By Arden Moore
Now ear this! We people possess many abilities. But paws down, our dogs win the hearing contest.
Yep, the only member of your household who can detect and respond to your whispers in a room on the opposite end of your house is your dog. (I’m betting your cat can hear those subtle sounds, too, but chooses to stay napping on a comfy spot.)
Dogs can pick up sounds at higher and lower frequencies than we can. On average, there are about 12 muscles per canine ear that can be tilted, turned, raised or lowered to zero in on sounds at greater distance than human ears.
But this heightened sense comes with a price. Some dogs turn into panic puddles at the sound of fireworks, truck backfires, thunder, alarms, people yelling and even the whirl of vacuums across living room rugs.
South Florida is no stranger to storms and other irritating or frightening sounds.
“I equate thunderstorms to a phobia stew, as affected dogs hear the loud wind noise, see large trees bending over and feel changes in static barometric pressure,” says Nicholas Dodman, professor emeritus of veterinary behavior at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, Massachusetts, and the founder of the Center for Canine Behavior Studies.
Dodman estimates close to 50% of dogs exhibit some signs of fear and anxiety to sounds, sights and situations, but there is no study that pins down the percentage of dogs with sound fears.
Perceived frightening sounds can cause some dogs to act clingy, quiver, drool, bark excessively, shed excessively, pant heavily, hide in a closet and risk injury trying to bolt through a door or window.
Unaddressed, the fear of specific sounds can escalate to a phobia — an exaggerated, irrational response that can emotionally and physically affect a dog. Some scared dogs suffer from inflammatory bowel disease or weakened immune systems and may display unwanted behavior, such as fear biting or destructiveness.
Michael Tyrrell, of Wellington, is on a mission to aid sound-phobic dogs. This Grammy award winner and minister has created Wholetones, music designed to use specific tonal frequencies to unleash calm in people and now, pets.
“Music is the soundtrack of every life, including people and animals,” says Tyrrell. “Why, our limbic system is tied to music. At specific frequencies, Wholetones works for all living things.”
He knows firsthand. His dog, Zivah, a mixed breed rescued from a shelter in the Bahamas, would pace, drool and look for a safe place to hide at the first sounds of thunder or fireworks. Then Tyrrell left music he created on Wholetones playing and Zivah calmed down and curled up on the bed with Tyrrell and his wife, Lillian, while the storm raged on.
Tyrrell launched Wholetones for people in 2014. The product line now includes CD and plug-in device versions specifically for dogs and cats. The pet device contains more than 52 minutes of specifically composed, original music infused at the exact frequency of 396 hertz. Hertz (Hz) is a measure of sound frequency or cycles per second.
The collection of songs is derived from music by Tyrrell. It can be played at even low volumes to be effective and may benefit dogs with separation anxiety and hyperactivity, Tyrrell says.
Stacey Gelkopf, who owns Jake’s Pet Supply in Lake Worth with her husband, Harry, has readily stocked the pet versions of Wholetones in their store.
“We get a lot of requests from customers looking for products that can calm their pets from fireworks, thunderstorms and other noises,” says Gelkopf. “Music seems to really help dogs without the worry of any side effects that may occur in giving over-the-counter medications or holistic remedies. You simply turn on music and if it works, great, and if not, the music won’t hurt the dog.”
Tyrrell has donated about $20,000 in products to those serving in the military who are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder as well as to animal shelters.
“Most great inventions come from subtraction,” says Tyrrell. “I realize how music is tuned and how it affects us on a cellular level — and that includes our fur babies. I am trying to do my part to give our pets a fighting chance to live an optimal life.”
Other methods worth considering
Here is a rundown of some other options to consider to calm down your scared or anxious dog:
• Anti-anxiety vests or antistatic jackets may help a dog feel less anxious or frightened.
• Sprays and diffusers that emit dog-appeasing pheromones. Consult your veterinarian about selecting the best commercial product for your stressed-out dog.
• Calming herbs and supplements, such as chamomile, valerian and lemon balm. Work with your veterinarian in advance to avoid accidentally giving a toxic dose to your dog.
• Essential oils in tinctures and administered by a dropper. Recognize that all essential oils are not the same and vary in efficacy by manufacturer. Check with a holistic veterinarian first.
• Training and behavior modification from professional dog trainers using positive reinforcement techniques may help lessen fear in some dogs.
• White noise to help block out the source of the fear-causing sound.
• Zylkene is a supplement that contains casein, a milk protein. It can be given before a known fear trigger, such as an approaching thunderstorm.
• An anti-anxiety medication such as trazodone, Xanax or Prozac may be prescribed by your veterinarian to help your dog stay calm.
Arden Moore, founder of fourleggedlife.com, is an animal behavior expert and host of the Oh Behave! show on petliferadio.com. Learn more at www.ardenmoore.com.