Category: Dogs and sound

Are Dogs Ever Irritated by Sights, Sounds, or Smells?

Are Dogs Ever Irritated by Sights, Sounds, or Smells?

That’s a serious question on my part, not clickbait. I don’t know the answer. And I’m not talking about fear; I’m talking about being bothered. I’m wondering about it because of a recent experience.

My little Zani is clinically sound phobic of high-frequency sounds such as beeps and whistles. Because of meds and careful application of desensitization and counterconditioning, her default response these days to hearing any sort of digital beep is a positive one. She turns to me or even runs to me to look for a treat. Take a look/listen.

Caution: the following before/after movie has digital beeps in it.

Once in a while when she will still melt down if she hears something quiet in the distance that’s within her “scary” category It might be a bird, an alarm, or even some kind of clicking. And we still haven’t tackled the low battery chirp of the smoke alarm. But even with the remaining scary things, her recovery time is minutes, rather than the hours or days it used to be.

She has never been afraid of thunder or fireworks (except the whistling kind). She has an apparently normal startle response to unexpected loud noises, but doesn’t stay in a fear state.

Even though she isn’t bothered by booms and roars, what happened the other day surprised me.

What a Lovely Day To Get Some Sun!

This scene is not as peaceful as it looks.

Looks pretty idyllic, right? It was a lovely spring day. And as much as I’d like to leave the punchline inside the movie, here’s a spoiler for those people with dogs who are afraid of roaring engines. There is a terrible noise of that sort in the video.

That noise, my friends, is the neighbor’s generator. It has not one, but two unrelated low frequencies that spin off a pack of unlovely overtones. You probably can’t hear the lower frequencies if you watch it on a handheld. If so, you’re lucky. The full effect is extremely unpleasant—although apparently not for my dogs. Go figure.

Response To Noise: Fear Vs. Irritation

Most studies about noise affecting animals deal with either sounds that are loud enough to be physically damaging, or sudden sounds that evoke a startle response. There is at least one study about the response of dogs to noise. It took place in a shelter and centered on barking. In the kennel environment, the sound was chaotic, varying, and loud enough to cause hearing damage. That’s a crucially important welfare issue, but it doesn’t fit the situation I’m curious about: lower level but constant/repetitive noise.

My teacher reminds me now and then to watch for dogs “voting with their feet.” If something bothers them, they will often leave.

But thinking back, the only time I see them do that is when they are afraid, or when they are being hassled by another dog. (Of course I intervene but I’m not as quick as a dog!) I’m sure it happens when dogs are being bothered by humans or other species as well. But those all qualify as space invasions, either tactile, or via body pressure, or through staring.

Have I ever seen a dog leave the scene because of a sensory irritation? Have I seen them leave in response to an ongoing repetitive noise, blinking light, or even an overwhelming odor? I don’t think so. I’ve seen the equivalent of an “eww” response when a dog sniffed citrus, but they just backed off a little. They didn’t leave the room.

This is especially interesting given the sensitivity of dogs’ noses. We are warned not to overwhelm them with odor. But given the comparative strengths of our olfactory senses, we probably overwhelm them all the time.

Response to Obnoxious Odor

I don’t use many scented products. I don’t use incense (dated myself there!), room sprays, plugins, or scented laundry products. There’s but one exception. I make melt and pour soap, and I do have some small amounts of high-quality essential oils. I sometimes scent the soap lightly. A while back I made some bars of soap, and I accidentally dumped way too much violet essential oil into a batch. The odor was so “loud” it gave me a headache.

I hate to waste stuff. So I tried to get the odor out of the soap. I left the completed bars of soap out in a closed room for a few days to air out. Didn’t help, and the odor in the house was still strong. I let them sit in the sun on the back porch for a few days. Didn’t help. Finally, I remelted them, which the soap mavens say gets rid of fragrance. We’re told that the oil will vaporize before the soap melts. I even let it boil for a while. This did help, but it only took the fragrance down from headache range to obnoxious. But at that point, I was able to bag them up and put them in a drawer, and that was tolerable. The house returned to normal (per my olfactory sense). I take them out one by one to use. I’ll probably never use violet fragrance again after I use them up.

Now, what did my dogs do during this assault by odor? Nothing. They didn’t come in the kitchen saying, “What the hell?” And whenever they were in the kitchen during a bloom of violet odor, they didn’t leave. They didn’t ask to go outside. As far as I could observe, they didn’t respond at all. This seemed like just another stupid human-related occurrence that was irrelevant to them.

What Have You Observed?

Hark, the song of the generator!

I am making no claims about dog behavior in this post. I don’t have enough information. But I’m curious. What have you observed? Have you ever seen a dog leave the scene in response to an ongoing (not sudden) visual, auditory, or olfactory stimulus when they weren’t afraid of it? Have you seen the equivalent of the human irritation response? The “I can’t listen to that incessant scraping/roaring/rattling noise for one more minute!” response?

How about you folks with border collies? Just asking, grin.

I do wonder if it’s a difference in cognition. A lot of the stimuli humans don’t like are repetitive, my neighbor’s generator included. And our irritated response is functional. Noise that is well under the threshold for human ear damage has been shown to have negative neurological and cognitive effects on humans.

I have used brown noise to mask scary sounds for the dogs, but it is not something I would choose to leave on otherwise.


We do habituate. But case-by-case, it’s hard to predict whether we will habituate or sensitize to a stimulus. I don’t mind the repetitive swell of cicadas in the summer, that is, when I’m inside. For those who haven’t heard them—they can be loud. When you are out there with them, it’s hard to hear anything else. That’s another possible function of irritation. I am awed by huge waterfalls and crashing ocean waves, but I confess that the masking effects bother me. I don’t feel safe because I can’t hear other things in the environment. That’s another effect my neighbor’s generator has on me, but apparently not on my dogs.

The song of the generator

Competing Reinforcers

Some astute folks are going to point out that perhaps the dogs found being in the sun so pleasant that they were tolerating the noise. That’s possible, but it’s a big yard with lots of places they like to bask. From their behavior, it seems to me that either they really don’t mind, or they don’t know that they could escape at least some of the continuous noise by moving to a different sunny place in the yard. As a friend said recently, “Don’t you wish they could tell us?”

Related Posts

Copyright 2020 Eileen Anderson

6 Ways to Prepare for the Bangs and Booms Starting NOW

6 Ways to Prepare for the Bangs and Booms Starting NOW

Is your dog scared of fireworks? Don’t wait until the holiday hits. Even with just a couple days’ lead time, you can make a plan and take action now to help your dog be a bit less afraid of the unpredictable scary sounds of fireworks, firecrackers, whistles, and even guns.

Get Ready

Here are some things you can do starting today or tomorrow.

  1. Check into medications. If your dog gets very anxious about noises and you have never talked to your vet about it, do so now. He or she may be able to prescribe something to help. And if you can’t get in before the holiday, do your best with some of the other ideas here to get through it and call your vet as soon as you can. This is a long-term problem. Sound phobias tend to get worse and are not something to be taken lightly.
  2. Countercondition to noises. Get some great treats and start carrying them around. Whenever there is any kind of sudden or startling noise, including stray bangs and booms as people start to test their noisemakers, rain treats down on your dog. Use those special treats only for noises; don’t pass them out for nice behavior (use something else for that!), and don’t ask for any particular behavior from your dog when the noise occurs. Just give the special treats.

    You may wonder why I am not recommending buying an app, CD, or YouTube video with fireworks sounds to “practice” with. Performing desensitization/counterconditioning with sounds is tricky.  People who haven’t done DS/CC before run a real risk of scaring their dogs further instead of helping them. This is why I am suggesting this method, which uses environmental noises that are happening anyway. Save the formal training for after the holiday, when you can keep your dog safe from accidental exposures to the sound.
  3. Create a safe place. Make (or adapt) a safe place for your dog. Keep in mind that the flashes of light that come with big fireworks displays can be scary too, so consider a method to temporarily darken any windows nearby. Also, low-frequency booms can’t be “soundproofed” against except with materials that are much too big to use inside a house. Get the best protection you can in a basement or your most internal room. Despite the marketing claims, dog crates with walls a few inches thick can’t dampen low-frequency sounds to an effective degree. But if a crate is your dog’s safe place, that’s great. Here are some examples of safe places for dogs.
  4. Play sound or music. Experiment with sound masking to find out what is most helpful for your situation. Try some kind of recorded white or brown noise, natural noise, or music to mask the pops and booms. (Even a noisy food toy can be helpful.) This approach is evidence-based and is called sound masking.

    And here’s a tip: the lower the frequencies included in the masking or music, the better it can hide those low-pitched booms (Kinsler, Frey, Coppens, & Sanders, 1999, p.318–320). So if your dogs are already habituated to pounding rock music or some other music with a lot of bass or percussion, play it! And play it on your best sound system so as to include those low frequencies. It can mask some of the scary noises coming from outside your house more effectively. Taiko drumming is great if your dogs are accustomed to it. You can buy a few songs and loop them or find some on YouTube. But be absolutely certain that the music itself doesn’t scare your dogs first. If they are already sensitive to booms, it probably will.

    Household appliances can help. Some floor fans hit fairly low frequencies and can be helpful. You can run the dryer (no heat) with a pair of sports shoes in it for some booms that will probably be familiar and not scary. You’ll need to find the line of best fit for your dogs.

    The perfect resource for some households is the Bang-Dog Playlist from Triplet Noir Studios. These are heavy metal selections (be aware that some of the language is not family-friendly). Before anyone mentions it: heavy metal has not ranked well in the dogs and music studies, tending to make shelter dogs more agitated. That’s not surprising. But if you play it already and your dogs are fine with it, they are habituated. In that case, this music could be the very thing for you and your dog.
  5. Practice going out. Make a plan for taking your dog out to potty. Do you know when the noise is usually at its worst and can you work around that? Are your fences and/or leash and harness secure? If your dog is not used to being on-leash for potty time, start practicing now, including getting the harness on. Dogs who are usually sedate have been known to panic and run off on noisy holidays. Don’t let that happen.  Keep your gates locked, your dogs’ ID tags on, and put some redundancy into your safety system.
  6. Comfort your dog if that helps. LOSE that idea that there’s something wrong with comforting your dog, if that’s what your dog wants. Helping a dog through a tough time is not “coddling.” Assess what is most helpful to your dog: a cuddle, food or a fun game after every scary noise, some lap time, sweet talk, being in their crate with a food toy, or hiding by themselves in a secluded place. Then help them do it. If they want to hide, let them.
The best part of thunderstorms: spray cheese!
The best part of noisy holidays for Summer was spray cheese!

Check out more resources and tips on my page “You Can’t Reinforce Fear.

Another good resource is this article by Val Hughes: My Dog Fears Fireworks and Thunderstorms—What Should I Do To Help? Her article has suggestions for both long- and short-term solutions.

Thanks for reading!

© Eileen Anderson 2015                                                          

How to Soundproof a Dog Crate

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.
Continue reading “How to Soundproof a Dog Crate”
Sound Decisions: A Webinar on Dogs and Sound

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?

Continue reading “Sound Decisions: A Webinar on Dogs and Sound”
If Your Dog Is Afraid of Fireworks, See Your Vet Now

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.
Continue reading “If Your Dog Is Afraid of Fireworks, See Your Vet Now”
Guess What! That Dog Video Is Probably Fake!

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 everything

Most 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.

Continue reading “Guess What! That Dog Video Is Probably Fake!”
How Does Dogs’ Hearing Compare To Humans’?

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 for 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.

Continue reading “How Does Dogs’ Hearing Compare To Humans’?”
6 Ways to Prepare for the Bangs and Booms

6 Ways to Prepare for the Bangs and Booms

Firecrackers exploding in the air

I’m sorry I’m so late with my fireworks post this year. But there are still some things you can do. You can take action now to help your dog be a bit less afraid of the unpredictable scary sounds of fireworks, firecrackers, whistles, and even guns.

Continue reading “6 Ways to Prepare for the Bangs and Booms”
How I Helped My Dog Love the Sound of Velcro

How I Helped My Dog Love the Sound of Velcro

small black dog Zani gazes at a Lotus Ball toy with Velcro enclosures

Velcro, a type of fastener with two different fabric surfaces that adhere to each other, typically makes a loud ripping noise when pulled apart. Some dog harnesses, coats, medical supplies, and other gear use Velcro closures.

This ripping sound can be aversive. Some sound phobic dogs are triggered the first time they hear it. And some dogs who are OK with most sounds may find it unpleasant when Velcro is unfastened close to their ears.

I recently “inoculated” my dog Zani against fear of the Velcro ripping sound. Zani has a Continue reading “How I Helped My Dog Love the Sound of Velcro”

Using Sound Masking To Protect Your Dog From Loud, Scary Sounds

Using Sound Masking To Protect Your Dog From Loud, Scary Sounds

If you have:

  • a dog who reacts to noises while at home;
  • a smartphone or tablet that can send a signal to wireless speakers; and
  • wireless speakers

…you can try sound masking to protect your dog from some sounds that might bother him.** 

Two dogs waiting to listen to some sound masking to see if it protects them from scary sounds
“We flunked our part of the movie!”

Continue reading “Using Sound Masking To Protect Your Dog From Loud, Scary Sounds”

Theme: Overlay by Kaira Extra Text
Cape Town, South Africa