In my middle-aged years, I notice that I don’t have the same tolerance for loud environments that I did 20 or even 10 years ago. You rarely find me in clubs, large warehouse stores, or even loud restaurants anymore — partly due to the crowds, but mostly due to the loud sound environment. I go into sensory overload and shut down quickly, meaning I can’t focus, feel stressed, my body tenses, and I am quickly looking for the exit sign to a quieter environment where I can breathe peacefully. Similarly, if I’ve had a very stressful day, I want to come home and either have complete silence (except for the sounds of the wildlife in my remote home setting) or turn on music with simple sounds.
Currently, I have two dogs, both Labrador Retrievers. Sanchez is nine years old and Gina is three. When I observe them, I notice that Sanchez doesn’t have the same tolerance for noise that he used to when he was younger. Growing up as a puppy in training for Guide Dogs for the Blind, he was socialized a great deal in public places and exposed to a wider variety of sound environments than most pet dogs. During my year as his volunteer puppy raiser, I brought him to six San Francisco Opera performances, and seven San Francisco Symphony concerts. He snoozed through most of it, except for a few startling sounds coming from the opera stage. When he was five years old, he acted the part of Helen Keller’s dog in the play The Miracle Worker. Although most people were impressed with his well-mannered talents on stage, what I found more remarkable was his calm, focused, confident demeanor backstage during the food fights and throwing of dishes on stage. Due to his breeding and early training, this just didn’t phase him. A few years later, I’m not sure I would say the same.
Gina is a bundle of happy energy and I’ve never seen her go into sensory overload, although there are many dogs her age that could and certainly do. I still reward her when she stays calm and focused on me during human-made loud sounds such as sirens, construction, children playing, etc. I can expose her to more stimulating sound environments without worrying about stressing her nervous system.