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Dogs everywhere have been howling to the theme song from Law and Order. It was so viral, that Dogster blogger, Maria Goodavage provided a link to 28 of them with just one click. While people think it is very entertaining, it appears that these dogs are very stressed by the sounds they are hearing. I asked sound researcher Joshua Leeds, co-author of the book Through a Dog’s Ear, for his input on this not so laughing matter.
LS: Why do you think so many dogs are reacting so strongly to the theme song from Law and Order?
JL: It is not the actual tune that is causing the canine reaction, but the sound of the music. The sounds we hear on this recording fall comfortably within a dog’s range of hearing (15-50k Hz). When watching the YouTube videos, I observe that these animals are not howling in comfort. It appears to be an auditory response to something that is either hurting or stimulating their listening system somewhere between the ear and auditory centers in the brain.
LS: What could be the possible causes for this?
JL: All instrumentation of this soundtrack is electronically-based. There are frequencies in the electronic instruments that we can or can’t hear. Also, somewhere in the recording or mixing process, frequencies were tweaked in a way that is not natural to a dog’s hearing. As a music producer, when I listen to the soundtrack mix (albeit on YouTube and computer speakers), I perceive mid-range frequencies that have been rolled-off while mid-high frequencies have been boosted.
LS: What could be the reasons that dogs howl in general?
JL: Maybe the reason that dog’s howl is to match the offending frequency. It’s possible that they have an inherent noise cancellation knowledge. People were watching the dogs howl to Law and Order on YouTube and thought it was entertaining. But, if you watch the videos carefully, the dogs either are in stress or trying to deal with the source with a solution of masking the sound with their own. This is a wonderful opportunity for sound aware dog lovers to help other people become aware of how our human soundscape is affecting our animals.
LS: Why is it that more dogs don’t just leave the room when they hear the theme song from Law and Order?
JL: It appears that many dogs are trying to figure out what to do with irritating sensory stimulus or they are trying to match the tone.