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Border Collie Rescue - On Line - Noise Sensitivity

Sensitivity to noise and vibration

A cause of unsocial or disruptive behaviour in dogs

Noise sensitivity manifests itself as a problem in various ways. Most prominent are fear and over-stimulation.

It is part of the background of breeding of a Border Collie to be sensitive to sound as they are required to be able to listen for commands and keep their eye on the livestock they are herding without looking back to their handler for reassurance.

Over the centuries, shepherds have naturally selected dogs with good hearing to breed from as it is necessary for the dog to be able to distinguish verbal commands or whistles from considerable distances. If the dog is not sensitive enough to distinguish commands against the background noise of wind and weather its effectiveness as a sheepdog will be diminished.

They are also required to locate sheep at a distance or, on some occasions, when the sheep is buried under many feet of snow on the high fells in a blizzard.
This requires particularly sensitive and applied hearing.


Some Border Collies are particularly noise sensitive and can show a fear reaction to many loud noises.
This may be due to a variety or combination of reasons, for example, poor socialisation when young or simply due to the breeding of the dog as certain blood lines are more sensitive than others and some dogs that have been badly bred can be mentally impaired and thus become over-reactive and less receptive to the acceptance of sound stimuli, regarding them as threatening and thus becoming frightened of the unknown.

Some dogs are sensitive to certain noises or sounds but seem to be able to take others in their stride - these noises need not be loud or sharp. This may also be caused by poor socialisation when pups. In rarer cases a dog may become sensitive to a sound after a traumatic experience that has formed an association with the sound in the dog's mind.

Common example of noises that frighten dogs are fireworks, thunder, gunshots, cars backfiring , bird scarers and other sources of explosive or percussive sounds. Some dogs are scared of vehicle engines, particularly the bass sounds of large diesels. Aircraft engine noises, helicopters, sirens, bells and noises like this are common.
Less common are noises like the sound of the sea, (you may have come across a dog that enjoys swimming and playing in water, but is terrified of the ocean), horses hooves, the wind, rain on the roof, the swish of a stick or line through the air.
In short, it is possible for a dog to have or develop a phobia for any sort of sound it does not understand and perceives as a threat or danger.

It is natural for the dogs owners to try to comfort their pets when they show such a reaction or are frightened of something new, but this is usually counter productive as sympathy tones and comforting will re-enforce the dogs concerns that something is wrong and convince them that they are right when they feel threatened.
They will be rewarded for their fear reaction which will encourage them to repeat it when the circumstances occur again.

Some dogs will develop a phobia or take on that phobia from their owner second hand, because of their owners own fears or reactions. If you bear in mind that the BC is a breed that will spend much of its life watching and studying its handler and will therefore often reflect the qualities of its handler, this should not surprise you.
To read a bit more about the Border Collie as a 'watcher', you should take a look at the pages on Deaf Dogs.

In order to help a dog overcome its paranoia it needs to be shown that there is nothing to fear from a situation that is causing it concern, and that it therefore does not need to hide or seek comfort.
In these situations it is best to avoid sympathy tones and re-assurance. It is constructive to act perfectly normally towards the situation and dog, demonstrating that you are not afraid, setting an example.
It is correct to re-assure the dog, but to do this in a way that does not to allow it to feel that its fear and reactions are justified. It needs to be put into a situation of normality as quickly as possible. Distraction is one way of accomplishing this.
Re-assure it that the sound is safe by acting normally.

When the dog is reacting badly to stimuli you need to 'jolly it up' and make light of the situation, using a firm tone to comfort and re-enforce normality. Don't allow the dog hide behind you or fall flat at your feet and don't go down to the dog and offer a cuddle.
Moving around and keeping the dog active and its mind off the problem will help it come to terms with its fear.
Try to interact naturally and do things that you would normally do as part of the daily routine and keep talking to your dog in normal tones that indicate that nothing is wrong.
In extreme cases encourage the dog to follow you around while offering a game with its favourite toy - but avoid lavish use of tidbits as these tend to work as a form of reward for the dogs unwanted reaction and avoid falling into the trap of rewarding the dog by always playing games as the dog may inadvertently learn that by acting afraid it is rewarded by play.
It is a subtle programme you need to employ

In some instances the use of gentle exposure to the fear producing sound may help a dog to become acclimatised and therefore immune to its effects. It is pointless in just putting the dog into the position of being subjected to the noise without applying distractions as explained above.
The dog should not be allowed to 'get into' the paranoia.
Use a recording of the noise, played at very low level in the background and carry on life as normal - if the dog reacts badly, distract it. Keep exposure time short and at low volume initially.
When the dog seems to be accepting the noise at the set level, you can increase the volume and exposure time.


A Border Collie can also be easily overstimulated by sound and wound up into a state of great excitement to the extent that it will cease to think clearly before it reacts. Many of these noises may not be significant to the dogs human handlers or even discernible to us above the general background noise of human activity.

Some of these sounds are quite normal everyday noises we take for granted, but to a dog they may sound like something else or simply be an irritation.
Some sounds will be associated by the dog with reactions in their human companions and will excite the dog because the dog has seen humans becoming excited and are echoing the behaviour they have observed.

The sound of other dogs barking may excite some dogs.
The sound of babies or noises we make to placate or stimulate babies may excite some dogs. The sound of vehicle engines, car doors slamming, horns or tyres squealing can over-stimulated dogs.
Doorbells and ring tones of telephones and alarms may excite.

In a busy human environment, dogs are constantly bombarded with noise which we learn to take for granted and our minds will often block out. Dogs find this blocking out process more difficult as they have better hearing.
Even the sound of traffic or trains from several miles distant may be heard by a dog. It is not apparent to us.

In BCR we have noted that many Border Collies being kept in town environments exhibit sound stress related problems and often obsessive noise stimulated behaviour. This is why we no longer re-home into cities and large towns or urban environments and rarely into sub-urban environments - it's not fair to expect a BC to adapt to such locations.

In some instances the use of gentle exposure to the stimulating sound may help a dog to become acclimatised and therefore immune to its effects. Use a recording of the noise, played at very low level in the background and carry on life as normal - if the dog reacts badly, distract it.
Keep exposure time short and at low volume initially, but when the dog seems to be accepting the noise at the set level, you can increase the volume and exposure time as you would when conditioning for fear of sound.

Sound Files

Below are links to pages with looped sound files of noises that can either frighten or stimulate dogs.

Click on the links to open the page - some of the sound files may take time to download, so be patient.
They are all compressed as MP3 files for faster download, but still may take a couple of minutes on a slow connection.

Once the file has downloaded onto your PC you can come back to this page and it should load faster from your 'Temporary Internet' files folder. Each page will open in a new windows on your PC.
The sound files on the pages are looped and when the page is open they will play continuously.

Before you do open any pages - check your sound settings and minimise volume.
To stop them close the page.

Thunder Storms
Battle with explosions and gunfire
Bells and Doorbells
Vehicle Sounds
Babies and Children

If you are interested in adopting a Border Collie from us,
please phone 0845 604 4941 during office hours.
(2 pm to 5 pm Tuesdays to Thursdays)

Please do not write to us or email us about adoption - we want to speak to you before we start the process.