How sounds can stress or calm your dog


Your dog’s sense of hearing is far more sensitive than yours, so he can be stressed by sounds you may not even be aware of. Find out how to create a more soothing soundscape for him in your home.

About 15 years ago, veterinarian Dr. ErnieWard noticed that some dogs suffered from anxiety that he thought might be connected to noise pollution in the home.

“When we talk about sound perception, we need to be conscious of volume, of course, but we also need to understand sound frequency or hertz (Hz),” says Dr. Ward.“The upper threshold for human hearing is 20,000 Hz, but our dogs can hear sounds with frequencies as high as 45,000 Hz.”

He pointed out that early-generation LED lights and flatscreen televisions, for example, emitted high-frequency sounds when they started up. “Suddenly, there was this whole new range of sounds in the home that our animals experienced, but we did not.

TIP: Fluorescent lights, motion detectors, and laptops are other common household items that make noises your dog can hear and react to.

Focus on the soundscape

While soft beds and cozy blankets create a safe, comfy environment for our dogs, Dr. Ward also recommends focusing on the soundscape. To minimize the effects of electronic noise on your dog:

  1. Turn off devices when you’re not using them.
  2. Change alerts to more soothing sounds.
  3. Create a safe soundscape room or area where your dog can get away from household noises into a quiet and soothing environment.
  4. When playing music, keep the volume down and choose tunes that are calming to your dog.

TIP: Your dog’s soundscape room should be free of TVs, routers, fluorescent lights, and other devices or appliances.

Frequency and tone

Former concert musician and sound behaviourist, Janet Marlow, has studied the connection between sound frequency and stress in animals for more than 25 years. She found that frequency and tone were key.

Janet’s research is supported by science. In a small pilot study completed in 2014, an Italian research team found that, in humans, high-frequency sounds increased cortisol (stress hormone) levels, while lower frequencies reduced them. The researchers used simple sound waves without melodies to support their theory: that the physical properties of sound cause a physiological response, as opposed to any particular piece of music. Although the study involved human subjects, Janet’s research shows a similar response in animals. She found that dogs experience three states of being:

  1. A balanced state in which the dog is comfortable and at peace with his body and environment. This is the state dogs should spend most of their time in for optimum health benefits.
  2. An environmentally stressed state, which we’d find in a noisy setting.
  3. The acute stressed state in which the dog’s fight or flight response has been triggered.

“Creating the right sonic environment for our pets…allows them to experience that balanced state,” she says. When they experience this state, they are more likely to return to it even in times of stress.

Acute hearing is part of canine evolution

Your dog’s hearing, like his sense of smell, is closely tied to his evolution. His ancestors needed acute hearing to ensure survival in the wild. The snap of a twig or the screech of a hawk will still trigger a fight or flight response even though your dog lives a protected life in the comfort of your home. Living with a dog, “one can witness moments of flight as simple as a response to the sound of a plastic cup dropping on a kitchen floor,” Janet writes in her book, What Dogs Hear.

TIP: The right music for dogs creates long-term benefits similar to what humans feel after practicing yoga or meditating. In times of stress, these practices help us find a calmer emotional state.

So, what types of music do animals love? “Violins, harps, soft guitars, and ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ style choruses are at the top of the list. Think of yourself drifting on a boat down a river. Those were the soothing tones I used.”