Not all of my writing is about Dogs…My interests range into other fields where the readership is specialized, and limited. Rarely do those subjects intertwine with German Shepherds, dogs, or things that bark. As a Research Rewrite Specialist, I turn “science-speak” into something palatable to everyday people like myself. As a practicing “simpleton”, I make sense of the complicated, and present it to others. I’ve been working on a project that has inextricably wound itself into German Shepherd Adventures. It has made me reconsider my methods with the dogs, and for myself.
The premise of the research is Stress and its causative agents in living organisms. That’s right. Humans, animals, plants, and even lower forms of life. What I’ve personally learned has been extraordinary, if only to myself. The Researchers, Doctors, and Scientists have long suspected the conclusions that I am writing about, and are proving the research scientifically. In order to more fully understand what I was writing, I underwent some testing of my own…Now, I am helping to prove that the results are applicable to other species, most notably, canines. Forgive me for being temporarily off topic, (Dog-centric that is) but I KNOW that you’ll find the conclusions more than applicable to your relationship with your dog!
I have proven to be a fairly successful test-subject, making my own stressors easy to identify and quantify. Physically, I am in as good of shape as an active 50-year-old Man can be. (Except that I just broke a tooth.AAAARRRGGGG!!) My life is such that I am able to “go with the flow” most days, and not get too crazy. Without boring you with all the testing parameters, we did manage to find something that stresses me much more than I ever knew or suspected. It has been suspected that this particular causative agent is widespread and can even be deadly. I found it by keeping a log of times that I felt stressed, and what was going on at the time.
We live on a busy street in a residential neighborhood in central Ohio. (Living in Ohio is one of my secondary stressors)
Within two miles of our home, there are three separate Fire/Emergency stations. Ambulances, ladder trucks, heavy rescue vehicles etc. They run out approximately 12 times daily, sirens blaring. We live close to two separate elementary and middle schools. There are no fewer than four separate football/soccer fields that are frequently used by hundreds of people. Our street is a heavily traveled connector route, with literally non-stop traffic 24/7. Oh, and just as icing on the cake, we live only one mile from Port Columbus International airport, not far of the northern 28/10 runway. There’s a stoplight nearly in front of our house…This causes people with loud car stereo’s to decide that EVERYONE needs to hear their idea of “Music”. The audio levels here regularly reach 80 decibel and above, often hitting 125 db in spikes.
They all have one thing in common. They all produce the same poison. They all make my blood pressure spike…They all produce NOISE which never subsides…I have personally logged my responses to this cacophony of audio-hell much more than is necessary to prove what really bothers me. This world is entirely too noisy, and the human brain just is not designed to deal with it all on a daily basis. As I have now identified this problem in myself, I asked the question, “what about the effects on my dogs?”
Using the same type of protocols and audio level decimal meter, I decided to test and document the noise pollution on and near our normal practice fields. What I found was fascinating. And a bit more empathetic to my dogs.
First, understand this: Training our dogs against “Distractions” is a normal procedure. Toys, food, other animals, strange people, gunshots, you name it. They learn to ignore them all when working. But what I’m discussing here is decidedly more than a distraction. It’s Biomedical, and could even harm your dog, as well as yourself. Noted, a dogs hearing is exponentially better than a humans. But volume alone isn’t always the main culprit. Sometimes it seems to involve the sound waves and frequency.
Field #1 is located on the property of the airport itself. There are small lots of hardwoods, a river, open prairie, and a Flight Path cuts directly over it. At one point, aircraft are as close as 100 feet above the ground, at about 125 miles per hour. The dogs have worked in this area since they began training. They ignore the sounds, the wind, and it doesn’t seem to affect them. At least externally…
It was noted that every time we worked in this field, no matter how close the traffic was, the same results occurred. The dogs would fairly race to get into the car, where they would immediately lie down and attempt to sleep. We assumed it had to do with being tired-out from working. We now believe that the actions are produced by Stress, produced by being exposed to excessive audio levels. And it’s not just audio…It seems that such sound levels can even shake internal organs, including the brain. Damaging levels are not as extreme as you might imagine them to be either.
In another test, we closely watched the dog’s ability to perform at peak under these circumstances. There were notable negative influences on each and every dog. While no external signs of stress or fear were present, ability to focus and concentrate were apparent. Something, noise, vibration, or something else undetected added literally minutes to the work, and made the dogs seem Stressed…
Moving to another area, far from the airport, we used Field #2 that is frequently occupied by a practicing High school band. The sound levels are not high, and can easily be tolerated from 100 yards away at approximately 35 decibels. That is until the large bass drums begin their ministrations. The echoing “boom boom boom” sends waves of low frequency sound waves across the field, and even though not loud, cause Hans’ ears to quiver. The faster the beat becomes, the more I spy him glancing at the source of the sound. He continues to do his search, or return his ball, but his hackles are raised, and he perceptibly will not squarely face the sound. Hmmmmm…
Another test that was included, was standing and performing a downstay at a stoplight. It doesn’t take long for a vehicle with extreme levels of sound blasting out of it to appear. Hans performs a perfect, long-term, down-stay in this area, but I observe his anxiety as never before. I’m stressing him without being hitherto aware of it. It makes him antsy and anxious…
These are the places we REGULARLY practice. Could it be that I’m harming his ability to work? If this Audio Induced Stress affects humans so very negatively, what about him? I log this into my book, and begin to examine my own behavior.
I always have a radio on during the day. Often, it’s Talk-Radio. I measure the days that I listen continually, and compare them to days that I consciously turn the noise OFF. The theta-waves and blood pressure are undeniably different. Noise is something that harms without our being aware of it. I try listening to music instead. No matter what the music style, the results are the same. Long-term and continuous sound affects me. Negatively. Same for the dogs…Hmmmm.
We keep close track of the dogs behavior when different noises are present at various volume levels. Many Schutzhund competitions will include loud stadium style speakers blasting out Rock and Rap music almost continuously. I have observed that when music is blaring, Tracking scores take a down turn, sometimes precipitously. Some dog shows are seen to have Classical style music playing in the arena. Maybe it’s me, but that doesn’t seem to be any different. When the sound goes away, the focus returns to everyone in attendance. How curious…
I recently invested in a small device that has digital recordings of various natural sounds. Waterfalls, rainstorms, waves, birds etc. We installed it in the dogs crate room (otherwise known as the Master Bedroom in our house) where they sleep alongside us each night. For a week, we listened to “Coast to Coast AM” all night long as we’ve done for quite a while. We noticed that the dogs would regularly wake up to be let out at 2A.M. and 5:30 A.M. each night. The next week, we switched to music each night, (Soft, adult contemporary). No difference in schedule, and the dogs just never settled for more than a couple of hours. After this two-week experiment, we activated the natural sounds of a soft rainstorm and waves each night for a week. The dogs slept soundly thru the night, 10:00 pm to 6:30 am. Every night. We even felt more rested.
Is it possible that being aware of the sounds around us will make the dogs learn more readily? Will they sleep more soundly? Will they be less stressed? I know, at this point, that being aware of ambient sound is helping my stress level and focus. As for the dogs, no more AC/DC when we train, even in the more aggressive activities such as bitework . We will find areas with less noise to train in. The research and conclusions of this study are nowhere near completed. I post this as “externalized” research, asking you for your help. Do you find that you are affected by the “Noisy” world we live in daily? Have you ever considered that your dog and his training are affected by it? Your observations are welcome and desired! Do you play music while training? A thousand questions could be asked, but I want your observations.
Noise pollution is something we cannot escape. Some of it we create ourselves in our own environment. Loud music, television, locale…Other sources are just a byproduct of everyday life. Sirens, heavy machines, rude people with loud car-audio systems…
Dog trainers and behaviorist, I am especially interested to hear what you may have observed working with dogs in noisy, and quiet environments. I’ll post as much information here as will help the research! Thanks for reading!!!