Are Senior Dogs More Sound-Sensitive?
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.
In writing this blog, I reflected on first conceiving the idea for creating music to help dogs (and their humans). It was during the final weeks of Byron’s life, a Golden Retriever who took his last breath a few months before his 14th birthday in 2003. Byron was my soul dog and brought me into the dog world in a big way.
Byron was very mellow and the only thing I can recall that caused him stress was the sound of the wind against the house windows. It made a squeaking noise that triggered his fear of windy nights. I first discovered this when I came home after some high winds and found him hiding in the bathtub. I started experimenting with leaving on recorded slower piano music of Mozart and putting him in the large walk-in-closet. (Dogs often prefer confined spaces when they are stressed, and in those days I didn’t yet know about using a dog crate to provide a place of safety.) It was my desire to help him that helped give birth to the creation of sound tracks that are helping calm dogs worldwide.
Through a Dog’s Ear music is psychoacoustically designed to support you and your dog’s compromised immune or nervous system function. When the immune or nervous system is heavily taxed, as it so often is in senior dogs, a natural reaction is to self-limit the amount of auditory or visual stimulation coming into the system. That is why senior dogs will often shut down in overstimulating sound environments. The nutrients of sound are needed the most when life energy is at a low ebb or when neuro-developmental (including sensory) issues are present. To facilitate maximum sound intake while conserving energy output, the method of “simple sounds” was created.
Our newest release, Music to Comfort your Elderly Canine, adds highly specific frequency modulation, defined as the alteration of sound. Most higher frequencies of the pre-arranged classical piano music are removed, while the middle and lower frequencies are boosted. Essentially, by reducing or boosting the dosage of specific nutrients of sound, we’ve made assimilation easier for a stressed or weakened elder canine.
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