Desensitizing a Canine to Excessive-Pitched Beeps—Half 1 of two

A small black and rust hound mix sits on some colored mats. She is looking in the direction of the camera and her head is tilted to one side. She is listening to a sound that is being played over a speaker.
This can be a nonetheless from a sound publicity

I’m lengthy overdue to put in writing about this. I efficiently desensitized and counterconditioned my clinically sound phobic canine, Zani, to digital beeps. Listed below are some ideas and practices that might be useful to others who’re working with such canines.

It’s Not At all times about Quantity

If I might convey one factor to individuals who need to desensitize their canines to sounds aside from low-pitched booms and bangs, it will be this: Suppose past the quantity management.

We assume that the way in which to make a sound much less intense to start out desensitization is to show down the quantity. That is smart for sounds the place it’s the quantity (and suddenness, normally) that make them startling.

For instance, it’s possible that quantity is related for thunder and fireworks. They’re loud and sudden sufficient to set off the mammalian acoustic startle response. And the startle response can set off worry conditioning (Götz & Janik, 2011). It’s a good start line to imagine the loudness and the suddenness are integral to a thunder-phobic canine’s response.

Now, what about that low-battery chirp of a smoke alarm that terrifies some canines or the digital beep a WC scale? Do we actually assume making these sounds quieter will make them much less scary for phobic canines? They’re not loud to start with.

What Makes a Sound Intense?

To make a much less intense model of a sound, we have to contemplate what would possibly make it “intense” to a canine. We will’t know for positive, however science will help us make an informed guess.

Let’s contemplate the traits of a quiet digital beep and why it’d scare a canine. We will begin by its waveform.

That is the beep a WC scale.

A sound waveform diagram shows a sound that looks rectangular, with sharp edges.

This waveform picture reveals a beep about 0.15 seconds lengthy. The x axis is time, and the y axis is amplitude. There are some hanging issues about this sound.

It’s sudden. There isn’t any gradual transition between on and off. It begins immediately. It’s homogeneous till the brief fade on the finish.

For comparability, the next is the waveform picture of a hen chirp of about the identical frequency.

A sound waveform diagram shows a wave that looks like a scribble; generally oval shaped but with jagged and uneven edges.

The hen chirp is longer in length, however the hanging factor is how way more complicated it’s. And regardless that a chirp is a sudden noise too, you may see the gradual assault (audio time period for the start of a sound). It’s completely different from the sudden begin of the digital beep.

Again to the beep. There are a few different issues we will find out about this sound via evaluation. We will study its frequency. It’s about 3,900 Hz; that’s not seen on this type of diagram. And since it’s being generated via commonplace shopper circuitry and can play via a shopper speaker, it is not going to include any tones increased than 20,000 Hz. Meaning the sound might sound odd and truncated to animals like canines who can hear as much as 40,000 Hz.

A black and rust hound mix is sitting in a woman's lap. She is leaning into the woman. Her ears are pulled back and she shows "whale eye," as in the white of her eye is showing as she looks to the side. She looks afraid.
Zani recovering from a scary noise in 2015

How does this add up? We don’t know why some canines worry sounds in a specific frequency vary. However we will make some conjecture about why a few of the different options of this sound might add as much as “scary.” In line with analysis, canines don’t find sounds in addition to we do (Fay and Wilber, 1989, p. 519). Add to that the brief length of the sound; shortness makes sounds tougher to find for everyone. Plus, these beeps are sometimes pure tones, and that may be a problem, too. Per Barber et al., “On the whole, it’s simpler to detect broadband sounds than pure tones.” Which means that pure tones and people with excessive frequencies omitted might be tougher to find. Lastly, “…so it might be doable [for a dog] to estimate the space of a sound supply provided that the sound supply has an anticipated quantity” (Barber et al., 2020). In different phrases, they’ll find it higher if it’s not too quiet.

To be clear: the above conclusions are conjecture. They’re based mostly on some recognized info, however the conjecture doesn’t have experimental proof but to help it.

Have you ever ever looked for the smoke alarm emitting the low battery chirp when you have got a number of smoke alarms? It may be maddeningly troublesome. Now think about if, like a canine, you had much less talent at finding sounds. And the sound was bizarre and lacking loads of frequencies that will be current in an analog or pure sound. To not point out that each time it occurred, it was completed virtually earlier than you realized it had began.

To canines, these sounds are probably onerous to find. Making them quieter might make the state of affairs worse, not higher. I’ve noticed that to be so with my very own canine.

How Can We Scale back the Depth of a Beep?

The issues with quantity sound like unhealthy information at first. Adjusting quantity is the simplest method to change a sound; we simply flip a knob or drag a slider. However the excellent news is that there are many methods we will change a digital sound to discover a method to make it much less scary.

Listed below are some examples.

All the next brief audio information play a “pure” sinusoidal beep first, then the altered beep. Be certain that any beep-sensitive canines usually are not anyplace close to while you play them, even if you’re sporting earbuds or headphones.

We will do any of the next, alone or together.

Change the frequency. Within the case of a beep, it would normally imply reducing it.

Change the length. Within the case of a brief beep, it would normally imply making it longer. That’s counterintuitive, however in step with the situation challenges I’ve listed above.

Make it much less sudden. It’s completely doable to change sounds so that they have a extra gradual onset.

Make it much less “pure.” Meaning so as to add frequencies or change the timbre another approach. You could possibly add frequencies digitally, or use a extra pure sound, say, a recording of a flute in the identical vary because the beep. One canine I helped with couldn’t tolerate a flute, however was OK with an oboe sound. For this recording I used a recording of a word on my harpsichord, altered to lift the pitch a bit. (It’s a decrease frequency than the opposite sounds, to make it simpler for our human ears to inform the distinction between the digital beep and the harpsichord word.)

Masks it. “Cover” the sound in a white noise masks, and step by step take away the masks within the successive recordings. On this recording, I left the beep audible beneath the masks, however it may be began at an inaudible stage. I wouldn’t use this methodology for a beep anyway, however masking is nice for broadband noises like engines and even door slams.

Filters could be nice instruments, as effectively. There are lots of extra sorts of sound edits we will do, singly or mixed. Take a look at this display shot of a few of the choices within the Audacity sound freeware. Not all work for our functions, however many can.

Getting Again to the Unique Sound

So we discovered a starter sound that doesn’t scare our canine. We will situation the canine that it predicts nice issues. What then? That’s not the sound they had been afraid of. However we’re working with digital sounds, so it’s only a math drawback to get again to the unique. We alter the sound in gradual approximations again to the unique sound. That’s the analog of beginning quietly and elevating the quantity. And if we make a couple of class of change to the sound, it might take extra alterations to get again to the unique sound.

I take advantage of Audacity to edit sounds. Having a musical background is nice for this, however I feel anybody who can discriminate pitch and timbre and who’s snug with know-how might study to make a sequence of sounds on this approach.

Excessive Constancy Digital Sounds

If the canine is afraid of a digital sound, versus a sound in nature, there is a bonus to that. We will replicate such a sound very effectively on digital tools. I discussed above that speaker outputs reduce off at 20,000 Hz. There isn’t any motive for our human-oriented audio system to play something increased. (Some audiophiles would argue, however that’s not a related dialogue.) All sounds, digital and in any other case, rendered on shopper tools can have these frequencies lacking.

Sounds in nature embrace these increased frequencies (and super-low ones), so we will by no means replicate them completely by taking part in them via a speaker. However we will replicate digital sounds very effectively, even for canines. If a canine fears a sound from a wise telephone, we will document the sound and we will play it (and its derivatives) again on the good telephone. With the ability to replicate the sound precisely provides an enormous benefit over, for example, making an attempt to situation a canine to the sound of thunder utilizing audio system.

Related Analysis

I got here up with these concepts independently and I’m not conscious of anybody else within the canine world doing sound conditioning on this approach. However the methodology is squarely inside what we already learn about habits science and bioacoustics; it isn’t “New and Completely different.”

After I began implementing the strategy, I found there are a few analysis papers that describe success desensitizing to sounds utilizing a variable aside from quantity. One was by Poppen (1970). On this experiment, rats had been taught to affiliate a 3700 Hz tone with electrical shock. Then they had been uncovered to a a lot decrease tone (400 Hz) not coupled with shock, which was raised in 5 increments again to 3700 Hz. A number of the rats had the desensitization exposures alone, and a few had been additionally counterconditioned with meals. Each teams “unlearned” their behavioral worry response, with the rats that acquired counterconditioning doing so quicker. (This experiment used conditioned suppression, which I’m not going to clarify right here. However that’s how the scientists had been in a position to measure the acquisition and extinction of worry.)

So it’s been completed by scientists. I’ve completed it, too. Zani was identified with medical sound phobia and was beneath the care of a veterinary behaviorist. I did the conditioning after she was secure on meds. I’ve embedded Zani’s “earlier than and after” video right here. Then in Half 2, I’ll current a mini-case examine describing what I did, together with an inventory of the sounds I used and a video exhibiting lots of the sound exposures.

Be aware: I’ll focus on this extra within the subsequent publish, however I’m not accepting purchasers for this work. However I need folks to know that it may be completed, with warning and beneath managed circumstances. And I plan to offer extra sources.

Associated Posts


Barber, A. L., Wilkinson, A., Montealegre-Z, F., Ratcliffe, V. F., Guo, Okay., & Mills, D. S. (2020). A comparability of listening to and auditory functioning between canines and people. Comparative Cognition & Conduct Opinions15, 45-94.

Fay, R. R., & Wilber, L. A. (1989). Listening to in vertebrates: a psychophysics databook. Hill-Fay Associates.

Götz, T., & Janik, V. M. (2011). Repeated elicitation of the acoustic startle reflex results in sensitisation in subsequent avoidance behaviour and induces worry conditioning. BMC neuroscience12(1), 1-13.

Poppen, R. (1970). Counterconditioning of Conditioned Suppression in Rats. Psychological Reviews, 27(2), 659–671. 

Copyright 2023 Eileen Anderson

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