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Dog Tags May Be an Unintended Pain in Their Ears

Dogs need to be protected from auditory overload, including tag noises.

Recently, Jessica Pierce and I gave a talk about our book, Unleashing Your Dog: A Field Guide to Giving Your Canine Companion the Best Life Possible, in which we stressed the importance of allowing dogs to exercise their senses as well as their bodies. (See "Dogs: An Exciting Journey Through Their Sensory Worlds.") Afterward, Lauren Revier, who'd heard the talk, told me, "Among the many things I learned, I had never considered that the sound of dogs' tags might be annoying to them!"

When I later talked with a few people about this potential problem, they also mentioned they'd never really considered how dogs could suffer from auditory overload—or "noise pollution," as one woman put it—despite humans' best intentions. These discussions made me revisit some of what Jessica and I wrote in our book about a dog's sense of hearing. (See "How Dogs Hear and Speak With the World Around Them.")

It's true that our world can at times be very loud and noisy, and certain sounds can be very distressing to our canine companions, so it's important to respect a dog’s need for quiet and to avoid auditory overload. We might like to turn AC/DC or Spinal Tap up to 11, but it is likely that screeching, feedback-filled rock music is actually painful to a dog’s ears. If you like to play loud music—or if you do anything that creates very loud, high-pitched noise, like running a vacuum cleaner or using power tools—always make sure your dog has a place to go that is protected from the sound.

Above all, it's good to pay careful attention to a dog’s behavior for signs that an environment is too painfully noisy for them, for whatever reason. For instance, Jessica once attended a summer Gin Blossoms concert at an outdoor venue in Fort Collins, Colorado. In theory, it was an ideal venue to bring a dog, and people were spread out on blankets and folding chairs in the grass.

However, perhaps because the concert was outdoors, the sound was turned up so loud that the music was actually distorted, and Jessica had to cover her ears with her hands and leave early, because the sound was physically painful. She wasn’t alone. About 15 feet away from her was a couple with their dog, who was clearly agitated, with his ears pulled back, tail down, and panting. His owners seemed totally oblivious to the dog’s discomfort and showed no intentions of leaving.

Just as with people, it’s also likely that dogs can suffer permanent damage and hearing loss from long-term exposure to extremely loud noises. There's been no research into noise-related canine hearing loss, but plenty of research confirms the effects on human hearing, and there’s no reason to think that a dog’s ears are any less sensitive to damage. It’s well known that hunting dogs can experience noise-induced hearing loss. Even the sound of a single gunshot or explosion, if it occurs too close to a dog, can rupture the eardrum or damage the inner ear. Further, ear infections can also cause permanent hearing loss if not treated properly.

Dogs' tags can be an unintended pain in their ears

We need to pay close attention to all of the sounds to which we expose dogs and to do what we can to protect their long-term health. Perhaps the easiest hearing-related aid you can provide for your dog is to silence their dog tag. If dogs could talk, that might be their number-one noise complaint.

The constant jingling of the tag on their collar can easily get in the way of listening to the world around them, particularly when they're walking, running, or playing, and this keeps them from fully using their acute sense of hearing to experience their surroundings. Tag silencers—little neoprene covers that hold the tags together—are a cheap intervention that will be greatly appreciated by your dog. I'm sure we wouldn't like wearing devices that interfere with how we sense the world.

We owe it to each and every dog to do all we can to give them the best life possible. One way to do it is to allow them to exercise their senses in the ways they've evolved to be used. It's unlikely dogs have evolved any adaptations to being tagged or to silence those tags, or that this will happen any time soon.

Hijacking dogs' senses doesn't serve them well

I hope that this discussion gets people to consider the ways in which they may be interfering in how their dogs sense their world without realizing they're doing so. Another obvious example is not allowing dogs to sniff to their noses' content, and making their walk for us rather than for them. (See "Dogs Should Be 'Unleashed' to Sniff to Their Noses' Content" and "Allowing Dogs to Sniff Helps Them Think Positively.") It doesn't serve dogs well when we hijack their senses and interfere with the availability of important incoming dog-relevant information.

Stay tuned for more discussion on how we can be sure we're allowing dogs to experience their world—in this case letting them exercise their ears—in the purest "dog-relevant" ways possible.

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