fewer people posted videos of their dogs. They were starting to, but YouTube was populated mostly with dog training videos by professionals. The idea that a newbie could post a video and get helpful critique from an expert was just getting off the ground.

That’s why I missed the two obvious reasons why Cricket didn’t want to lie down in training. Many more experienced people would have caught them.

Three Reasons a Dog Won’t Lie Down

Three reasons dogs (especially little ones) don’t want to lie down that have little to do with the mechanics of training are:

  1. Pain
  2. Discomfort with the surface
  3. Not feeling safe

So if you have a dog, young or old, who doesn’t want to lie down, first see a vet. #1 is the biggie. Seriously. Even young dogs can have painful joint conditions or other reasons why lying down is uncomfortable, especially in the “sphinx” position. And even when a pup will lie down, don’t overdo the “puppy pushups” thing. Let those little joints mature.

For Cricket it was Reasons #2 and #3

Luckily, Cricket didn’t have any pain associated with lying down. My vets and I never detected any. She regularly did a “sphinx down” at home. Here she is doing it.

Cricket lying down (on carpet)

And another.

Cricket lying down at my office, inviting me to play

So what was the problem in the first photo above where her chest and belly are hovering an inch above the floor?

Two words: hardwood floor.

That floor was slippery, and I kept her nails longer than I would nowadays. If she had lain all the way down on it, she would have had to scrabble to get up. Plus, she likely didn’t care for the feeling of the cool, smooth floor on her little bare belly. This seems to be pretty common in small dogs with short hair. Cricket hovered even higher over the chilly concrete floor in my den.

In the two photos directly above where she is lying down naturally, she is on carpet.

No Lying Down at the Obedience Club

But then when I took her to the obedience club, they had nice mats with good traction. So why was she still keeping her chest off the floor? Apparently, this is so common with little dogs that they even had a name for it in the obedience world: “the bridge.”

Here she is performing a perfect bridge. Can you guess why?

dogs in an obedience club lying down, except for a small terrier who isn't lying all the way down

Here’s a closeup.

closeup of rat terrier in "bridge" position instead of lying down

Cricket, as tough and willing as she was, was anxious. She didn’t feel safe enough to lie down in the club environment, surrounded by strangers and bigger dogs.

It saddens me now that I couldn’t see or respect her discomfort. If I did comprehend it somewhat, it just wasn’t important enough to me. I figured she’d get over her nervousness.

Look how brave she was! And look how much effort, how much muscle tension it took for her to maintain that bridge. She held it for a couple minutes at a time. I wish I had that core strength. She wasn’t going to lie all the way down, even though she was fond of the nice lab mix on her left. There were too many dogs, too much going on there, and she was little.

Another view of her at the dog club. It’s hard to detect body language in these old photos, but look at her ear set during this heeling exercise. Her ears were pulled back. Worried, and not a happy camper.

rat terrier at a dog obedience club heeling on leash

For contrast, here is Zani at the same obedience club. Zani is not without her stressors, but they don’t involve people, dogs, or new places. All those things are lovely, as far as she is concerned. Look how relaxed she is! It’s probably safe to say that Cricket never looked as relaxed as Zani in her whole life. Cricket was a worry wart, like me.

black and rust colored hound mix lying down looking relaxed

I said at the beginning that this kind of problem—a little dog who wouldn’t lie down in some situations even though I trained and trained on it—was on me. But it wasn’t precisely a training problem. It was a problem of observation and empathy.

I didn’t know enough to realize that more and more attempted reps weren’t necessarily going to make Cricket feel better about lying down. I’m not saying it couldn’t have been trained. It could have, with a more skilled trainer. But to do it well would have meant looking at the situation holistically and addressing Cricket’s anxiety first.

And that’s where the empathy comes in. I can be a little compulsive, a bit Type A about certain things. And by god, it drove me nuts that I couldn’t do something as “simple” as get my dog to lie down in an obedience class. So I had a little war with myself. One voice saying, “Why on earth is this important? It doesn’t matter! You aren’t going to compete with her! And she doesn’t want to lie down, so why stay fixated on it?” But the other voice was saying, “But she’s ‘supposed’ to.”

The first voice, the one that was both sensible and empathetic, did finally win out. I stopped forcing the issue. I gave up my idea of competing in rally obedience with her. (Yes, I really did consider it. It’s a tribute to what a brave and willing little dog she was, not indicative of any kind of good sense on my part.) I did keep taking her to the club, even as a stand-in for Summer once as a demo agility dog, and she did great. She got more comfortable at the club and made dog and human friends.

Reason #4 Why a Dog Might Not Lie Down on Cue

The title of this post, with the “three reasons” bit, is a little tongue in cheek. It’s a bit of clickbait. Of course there are more than three reasons, but I think I picked three important ones. There’s another one in Cricket’s case, though. I reinforced that bridge! I mean, wouldn’t you? The adorable, serious little dog was trying so hard and was so tense. Her belly was almost on the floor, and it never……quite… there. Yeah, I gave her treats for that. Way too many treats. Matching law hell. Bad training practice, but a good human, nonetheless. I’m not a bit sorry.

Copyright 2019 Eileen Anderson

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Posted in Dog body language, Stress Signals | 12 Comments

The Stages of Crossover

When I crossed over to training with positive reinforcement, I had no idea how much my behavior and even my belief system would need to change. I had to question my faith in some long-held cultural assumptions and learn to rely on scientific observation and analysis.

Crossing over was a lengthy process for me, and even now, after more than 10 years, I occasionally fall back onto old assumptions and behaviors. I wonder sometimes if I am the only one so vulnerable to cultural programming. But a quick look around social media says no, I’m probably not.

There are intellectual, emotional, and cultural barriers to crossing over. For me, certain barriers were so large that they defined whole phases in my thinking and practice about training. I’ll share several of these phases here. Maybe they will be familiar to some of you. And maybe identifying them could be helpful to trainers who meet with resistance or confusion from their clients. Once upon a time, I was that client.

“I Tried R+ and It Didn’t Work”

This was my experience, and it was real—it’s not just something people say to provoke positive reinforcement trainers. I went in and out of this phase, trying and failing several times.

In 2002, when I got my rat terrier, Cricket, I read about positive reinforcement training on the young Internet. I wanted to teach Cricket to walk on a loose leash. I read about the “Be a Tree” method, wherein one stops forward progress whenever the dog pulls. I thought I was trying positive reinforcement training when I tried to be a tree. It sounded elegant and reasonable. But I didn’t know to start indoors, in low distraction. What I had read didn’t mention using food as a reinforcer when the dog was walking nicely, so I didn’t. And I didn’t know about any of the quadrants then, much less recognize the presence of the other three in the protocol as I was practicing it.

Lovely little Cricket—I don’t have a photo of our “Be a Tree” fiasco

I followed the “Be a Tree” protocol as faithfully as I knew how every day for six months, and, not surprisingly, it didn’t work. Cricket would immediately tighten the leash, and I would stop. She would stand there, barking. I would wait until she accidentally loosened the leash. (It often took a while.) Then we would go on, perhaps three more steps, and the process would repeat.

Now I know that she was probably too far over threshold to perceive that the loosening of the leash was connected to being allowed to go forward and that some sort of reinforcement (though not intended by me) was working to maintain the barking. And I know for sure my timing was bad. But since my attempt at the method was unsuccessful, I assumed that positive reinforcement training in general didn’t work. If I had known about learning theory then, I wouldn’t have hesitated to further generalize that learning theory didn’t work either. (Indeed, that was a later phase.)

Isn’t that a little strange? Why would I reject the whole thing rather than consider that my knowledge might be incomplete?

Suppose I had an orthopedic problem and needed surgery. The operation, a well-understood and documented procedure to be performed by a skilled surgeon, had a predicted 90 percent chance of success—but it failed.

My possible responses might include:

• The surgeon did her best, but due to complications I was forewarned about, the method failed
• The surgeon failed
• Western medicine failed

It’s so easy to jump to that third response with dog training. When we are new to training, the idea that it could be based in science is new too. And the science doesn’t always fit well with a lot of what we “know” from living in a punishment-based culture.

“R+ Is Not Practical”

Summer, my crossover dog, pursuing her passion for squirrels

Believe it or not, I failed a second time with loose leash walking, four years later and with a different dog. I was toying with positive reinforcement training again and had read about Premack’s principle, a theory stating that a stronger response will reinforce a weaker response. Since my new dog, Summer, was fixated on squirrels, I decided that running together to a tree where there was a squirrel would be the reward for walking nicely for a few steps and sitting and giving me eye contact. She quickly learned how to “ask” to run to the squirrel. The problem was getting her attention back after that. Also, I had accidentally created the adrenaline-filled, anticipatory stay so prized by some agility competitors. Summer was on pins and needles, then exploded into action when released. But I lacked the skill to get her back, and I saw that the main result was Summer getting more and more hyped up on walks.

I thought, “Well, that worked, but it’s sure not very practical.”

“Force Is Necessary for Dogs with Issues”

Another common phase of crossing over is the period where we believe that positive reinforcement is fine for most dogs/teaching tricks/teaching the basics, but we still need to punish dogs with behavior problems. Yes, I really believed this. I remember one night at an obedience club seeing a dog that was said to be aggressive. I told my friend that I was glad the dog was wearing a prong collar—this was a dog who needed it, and we had to consider the safety of the other dogs. It made intuitive sense to me that tough dogs needed a tougher approach. (I had never watched that show, by the way. And the idea of “being the boss” resonated culturally well before Cesar came along.)

I could think of no option except to suppress the “bad” behavior. I perceived a dog who bit as being “tough and mean,” rather than afraid, as he probably was. And I had no clue that wearing a prong could worsen his fears, as well as exacerbate the risk of aggression against the other dogs.

“My Dog Is Different”

Even after I had grasped the rudiments of operant learning, I figured there must be exceptions to the basic principles. I didn’t understand the breadth and depth of behavior science. I would swear up and down that a certain behavior that one of my dogs performed regularly was not getting reinforced. Or I would search for things that “didn’t work” as predicted. When I thought I’d found one, I had this victorious a-ha feeling: I just knew my dog was different! I had a grand old time going around saying how this didn’t work and that didn’t work.

“I’ve Got It Figured, and It’s Not What They Think!”

Text: The Phases of Crossing Over  • I tried R+ and it didn’t work • R+ is not practical • Force is necessary for dogs with issues • My dog is different • I’ve got it figured, and it’s not what “they” think  Don't get stuck the way I did! Keep studying and training. A little learning is a dangerous thing, at least for some of us. At some point, I was convinced that I had realized things that almost no one else had. I had it all figured out. And I found support from the iconoclasts: I would glom onto scholarly articles that didn’t say what the people who circulated them thought they did, opinion pieces by critics of behavioral science who didn’t understand it, and arguments that had elements of truth that had been falsely generalized.

I distrusted expertise in behavior analysis and figured that the iconoclast du jour had found a loophole. The trouble was that I didn’t (and still don’t) know the basics well enough to be “proving” that there were exceptions. I’m not saying there’s no nuance to the science; I’m saying that when I perceived something as exceptional I was merely mistaken.

“Not So Fast!”

This is not exactly a phase, but more of a common setback during crossover. I remember an example from a conversation with a force-free trainer friend. We were talking about a talented young agility student. He was taking lessons with a local so-called balanced trainer known for her rough handling. I mentioned this to my friend, and she said, “Oh I hate it when children are taught to hurt their dogs.”

I flinched, bigtime. Even though I had reported this development as bad news, I wasn’t ready to hear blunt language about hurting a dog. I had trained punitively only for a short time, never liked it, and had quit more than a year before. Still, I reflexively defended the rough trainer. Why? I don’t even know.

I Made It Anyway

Despite spending so much time arguing and looking for loopholes, eventually I “got it.” I started seeing how behavior is a map of what is reinforcing. I perceived the fallout of aversives. I learned about competing reinforcers and saw how, when a method failed, one common reason was that there was reinforcement coming from another source. I realized that training involved mechanical skill, and that without it certain methods wouldn’t work well. Failures became easier to analyze. I learned enough about canine body language to see the obvious differences in the demeanors of dogs trained primarily with aversives and those who weren’t.

What Pushed Me Off the Fence?

What helped? Seeing more and more examples of positive reinforcement working. Learning about the theory. Learning about the role emotions play in behavior. Repetition.

But it may well have been agility lessons with an excellent teacher that finally helped me turn the corner. Human neophytes in agility see their dogs go the “wrong” direction or take the “wrong” obstacle again and again. Without the influence of good teachers or other resources, students blame the dog. My teacher challenged my assumptions repeatedly, with gentle but inexorable logic.

Summer pursuing a new passion

If I claimed that my dog “defied” me by taking the tunnel, my teacher would remind me how much I had reinforced tunnel work. If I complained that my dog turned in front of me, my teacher would point out that I had slowed down just before she turned. When I thought my dog took a “random” direction, my teacher would instruct me to look where my own feet were pointing. She showed me over and over that my dog’s seemingly inexplicable behavior was usually a direct response to mine.

Most important, she helped me figure out what would motivate my dog more than the wildlife on the other side of the fence. Seeing my dog’s interest level change from, “This is okay if there is nothing else to do” to “Please, oh please, let’s play again!” showed me the true power of positive reinforcement.

This article was originally published in the Summer 2014 issue of Barks from the Guild under the title “The Crossover Client” and was edited for the magazine by Kiki Yablon.

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Guess What! That Dog Video Is Probably Fake!

Text: Fake Dog Videos Often 1) Have an altered sound track; 2) Are short and heavily edited; 3) Make you go, "Awwww"; 4) Don't show everythingMost of us are beguiled by videos where dogs appear to be doing something very human or beyond what we usually consider to be their intelligence level. Creators of fake dog videos exploit this tendency to get clicks. They make it appear that the dog is doing something he is not, or attribute some pretend, human-centric motivation or interest. And there are people who are willing to alter videos or create mashups so one of these things appears to be happening.

Innocent Misrepresentation of Dogs

Some misleading videos are not deliberate fakery. They are actually published out of misunderstandings of dog body language. Some popular video genres were born of this misunderstanding. One of these is the “cute dog and baby video.” These are videos of infants or toddlers close to or on top of dogs.  The humans rave about how wonderfully tolerant the dog is, while the dog is usually getting more and more desperate to escape. (Often the toddlers are roughly handling the dogs.) The caption is often something like, “Oh, Bowser loves the kids! He lets them do anything!” He may love them, but he doesn’t love what the kids are doing. I’ve talked to enough trainers to be concerned about this practice. Both the dog’s and the child’s lives can be at risk. And even if the dog isn’t demonstrating stress, such a video encourages other people into unsafe practices with dogs and babies.

Some good resources for making sure kids and dogs can live together safely are:

I recently published an article about a viral video of a “smiling” puppy, allegedly from happiness from being adopted. Same deal. The new owners likely misunderstood the communication of an appeasement grin. But they did realize that the cute factor could cause the video to go viral.

A related genre is the “guilty dog” video.  In most guilty dog videos, the dog is stressed because the human is scolding or threatening them. (In case anybody reading here isn’t aware, there has actually been a study that debunks dogs “acting guilty.” It showed no correlation between a dog performing these behaviors and having committed a misdeed.) The most famous “guilty dog” of them all was a Labrador named Denver. She sometimes performed a classic but rare appeasement signal for dogs: a grin. In her original viral video, her squinting and ducking her head supposedly signified guilt for stealing a bag of food. In later videos, her owner showed her squinting and grinning in other situations, such as when he approached her with ear medicine. Grinning at the prospect of ear medicine undermines the “guilt” theory, but it didn’t matter by then.

Most of the “cute dog and baby” videos, “guilty dog,” and “grinning dog” videos are born of misunderstanding. But then there are videos that appear to be deliberately faked.

Spotting a Faked Dog Video

There are a couple of reasons for the human behavior of fakery, but the primary reason is virality. The makers of these videos generally know the dog was not really doing what they purport. But they want to have a viral video, either to monetize or just for the attention. So they edit and alter a video to fit a narrative.

Here are eight things to look for that can indicate a faked dog video.

  • Is the soundtrack removed?
  • Is it very short?
  • Is there a lot of video editing in a short video?
  • Does the video make you go, “Awwww” or “Wow!” and you are amazed to think a dog could do such a thing?
  • Are there crucial parts of the scene that you can’t see?
  • Is the dog looking repeatedly off camera?
  • Is there is mood music added?
  • Are there added titles to establish a narrative?

A combination of one or more of these characteristics often means the video was faked. Here are four examples.

The Bulldog “Keeping the Beat” But Not Really

There is a video of a white English bulldog ostensibly “head-banging” to the Nirvana song “Come as You Are.” He rocks and nods his head somewhat in time with the beat. A person is playing a six-string acoustic (i.e. not electric) guitar in the foreground.



This video doesn’t convincingly show a dog feeling and moving to a beat. It is clearly a mashup. Here is the evidence.

  1. We can’t hear any environmental noise, including the acoustic guitar being played right up front, close to the camera. We hear only the electric bass and drums from the Nirvana song. In other words, it’s not a recording of what’s happening in the room. (You could stop right here. This alone ruins the credibility of the video. )
  2. The guitarist’s movements on the fingerboard don’t match the music. He’s playing something else.
  3. The soundtrack is not even the actual Nirvana song. The vocals never come in. We hear only the introduction, looped a few times.

What Really Happened?

Here’s what makes sense to me.

  1. A guy was playing the guitar while someone videoed him.
  2. The bulldog walked in, paused a few seconds, then started rocking on his butt, perhaps to scratch his butt or as some kind of stereotypy.
  3. The person with the camera kept filming and probably had a good laugh.
  4. Afterward, someone removed the sound from the video and substituted a looped version of the introduction of the Nirvana song.  They probably used the looped intro because including the vocals would trigger copyright algorithms in YouTube. YouTube would remove it or sanction them.
  5. They marketed the movie as an example of a dog moving to a beat.

By the way, the “Nirvana” versions of this video are not the earliest. There is an earlier version posted on YouTube with a blues soundtrack. That version **might** have the original soundtrack, but the dog’s movement is still clearly independent of the music.

To believe that the Nirvana video is as it purports to be, you would have to believe the following string of unlikely events.

  1. A guy was sitting in his house holding his guitar while a loop of the introduction of a Nirvana song played over his speakers (why the loop?).
  2. He was simultaneously playing a different piece on his acoustic guitar (why?).
  3. The two humans, the two dogs, and the acoustic guitar he is playing right in front of the camera are all completely inaudible.

A much simpler explanation is that the Nirvana song was chosen as a good match for the dog’s movement. Anytime the original audio is removed from a video, it’s a good time to get skeptical.

By the way, members of avian species have shown the ability to sense and respond to a beat (Schachner et al, 2009), and a sea lion has been *trained* to do so (Rouse et al. 2016). The Schachner paper linked above also found no evidence of dogs moving to a beat. They examined a lot of video evidence.  I haven’t seen any persuasive videos myself since that paper was published. And yes, I’ve seen the golden retriever whose head nods as someone plays the guitar. That video has problems, too.

Holding the Gate for the Golden Puppies: A Trained Behavior

Some videos that supposedly show dogs doing unusual things are likely showing trained behaviors. The producers frame the behaviors to look like the dogs are doing them on their own. This video of the golden retriever opening a gate and holding it open for a group of puppies to go to a line of food bowls is probably one of those. She is being heavily coached by humans. Here are some things to notice.

  • The adult golden can open the gate and hold it, but almost closes it with half the puppies still inside. She appears stressed.
  • She is looking away from the puppies, probably up at a human, a fair amount of time.
  • There’s no soundtrack, just cute music.
  • The editing is choppy and strange, with two obvious edits in a 19-second video.

The Lab “Rocking” Puppies: No Training, Just Fakery

In this video, we see a lovely yellow lab “rocking” two young puppies in a recliner type rocking chair. She is sitting in front of the chair, with her chin and her right paw up on the chair. The chair is rocking. Look closely. It’s unlikely that the dog is providing the motion. She is responding to it. Her body weight is pushed forward, but the chair is rocking down and toward her. A human is probably pushing the chair from behind. And here is our usual tipoff: we have an added soundtrack of the Brahms Lullaby, music box style. The tinny music was clearly added to the video and not playing in the room.

So the likely scenario is that someone put this lab’s two puppies in the chair, and she came to watch over them. Then someone rocked the chair from behind.

“Dogs rocking babies” is a genre. There are playlists and compilation videos galore. Often, the dog has her paws up on a rocker while a person or a motor provides the rocking. On a few, the dog has been trained to bat or push at the infant rocker and does so on cue. Some retriever types seem to like to rest their chins on a rocker while it rocks. In no case does the dog appear to be rocking the infant to soothe it, as a human would. Yet that is what the creators of these videos would have us believe.

Some establish a narrative using subtitles to make sure you get the message. Here’s one such narrative (I changed the names).

This shiba inu is lending a paw
to rock his baby brother to sleep!
1-year-old Fido loves to push
8-month-old Johnnie in his baby chair.
You can always find him near Johnnie, his mom said.
He is very helpful
and always ready to make sure his little brother is ok.
How sweet!

Props to this one for duration behavior, but you can see the cord from the electric rocker plugged in. Fido is not doing the rocking.

These videos are not cute, to me. I see little point to them. And it’s unwise to show your dog right up close to your infant. People copy things they see others post. The dogs are often right next to an infant’s face, performing a contrived and uncomfortable behavior. Nothing could go wrong there, right?


Dogs “Hopping To Show Support”

This video purports to show two dogs limping in empathy with their owner, who has a broken foot. This is a particularly unfortunate situation because the larger dog’s leg may have been tied up to cause a limp.

The dog may have a natural limp, or the owner may have trained a front leg limp. But that’s a pretty advanced trick. Somehow that doesn’t fit with the hilarity of the onlookers. And the dog wouldn’t have gear wrapped around its neck.

The smaller dog doesn’t limp; he just does a paw lift near the end of the video, a common sign of stress.

This video does seem to have the original soundtrack. If the dogs are “showing support,” why must the owner beckon them repeatedly?

This video is also looped and slowed down, a common tactic when videos are super short. You will see the major sites do this a lot.

Other Popular Videos That Are Probably Not as They Appear

I’ll add to this section as I see viral dog videos that appear to have an element of fakery.

  • The sledding dog. This video shows awesome training. But the versions edited and posted by major media try to make us think that the dog is sledding all on her own as a way of self-entertainment. But the original soundtrack is missing, and the dog is obviously looking at the human for cues. There is a lot of editing and looping, and someone turns the sled around (off camera) at the top of the hill. It’s too bad because the owner did a fabulous job training the complex behaviors of riding a sled down a curved hill, fetching the sled back to the owner, and pulling it up the hill on cue.
  • The jumping, turning puppy. This video even made the rounds among dog trainers. Many posted it as an example of “social learning.” In it, a puppy (looks like a pug) jumps—odd, stiff legged little jumps—and simultaneously turns 360 degrees. Then a teenager jumps and twirls, waving their arms. Then the teenager points at the puppy. The puppy jumps, then turns again. We want to believe we are seeing mimicry, but there are several fatal flaws with this claim, including that the puppy does the behavior first. Oops. We are seeing mimicry by a human! The puppy could easily have performed and been rewarded for the behavior a dozen times before the video started. There is no sound, the video is oddly edited, and it’s only 10 seconds long.  If I had a puppy who could copy a behavior of mine on cue, I would make a video that truly demonstrated it happening, wouldn’t you? Kudos to the kid for giving the pup a treat, though.

These are my opinions about the videos. I’m open to evidence that I am wrong. Usually, this would be as straightforward as showing the unedited video with the original soundtrack. On some, we would need a different camera angle. This would require that the dog do the behavior again in a similar situation.

I’m always interested in seeing other videos that are not likely showing what they imply or claim to show. Got any?

Thank you to the people who provided me videos when I asked on Facebook for examples. I’m sorry I didn’t write down your names for credit!


Rouse, A. A., Cook, P. F., Large, E. W., & Reichmuth, C. (2016). Beat keeping in a sea lion as coupled oscillation: implications for comparative understanding of human rhythm. Frontiers in neuroscience, 10, 257.

Schachner, A., Brady, T. F., Pepperberg, I. M., & Hauser, M. D. (2009). Spontaneous motor entrainment to music in multiple vocal mimicking species. Current Biology19(10), 831-836.

Copyright 2019 Eileen Anderson

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How Does Dogs’ Hearing Compare To Humans’?

There is a lot of misunderstanding out there about how well dogs hear. It’s true that their hearing is better than that of humans in a couple ways. They can hear higher-pitched sounds than humans can, and they can hear quieter sounds than we can in some frequency ranges. Because of this, they have a reputation of superb hearing. But their hearing capabilities are not better across the board. Our capabilities are superior to theirs in a few important ways as well.

Here is what the experimental literature tells us about dogs’ hearing compared to that of humans. First, we’ll cover a couple of things we need to know about the characteristics of sound.

Measuring and Defining Sounds

There are two aspects of sound that are most important to understand and identify: frequency (pitch) and sound pressure level. Sound pressure level (SPL)  is a physically measurable quantity that corresponds very roughly to what we subjectively experience as volume.

There are other qualities that are essential to sound, such as timbre and duration. But frequency and SPL are the most important to understand.

Frequency is how high or low the sound is in pitch. It is measured in cycles per second or Hertz. Low, rumbly sounds have low frequencies, that is, fewer cycles per second. High sounds such as digital beeps, children singing, and most birdsong have more cycles per second. Some frequencies of well-known sounds are:

  • The lowest note on an 88-key piano: 28 Hz
  • The highest note on an 88-key piano: 4,186 Hz
  • The low rumbles of thunder: 5–220 Hz (Holmes, 1971)
  • The typical range of human conversation: 80–8,000 Hz (Fant, 2006, p. 218).  The fundamental frequencies of speech are on the low end; fricative consonants like f and s are on the high end.
  • Typical digital beeps and whistles: 1,500–5,000 Hz (measurements by author)
  • The high range of hummingbird vocalizations: 12,000 Hz (Rusch, Pytte, & Ficken, 1996)

Sound pressure level is measured in decibels, a logarithmic unit. The decibel scale is used because the range of detectable sound is so wide.  A linear scale would have to go from 0 to greater than 100 million units to cover the range of sounds we can respond to. But SPL doesn’t exactly correspond to how loud we perceive a sound to be. That is termed “apparent loudness” and differs from person to person, organism to organism. It can’t be objectively measured in a practical way. But SPL can be objectively measured, and those measurements are what we have available to tell us roughly how “loud” we will experience a sound to be.

Logarithmic scales are counterintuitive and a bit difficult to understand. But you can get the idea of the range of sounds we can hear and how loud they are on the image below. You can also consult this article by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to help you get your bearings with decibels.

Dogs’ Hearing vs. Human Hearing

OK, so now we are ready to compare dogs’ hearing to humans’.

High Frequencies

Dogs can hear much higher frequencies than humans can. A young human with normal hearing can typically hear up to about 20,000 Hz (Gelfand, 2010, p. 166). As humans age, that upper limit decreases to about 12,000 Hz. Dogs can hear to 45,000 Hz (Heffner, 1983).

Low Frequencies

Humans can hear slightly lower frequencies than dogs can. We can hear pitches down to about 20 Hz.  We can hear lower than this, down to about 2 Hz, but we don’t perceive these notes as pitches (Gelfand, 2010, p. 166). Sound lower than 20 Hz is called the infrasound range. Dogs can hear down to about 67 Hz (Heffner, 1983). There was speculation in the past that large dogs such St. Bernards can hear low frequencies better. But this was not born out by Heffner’s research. The dog that could hear the lowest frequencies best was a poodle, and the St. Bernard came in last(Heffner, 1983). 

Sound Localization

Humans can locate sounds more precisely than dogs can. For humans, the so-called minimum audible angle is 1° or less in our strongest zone and frequency (Mills, 1958).  The minimal audible angle for dogs is 4° (Fay and Wilber, 1989, p. 519). 

Psychologist Dr. Stanley Coren (2005, p. 47) points out that sound location is one of the first capabilities that dogs lose if they go deaf.

Threshold of Hearing

The threshold of hearing is the sound pressure level at which a sound becomes audible. In the lower frequency range (125–500 Hz), dogs’ and humans’ thresholds of hearing are about the same. At higher pitches, though, dogs have a lower threshold. That is, they can hear sounds at a lower volume than we can. This is true in the range of  500–8,000 Hz, where they can hear noises that are from 13–19 decibels lower (quieter) than we can (Lipman & Grassi, 1942). This is a significant difference. At frequencies higher than 8,000 Hz, the discrepancy grows wider. Then comes the range where we can’t hear at all, but dogs can (20,000–45,000 Hz).

There is a widespread claim that dogs can hear things at “four times the distance” humans can. I haven’t found the source for this and the information above shows that it isn’t a general rule. There are many variables in play when sounds travel over a distance. The range in which dogs’ hearing really excels is the high-frequency range. But this is also the range where sounds don’t travel over long distances. The claim may be related to Lipman and Grassi’s above data point that some dogs can hear noises that are up to 19 dB lower than humans in some ranges. That 19 dB difference would correspond to a factor of four in loudness (but not sound pressure level, sorry). But it’s at a specific frequency, 4,000 Hz (Lipman & Grassi, 1942). If that’s the case, the “four times the distance” claim is an overgeneralization and an impractical comparison. In other words, it’s false.

Summary: Comparing the Hearing of Humans and Dogs

Auditory Processing

The qualities listed above have to do with the physiological capabilities of hearing. Dogs’ abilities to classify and discriminate sounds have been studied as well. The following are not characteristics of hearing, per se, but of the brain’s processing of an auditory stimulus.

Pitch Discrimination

Dogs can discriminate between pitches. They have been tested using both operant and respondent methods. Dogs can discriminate up to 1/3 tone, for instance, between 2,820 and 2,900 Hz (Dworkin, 1935). This is a bit finer than the scale of notes used in most Western music, which progresses by 1/2 tones. They can likely perform even better. In one experiment, a single dog was able to discriminate between tones of 29,500 and 30,000 Hz (Andreyev, 1934). This is far above the range of human hearing, and a smaller increment than 1/3 tone.

Tempo Discrimination

I’m not sure what to call this one, but experiments have been performed to test dogs’ response to different metronome settings. A musician would call these settings differences in tempo. Tempo is measured in beats per minute. For instance, in a tempo of 60 beats per minute, the beats are exactly one second apart.  Dogs can discriminate between 118 beats per minute and 120 beats per minute (Andreyev, 1934). To understand, try this online metronome. Enter the setting of 118 beats per minute, listen, then change it to 120 beats per minute. Could you tell which one it was if someone played one of them for you out of the blue?

Sound Source Categorization

Dogs can learn to categorize sounds. In one study, they were able to differentiate between “sounds that dogs make” and “other sounds.” The other sounds included mechanical sounds and sounds made by other animals (Heffner, 1975).

Timbre Discrimination

Timbre is defined as:

a sensory attribute of sound that enables one to judge differences between sounds having the same pitch, loudness, and duration (Gelfand 2010, p. 227).

We witness dogs’ ability to discriminate timbre empirically all the time. Does your dog discriminate the sound of your car from others? Your voice from your best friend’s? Sure! but the research on it seems pretty limited. Some studies were performed in the early 20th century that showed that dogs could discriminate the difference between the same note played on a tuning fork or a keyboard instrument, and also between different chords (Razran & Warden, 1959).

A different kind of evidence of timbre discrimination was shown in Adachi et al’s study (2007). They demonstrated that dogs could match their owner’s face to the owner’s voice (contrasted with another voice and face) calling their name. Ratcliffe et al (2014) similarly showed that dogs could likely discriminate voices by human gender, which may involve timbre discrimination.

Since a lot of what comprises timbre is the overtone structure of a sound, timbre discrimination could be a subset of pitch discrimination.

Human Speech Sound Discrimination

There are also studies that investigate dogs’ abilities to discriminate between aspects of human speech. These are not about dogs’ comprehension of language, which is a different issue. These are tests to see if dogs can hear the difference between certain human-spoken consonant and vowel sounds.

For instance, Baru (1975) demonstrated that dogs could discriminate between the vowel sounds i and a. The dogs were trained with shock, where wrong answers and “no responses” were punished.

I’m mentioning one study even though it is a master’s thesis. Athanasiadou (2012) tested vowel discrimination in dogs using the preferential looking paradigm. This is a noninvasive method used with human infants. The dogs could discriminate between the Dutch vowel sounds a and e. I hope that future studies of language discrimination follow this method rather than Baru’s.

There are quite a few studies of dogs vis-à-vis words and language, but these veer away from dogs’ discrimination capabilities. The discrimination abilities are taken as a given. If you are interested in speech sound discrimination, there is a review article by Kriengwatana et al that synopsizes a lot of that research for dogs and other animals and is available free online.

This article is a cornerstone for a new section of my blog devoted to dogs and sounds. I will be offering some very practical advice. I hope you stick around for more!


Adachi I., Kuwahata H., Fujita K. (2007). Dogs recall their owner’s face upon hearing the owner’s voice. Animal Cognition 10 17–21

Andreyev, L. A. (1934). Extreme limits of pitch discrimination with higher tones. Journal of Comparative Psychology18(3), 315-332.

Athanasiadou, P. (2012). Studying speech sound discrimination in dogs (Master’s thesis).

Baru A. V. (1975). “Discrimination of synthesized vowels [a] and [i] with varying parameters (Fundamental frequency, intensity, duration and number of formants) in dog,” in Auditory Analysis and Perception of Speech, eds Fant G., Tatham M. A. A., editors. (Waltham, MA: Academic Press; ), 91–101.

Coren, S. (2005). How dogs think: understanding the canine mind. Simon and Schuster.

Dworkin, S. (1935). Alimentary motor conditioning and pitch discrimination in dogs. American Journal of Physiology-Legacy Content112(2), 323-328.

Fant, G. (2006). Speech acoustics and phonetics: Selected writings (Vol. 24). Springer Science & Business Media.

Fay, R. R., & Wilber, L. A. (1989). Hearing in vertebrates: a psychophysics databook. Hill-Fay Associates.

Gelfand, S. (2010). Hearing: An introduction to psychological and physiological acoustics. Informa Healthcare.

Heffner, H. (1975). Perception of biologically meaningful sounds by dogs. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America58(S1), S124-S124.

Heffner, H. E. (1983). Hearing in large and small dogs: Absolute thresholds and size of the tympanic membrane. Behavioral Neuroscience97(2), 310.

Holmes, C. R., Brook, M., Krehbiel, P., & McCrory, R. (1971). On the power spectrum and mechanism of thunder. Journal of Geophysical Research, 76(9), 2106-2115.

Kriengwatana, B., Escudero, P., & ten Cate, C. (2015). Revisiting vocal perception in non-human animals: a review of vowel discrimination, speaker voice recognition, and speaker normalization. Frontiers in Psychology5, 1543.

Lipman, E. A., & Grassi, J. R. (1942). Comparative auditory sensitivity of man and dog. The American Journal of Psychology55(1), 84-89.

Mills, A. W. (1958). On the minimum audible angle. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America30(4), 237-246.

Ratcliffe, V. F., McComb, K., & Reby, D. (2014). Cross-modal discrimination of human gender by domestic dogs. Animal Behaviour91, 127-135.

Razran, H. S., & Warden, C. J. (1929). The sensory capacities of the dog as studied by the conditioned reflex method (Russian schools). Psychological Bulletin26(4), 202.

Rusch, K. M., Pytte, C. L., & Ficken, M. S. (1996). Organization of agonistic vocalizations in Black-chinned Hummingbirds. The Condor98(3), 557-566.

Copyright 2019 Eileen Anderson

Eileen Anderson has a master’s degree in harpsichord performance from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and a master’s degree in applied science, with research in active noise control, from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She published her results in the Journal of the Arkansas Academy of Science.

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