Karen B. London
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Sound Sensitivity [Video]
Some dogs don’t have it
Neither of us mind loud noises.

Last fall, we were dog sitting for a delightful dog called Marley. His breed is best described as “Hmm, hard to say. I’d guess he has some hound in him, but after that I’m mystified.” (Check out the blog Canardly Marley to see what people have guessed about his breed.) Anyway, while spending a lovely four days with Marley, I learned a lot about him. It’s always a process getting to know a new dog, and most things about dogs don’t surprise me.

Marley has one highly unexpected trait. He is not the slightest bit sensitive to sudden loud sounds. He was so unresponsive to loud sounds that I would be worried about his hearing except that he comes running to the kitchen at even the quietest hint of the crinkling of a bag of treats. In a house with two young children, there is ample opportunity to verify that loud sounds don’t upset him, though it was something I did that really showed that loud noises don’t matter to Marley.

Our smoke alarm went off one day. In our house, that usually means that I am cooking pancakes. However, on this particular day, the smoke came from our woodstove as we first lit the evening’s fire and failed to get a good draft up our chimney. As the obnoxious but potentially life-saving beeping of our smoke alarm began, Marley looked up, cocked his head, and then went back to his Kong, completely unconcerned with the noise. Meanwhile, the rest of us were running around opening windows, fanning the smoke alarm with a cookie sheet, and grabbing a chair so that we could reach up to make it stop alerting us to the smoke. I make pancakes often, so our system for dealing with the smoke alarm is a well-oiled one.

On another occasion, Marley was playing with a balloon leftover from my son’s birthday party the day before. (By the way, I don’t advocate this as a toy for dogs because many dogs do get scared when they pop and also because dogs who habitually ingest things are too likely to choke if they take pieces of balloon into their mouths.) The balloon popped, and as you can see in the video below, Marley’s reaction was minimal in the extreme.

It’s quite delightful to live with a dog who is not bothered by loud noises, as anyone who has ever had a dog who panics in similar situations knows. Marley is not reactive to any loud noises, including power saws, as you can observe in this video:

Care to share any tales of dogs don’t care at all about loud noises, or about dogs who get alarmed in response to the sound of the proverbial pin dropping?


Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

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Submitted by mary | August 15 2011 |

I have a 4 year old labradoodle that could care less about storms, fireworks, etc. But if the smoke alarm goes off in the house she's scared to death and runs into any lap she can find. Something about that particular pitch of the smoke alarm scares her to shaking. Even if she hears it on TV she has the same reaction.

Submitted by Anonymous | August 15 2011 |

I love his reaction to the balloon popping. Like, "where did it go?"

When we first got our 2-year old lab rescue she was freaked out by our surround sound, especially sports (we think the whistles). She would run upstairs and hide. For a couple of days we had to watch TV with it practically muted, and slowly raised the volume over a course of a few days. Now she is fine.

Submitted by Kay S. | August 15 2011 |

I suspect there are many dogs out there like mine who are selectively sound sensitive. Lady is fearful of the thumping noise made by a pump in our basement, hates the smoke alarm battery low warning, and isn't real fond of the sound a rubber soled shoe makes when it squeaks on the floor. Thunder and fireworks? no problem. In fact, there are only a handful of noises that bother her, but those few used to be quite incapacitating. I assume it has something to do with what was happening the first time she heard those sounds, or our reaction to them. Fortunately Lady has found her own solution. She lays down in the shower stall in an upstairs bathroom. We have tried working with her to overcome these issues, but the truth is I don't think she will ever be happy about laundry day (when the pump thumps). At least now that she has found a "safe place", she doesn't panic - just absents herself from whatever is happening that she doesn't like.

Submitted by Lisa Potter | August 15 2011 |

I have one of each. Hobbit is the typical "thunder phobic" dog. Any loud noise will make her panic and run to you. Since we live on a busy road, we usually wind up picking up anything that's fallen off someone's truck, since otherwise the noise of every subsequent vehicle running over it sends her into a panic. She hates fireworks and gunshots, and every since the riding mower backfired one day while I was mowing, she's been afraid of that as well. My other dog, Toby, hardly cares at all. He's not totally thrilled with the mower, but most loud noises he pretty much ignores, or just lifts his ears and goes "Huh?"

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