Plastic collar clicks are loud! And we often snap them right next to our dogs’ ears. I realized I habitually dampen the sound with my hands; this practice undoubtedly came from my experiences with little Zani, who was clinically sound phobic. During bad periods, she would startle at any kind of sudden noise.
I imagine I’m by far not the only one who does this. But in case there are dog owners who haven’t worked this out, here’s a kind thing you can do for your dogs. If you use collars or harnesses with plastic snap buckles, you can use your hands to damp the sound of the click when you snap the collar closed.
I wanted to know just how loud the snap might be and how much quieter I could get it. I ran a seat-of-the-pants experiment with a good mic and a sound analysis app. The click was about 83 decibels at its peak frequency, undamped. (That’s just one measurement; the intensity of the sound will vary with the type of collar, the flexibility of the plastic, the distance from the ear, and many other factors.) Eighty-three dB is not normally in the painful range for humans (or likely dogs), but since the snap is an impulse noise, it can be shocking to the ears at that level. One study with rats showed that a sudden sound can evoke the startle response if it is between 80–90 dB (Ladd et al, 2000). Bingo.
If you hold a plastic buckle three inches from your ear and snap it together, you will feel an uncomfortable sudden blast of sound pressure in your ear. I’m guessing it doesn’t feel great to dogs, either.
This plot represents that sound. It has frequency on the x-axis and sound pressure level (roughly the same as volume) on the y-axis. More about the plots at the end of the post.
How to Dampen the Sound and How Much That Can Help
Many of you have probably figured out, either analytically or subconsciously, to hold the pieces of the buckle a certain way to reduce that loud click.
But I bet you haven’t seen how much it helps if you dampen the snap with your hands.
If you simply press the two parts of the snap collar together, they click loudly.
But if you use your fingers to dampen the sound, you can lower the intensity substantially. Not all collars have the same design, but I got an optimal reduction of the sound when I fit my fingers into the curves of the receptacle as shown in the next image. I not only damped the vibrations; I could slow the progress of the plastic prongs. I was able to ease them over the internal part that makes them snap (you can see that in the movie). You can also get a decent reduction in the sound if you hold the flat parts or put your whole fist around that side of the buckle, but though it will be quieter, the snap will still be sharp.
The damped click is about 54 dB, 29 dB lower.
In the weird world of logarithmic scales, that translates to the loud click being almost 1,000 times louder than the damped one. See the note at the bottom of the post if you are interested in more detail about the math behind these diagrams.
Here’s a quick video showing how I optimally damped the click of the collar.
Be careful with damping, though. I did pinch my thumb once and got a blood blister.
Some people with sensitive dogs avoid snappy collars and harnesses entirely. I find them handy enough that I do use them but take care to keep my dogs’ ears (even my non-sensitive dog) from being clobbered by the sound. I hope the points in this post weren’t painfully obvious to every dog guardian already.
What things do you do to improve your dog’s sound environment?
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- How Does Dogs’ Hearing Compare to Humans’?
- How to Soundproof a Dog Crate
- Using Sound Masking to Protect Your Dog from Loud, Scary Sounds
- Impulse Sounds and the Startle Response: Why Some Dogs Fear the Clicker Sound
The diagrams I use above to show the comparative sound pressure levels in decibels (dB) are in the form of a Fast Fourier Transform. (Believe it or not, the previous link is one of the more understandable explanations of the FFT.) What the FFT does is transform a signal, in this case a sound, from the time domain to the frequency domain. In these diagrams, the FFT is showing the sound pressure level (roughly speaking, the volume) at its different component frequencies. There are at least three interesting things about the diagrams.
First, you can “see” that the undamped click is much sharper. Check out the sharp peak on the plot. That’s a click. The damped sound is more like a thud. It’s quieter but also spread out farther over a range of frequencies. That makes the sound less startling.
Second, the sound pressure level stays high in the frequencies above the peak in the undamped version. The overtones and other contributing high frequencies are free to do their loud thing. You can see in the damped version that I pretty much killed those higher frequencies with my fingers. What nice news for dogs, who hear these high frequencies better than we do.
Third, those two other “humps” to the left of the peak frequency in the damped diagram are interesting! But I can’t explain them, except that I changed the contour of the sound by slowing down the plastic prongs as they passed over the internal clasp. But I’d like to know more about what’s going on. It’s possible the lowest hump is now the fundamental frequency. I’ll do it again one of these days and check out the center frequencies of the other humps and see if I learn anything interesting.
Ladd, C. O., Plotsky, P. M., & Davis, M. (2000). Startle response. George Fink. Encyclopedia of Stress. (ed), 3.
Copyright 2021 Eileen Anderson