eileenanddogs

Tag: managing reactivity

Preventing Dog Reactivity with a Barrier

Preventing Dog Reactivity with a Barrier

My back door opens onto an elevated wooden porch. There are ten steps down to the yard. The top of the steps provides a view into the neighbor’s yard, which can be a very interesting place. Clara runs there when anything might be happening, primed to react. In the picture above Continue reading “Preventing Dog Reactivity with a Barrier”

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!”

What I’m going to describe is called sound masking, and it is the auditory counterpart to putting up window film. Because I already had a smartphone and wireless speakers, my solution cost only $1.99 for the app.

The idea is to buy a sound generating app that includes white noise, beach or ocean waves, or another wide spectrum noise (randomish noise with lots of frequencies), and looping capabilities. That is, it will play this noise over and over seamlessly until you tell it to stop.

If you play the noise through your speakers, you can mask at least some of the outdoor noises that might cause your dog to react. My dog reacts to some engine noises, car doors closing, joggers going by, and people talking or shouting. Putting on the noise generator can mask a lot of that. Not all, but a lot.

This is a management technique, in that you are not seeking to train the dog or change their emotional response. You are just controlling the environment to limit their exposure to things that scare them. This is counterintuitive, but sound masking is actually more effective than trying to build a barrier against the sound, especially at low frequencies.

Working on sound phobias with desensitization and counterconditioning can help your dog actually recover from the fear, but in the meantime, this can be a big help.

Also, you may want to review my article on dogs’ hearing capabilities compared to humans’ and also my article about what to do if your dog is afraid of the clicker.

Why Not Music?

But wait, you say. Isn’t there special music you can buy to relax your dog? Yes there is, and lots of it. I don’t use it for three reasons.

  1. Despite some studies, the evidence is thin that music of a certain type intrinsically soothes dogs. Much thinner than the abundance of products would suggest. The background research of what dogs can perceive and discriminate in music is missing. A recent study had the result that dogs were calmer when listening to a male voice reading an audiobook than to specially composed dog relaxation music.
  2. My goal is not to play something for them to listen to and relax to. It is to cover up extraneous sound. A much simpler and more direct goal. To that end, I’ve even been known to play very loud rock music during thunderstorms. Not anybody’s idea of relaxing, but it’s not scary to the dogs like a thunderstorm, and it has low (bass) frequencies that can compete with the rumble of thunder. But I figured there might be a better way.
  3. When I tried the special music, it didn’t work.

The App

I bought “White Noise” by TMSOFT. There are many noise apps for smartphones; this is the one I picked and I like it a lot. I wasn’t solicited in any way, nor did I get anything for mentioning the product. It is marketed as a sleep aid and has all sorts of capabilities. I am just touching the tip of the iceberg with my usage here. It has 40 different noises, some of which definitely wouldn’t be soothing to most people, but are interesting. Dripping faucet, anyone? Ride in a jet?

Choosing a Sound

Obviously, if you are going to play this while you are home, it needs to be something that you can tolerate as well as your dogs. With regard to the science, the more low frequencies you can incorporate, the better. In other words, ocean waves are better than lake waves. Brown or Brownian noise with its abundance of lower frequencies is better than white noise. Pink noise is another option. FYI, the brown noise crossed Summer’s threshold into “scary” because it was just a tad too rumbly. Anyway, lower frequencies more effectively mask other low-frequency sounds, such as truck engines.

As with any management tool, introduce the sound you plan to use at a time when the scary sounds are unlikely, so it doesn’t come to predict them.

Here is sound-sensitive Summer (and in one case, Zani) demoing that the noises don’t bother her. (And for what it’s worth, they don’t distract me, either.)

Link to the video for e-mail subscribers.

**And of course, there are other resources if you don’t have the particular setup I describe. You can buy these sounds on a CD or playlist and play them on any kind of sound system. Whatever you use, test it on your dogs first. With ultra-long recordings such as you find on YouTube, you’ll have to listen to the whole thing to make sure there is nothing scary embedded in there.

I would love to hear if anyone else tries this or is doing anything similar. We are all listening to running water as I write this.

Addendum, 7/12/14

Just read a great tip by Yvette Van Veen  of Awesome Dogs. She suggests that running the clothes dryer with a couple of shoes in it can mask thunder to some extent. I think this is a great idea. It is at least partly random and includes fairly low frequency bumps and thuds. You might need to desensitize your dog to it beforehand, but that would be “money in the bank” for later. Karyn K. on the FaceBook group Fearful Dogs, where the discussion took place, also suggested tennis balls in the dryer. Great ideas and I can’t wait to try them!

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Don’t Look Now! The Benefits of Window Film for the Household with Reactive Dogs

Don’t Look Now! The Benefits of Window Film for the Household with Reactive Dogs

Light can come in but they can't see out!
Light can come in but they can’t see out!

Do you have a reactive dog, or one who simply barks too much at things he sees out the window? And do you also care about how your house looks and value natural light ?

There is something you can do about it. Here’s my story, complete with a video of before and after behavior from the dogs.

The Barking Platform

I have a raised area on one end of my den that creates a nook by the window. I have had a day bed there as long as I’ve lived in the house. The day bed has always been a favorite dog hangout, with the added bonus that it lets them look them out the window.

Summer and Cricket barking at a pedestrian
Summer and Cricket barking at a pedestrian

Here is a picture from 2008, actually a still from a video of Cricket and Summer barking frantically at a pedestrian on my street. You can see the clip in the movie below.

The frantic barking (and pounding on the window panes by Summer) was a problem, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I felt like their ability to see out was valuable and a form of enrichment for when I wasn’t there. At least they could watch the world go by, I thought.

What I didn’t know was this:

  1. A lot of their barking was from fear, especially on Summer’s part. She didn’t like seeing dogs, cats, mail carriers, pedestrians, or bicycles. They made her nervous. She was barking to get them to go away.
  2. In Summer’s mind, it worked. Every creature, person, or machine that has ever been in front of my house has eventually left. A great percentage of those times, she was barking. Ergo, the barking got reinforced. That is clear because the barking has increased in frequency and intensity. Summer has since expanded her horizons to also bark at delivery trucks, the mail truck, and even pickups.
  3. Practice makes perfect. If my dog’s default response to seeing another dog through the window is frenzied barking, snarling, lunging, and banging on the window (as you can see in the movie), those habits could very well express when she sees dogs in person. Aggressive behaviors are being reinforced.
  4. I was unknowingly putting my smaller dog Cricket in danger. You can also see from the video that both dogs are quite frenzied. Although she never did in that situation, Summer could easily have redirected aggression onto Cricket. I was just lucky that it didn’t happen.

I didn’t know any of this then. But as I learned more about dog training and dog behavior, I realized that providing the dogs a barking platform was not ideal. As I became more aware of the detrimental affects, I managed the situation, not leaving them in that area unattended.

Then in 2011 came Clara, bringing the household up to four dogs. By that time I was keeping Summer and Cricket permanently separated.   I also kept Summer and Clara separated during Clara’s young puppyhood. And I kept Clara and Cricket generally separated as Clara got older. With this complex a situation, I had to use my whole house, and I couldn’t supervise all dogs at all times. And I knew one thing: I didn’t want Clara learning the “barking on the platform” routine. I worked proactively with classical conditioning to prevent her picking up Summer’s barking habits in general. See: “The Barking Recall” and “Classical Conditioning: Creating a Positive Response to Barking.”  I also knew I needed to do something about the window.

(Interestingly, Zani has remained uninterested in that activity and has not developed reactive habits. Yay, Zani!)

The terrible era of the bed against the wall
The terrible era of the bed against the wall

But I knew Clara would soak it right up. And the stakes are so high with her being feral. I didn’t want to do anything to feed reactive or aggressive behaviors, especially since I am working constantly to instill the opposite with her. So when she started getting old enough to be interested, I stripped the bed and propped part of it against the wall and part in front of the window. I don’t have many photos since it was unsightly and depressing, but here is one.

The Fix

Then Marge Rogers told me about window film. She had used a company called Decorative Films when she needed absolute privacy for a shower window. When she found out how completely effective it was in preventing visibility (even at night with shower light on), she thought of the possible applications for dogs. I took a look at the company’s website and was really impressed, but didn’t do anything for a while. Then a FaceBook friend (Hi Kim C!) posted about how easy it was, so I took the plunge. But instead of buying online, I decided to just get some window film at Home Depot.

That didn’t work out well for me, although it does for plenty of other people. I’m moderately handy, but I couldn’t get the stuff to stick right and it was a real mess. I asked Marge to grill her husband about the kind they got and some details about installation, and I decided to order some online. Cool thing: Decorative Films will send you up to five free samples! There are a lot of really beautiful ones, but I wanted to go for the most blocking possible, plus it’s a front window, so I got a really plain one. The name of the film I got is Clear Sand Blast.

Detail of window film
Detail of window film showing my little flaws

Another cool thing about the company is that you can buy the film in different widths. I got a skinny roll–12 inches wide–since I had multiple small panes to do. That was enormously helpful. I think the whole project took 4-5 hours (I cut 24 panes, even though I ended up installing only 18 of them). That includes washing the window panes and cleaning the frames.

And although it would have been easier with two people, I was able to apply the film by myself. The instructions and the tool kit you can buy for $2.99 are great. You can see from the closeup that I didn’t do a perfect job–there are some wee gaps between the film and the frame, and a few bubbles in the corners, but it looks good enough for me and gets the job done.

I decided to leave off the top row of panes because the dogs couldn’t see anything up that high, but I could see the trees and sky that way. I have the pre-cut pieces if I ever change my mind. I can also remove the existing film easily. It is well secured, but it  comes off easily and doesn’t leave anything gummy.

By the way, I am not affiliated with Decorative Films. Just a very, very happy customer.

Other Options and Resources

Emma Judson recommends Purlfrost for the UK folks.

And here are two other online companies I found in a casual search. They both feature film that stays in place by static cling, with no adhesive. But I have no experience with that. (And I suspect it might not have worked in Marge’s shower!)

Window Film World

Wallpaper for Windows

Also keep in mind that you can get similar products at Home Depot and Lowe’s in the U.S.

Finally, Tena Parker of Success Just Clicks, who provided one of the photos below, has two nice posts on window film and other ideas for helping reactive dogs in the home. Here they are.

Living with Reactive Dogs–Home Improvements

Resolving Window Reactivity–Part 2

The Proof

My poor deprived dogs can’t see anything out the window anymore. (That’s a still from the “before” part that you see in the video embed!)

Link to the movie for email subscribers.

Here are more pics by some friends who also are very happy with window films. Click on any image for a bigger version.

Management

Putting up window film doesn’t “cure” reactivity or aggression. It is management. But it prevents the dogs from practicing behaviors you don’t want, and getting themselves all worked up many times a day. Not to mention relieving the humans from a lot of barking! Even if you have a training plan regarding barking and reactivity, you will need to include management such as this to prevent practice of the behaviors.

Anybody have more tips for creating a lower stress environment for an anxious or reactive dog?

Coming up:

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