Thunder Phobia and Your Dog: Good Sounds, Bad Sounds

5 AM. I wake up to Lassie’s nails clicking on the floor (wasn’t I going to trim them last night?) as a boom of thunder shakes the farmhouse. Damn.  Why is it that Lassie’s slight discomfort of storms has become more serious as her hearing degrades?  Surely it should go the other way around.

We pad downstairs and lay down together on the carpet, she spooning against me as I stroked her head. (And no, it won’t make her more afraid of storms…. check out my column coming out in Bark magazine soon.)  “Eaa-a-a-a-a-a-a-sy” I crooned, using my voice to help her calm herself.  Why didn’t I bring the CD home from “Through a Dog’s Ear,” a new and fantastic book about the effect of sound on dogs? The CD has music
designed by the authors to calm dogs, and both it and the book are invaluable resources for anyone who is interested in dog behavior.

The authors know what they are talking about.  Susan Wagner is a veterinary neurologist and Joshua Leeds is an expert in psychoacoustics. They got together to investigate the effect of sound on dogs, and to create music that could act to calm nervous canines.  Their work is ‘music’ to my ears (sorry), given that my dissertation research was on the effects of different types of sounds on the behavior of domestic animals.  In brief, I found that short, rapidly repeated notes increased activity, while two different types of notes were used all around the world to slow or stop animals. Long, extended one-noted signals (like “Whooooooooaaaa” and “Staaaaaaay”) were used to slow or calm animals, while one, sharp highly-modulated note (think up and down in a brief period of time) were used to stop fast moving animals (‘DOWN!” or “WHOA!).

The research in Through a Dog’s Ear’s follows those same general principles, but adds more, including “harmonic complexity” as well as carefully designed tempos and note intervals.  The authors did research (I can’t wait to see it) that suggested that their calming CD really did settle dogs down.  I talked about this at a seminar I gave in Madison, WI and one participant said her shelter had been using for a while, and it was extremely successful. (So  much so that the dogs who wanted to play chose to go outside, presumably to avoid the effects of the music.) We all listened to the CD, and I swear I had to stop because we all would’ve have gone to sleep. (The authors address that too… they found that dogs settled after just a few minutes, and they could pick up the beat after that to keep the people awake without disturbing the dogs!). I’d love to hear if you have tried it yourself.

I was so impressed with the book that we offer it on our website now (patriciamcconnell.com), but you can get it in lots of places. I haven’t finished reading it yet, but this morning’s storm put finishing it at the top of my reading list.  I’m putting it and the CD in my “take home from the office” bag right now, so that I’ll have it at the farm tonight and tomorrow if the storms come back.

At worst, maybe the  CD will help ME go back to sleep while I cuddle with Lassie through the next set of storms. Here’s my Lassie girl, all fourteen and a half sweet-as-cream years of her.

Comments

  1. says

    Thank you for this post, Trisha. As we have come to expect from you, this post was enlightening as well as entertaining.
    Hats and horns on your new blog!

  2. Harriet Irwin says

    Does second count? Would it be helpful to a dog to begin training a different response to thunder even before signs of the phobia? If so, any suggestions? Thunder cookies? Well done blog, Trisha!!

  3. trisha says

    Great question from Harriet. Yes, absolutely, the sooner in the stimulus chain you can start the better. Treats when the wind comes up. Ball play when the barometer drops. That helped Pip a great deal, and I’m starting it with Lassie too. But here’s hoping we in southern Wisconsin can finally get a nice, quiet all day rain instead of these dramatic, flooding rains that rip across the countryside, and then weeks of no rain at all!

  4. Jim says

    I thought I once read that you had put an old T-shirt on Pippi and that too helped her calm down. The comfort of having her special human scent right there to soothe her. While that should not be a substitute for training, it might help with the process.

  5. Khris says

    Great first blog — storm phobia is a subject I’m familiar since Mystic seems to have developed it within the last year. The book/CD sounds wonderful. I’ll have to get it.

    But why do these storms always seem to happen at 2am? I just can’t seem to wake up enough to get out of bed to get treats or initiate play (although you’d think waking up to a 55lb panting dog curled up on my back would make me more than awake…) I think I could manage hitting “play” on a CD player though — I hope it helps.

  6. terry pride says

    wonderful post -
    and i saw the book last month at Borders, + have a 40% off deal to snag it for myself! (smile) i am sure that it will be a keeper.

    thanks for the sanity, trish -
    i sometimes think i am drowning in aversive stimuli, from traffic sounds and jets – AKA ‘the sound of freedom’ – to certain TV-salesmen who promote harsh handling.

    the virtual-trip to the hilltop at sundown was great.
    i miss the brook on our former-farm…
    best regards,
    – terry

    terry pride, apdt#1827, CVA, IPDTA, TDF
    ‘rewarded behaviors become repeated behaviors.’ – tmp, 7/21/2008

  7. Tricia Breen says

    Joshua and Susan visited us a few times and have provided us with copies of the CD for our shelter dogs. They are lovely people and the music definitely has a positive, calming effect on our stressed shelter dogs.

    Tricia Breen
    Marin, CA

  8. Rachel Simpson says

    Thank you, Trisha, for helping me to not feel guilty for comforting my Annie while she is freaking out when a storm rumbles through! And thank you for the info about “Through a Dog’s Ear.” I swear I was just looking at this in a catalog that I recently received and was wondering about its effectiveness. I’ll definitely have to give it a try. I wish I had it right now, as we have storms moving through as I write!

    Lassie is a lovely old girl! What a sweetheart.

    My condolences on your loss of Tulip. She, too, was a beautiful girl.

  9. Dawn Blacker says

    Trisha,
    Thanks for sharing the new resource, From a Dog’s Ear, for storm phobia. Claire is a herding mix breed of blue heeler and springer spaniel. We’ve been in Fiesty Fido classes at Dog’s Best Friend and I’ve started incorporating some of the relaxation techniques that we learned there, some of which are based on the CU principles from the Control Unleashed book by Leslie McDevitt. We’ve had success with having Claire “go to” the mat, sit, lie down, performing relaxing massage and rewarding her with the clicker and treats when she exhibits relaxed behavior. It’s a proces that involves a bit of lost sleep if the storm is in the middle of the night, but it has been successful and is certainly a welcomed changed from Claire panting, putting her paws up on the night stand next to the bed or sitting on my head when I’m trying to sleep. Can’t wait to check out the new cd. :-)

  10. Lisa says

    I have to tell you that I was totally amazed. Amazed! I knew my two Bostons had some music preferences, but I was totally unaware of how specific their likes are! I bought the book and all the cds (because one is never enough….) and received the calming cd first and immediately played it. All of us fell asleep! We play classical music often, but this was different. Next came the Music for the Canine Household and the moment it started with the cello, my younger (and hyper) Boston, Phoebe picked up her head from her chew toy, stopped and listened. Clearly listened! Almost with a critical ear. She approved and went back to her toy. But I sensed something. So I found a few selections from my library, Yo Yo Ma solo Bach (solo cello) and she was hooked. She stayed in the room, she relaxed, her heart rate changed, calming, and she sighed and relaxed into the music as she slept in a very open spread out position. Oh, and she was smiling. Her ears, though, were still attentive. Some passages were appreciated more than others, if her ear rotation and heart rate were indicative, but overall, the cello is her love. I could stop the music and start it up later and would get the same reaction. If I was explaining this to anyone else….

  11. says

    I have found that dogs calm down when I sit at the piano and play anything. I am NOT a good pianist, believe me, but over the years I have lulled many a fretful dog into calmness by just sitting there and playing through my pathetic repertoire. And during thunderstorms, I play loud and fast, drapes drawn. It really works. Of course the neighbors think I’m a complete nutcase at 2 am, playing ragtime. Radio or tapes don’t have the same effect.

  12. Erika Marion says

    I know I am replying long after the initial post — but my comment is in response to your question (and statement) where you said, “Why is it that Lassie

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