In 1998 I began dog training in Atlanta, GA. My clients lived primarily in the Buckhead and Vinings area. I had the privilege of being invited into people’s homes and their lives to assist in teaching obedience and manners to their dogs. These wonderful people loved their dogs and gave them good lives. I’d get calls on all kinds of dog concerns and I’d schedule a visit. There were some terribly sad situations begging for help.
I’d be invited in to sit and discuss. Meanwhile I’d be looking around for their dog. I realized over time that when the dog was not present, it was often a signal of a sad situation.The dog owners would tell me about their dog and the visits to the vet, the unsuccessful treatments, and they had tried everything. My visit was to discuss new methods or treatments. They were willing to try anything for their beloved dog.
Dog professionals had only ineffectual solutions for sound phobias, including the biggie, thunder phobia.
We would try various methods and some would improve. Others not. We would work together to create a plan to provide their dog the best quality of life possible to the extent we could.
These were such troubling situations. People loved their dogs and would do anything to help them. The problem being there wasn’t help that made a difference for their dogs.
Then came the day after talking briefly but not getting much information, I was led to the basement door. The husband and wife exchanged looks before opening the door. The space was dark, no light. They said nothing but turned on the light switch that turned on a dim light in the basement. They led me down the stairs. The bottom of the stairs opened into a good-sized recreation room with a TV, a lounge chair, a large area rug, and a large rectangular shape against an inner wall draped with blankets. The room was silent. I looked questioningly at them. They asked me to prepare myself and please be quiet, and the husband walked toward the blanketed object. I heard motion under the blankets. Slowly he removed layer after layer of blankets. More soft movement. I realized I was holding my breath. What could possibly be under those layers of blankets and how could they breath and how were they not overheated and what was going on my mind wondered. In the dim light I strained to see what was there. The being in the crate recognized dad and was making soft cries. Then the dog became aware of me and froze. I saw a face…sort of. But something was off. Much of the dog’s muzzle was missing and the deformity was shocking. I took a step closer and the dog made pitiful cries and clumsily pulled back. It was a golden retriever. Her front feet were deformed and mostly missing. Alarmed I looked to each of the parent’s faces. They stayed frozen neutral. They spoke softly as the dog whimpered and struggled to move within the crate.
The husband whispered the dog had thunder phobia and a couple of years earlier a bad accident happened where the dog damaged herself trying to get away from a thunderstorm while they were not home. The dog tried to get out of the house and ripped out her teeth and much of her jaw ground and broken off. Her nose was mangled. Her feet had dug at doors, walls, and floor in her terror and tore out her nails, her pads, and down to the bone. She shattered bones and hurt herself terribly. The vets did their best to fix her.
The family loved this dog so much they decided to keep her in the basement in a crate under blankets to keep her calm and safe from the storms. She lived in this space year around. Nightly dad would come down and spend time with her quietly in the dim basement. He would let her out of the crate and she would lie close to him by the crate and they had time together watching television. He would carry her outside to have fresh a bit in the dark of night. The rest of the time she lived in the crate. The parents kept it cleaned up. There was no foul smell of urine or waste. This was her existence. She panicked if I looked directly at her or came closer than 10 feet. Her cries were pitiful. I was the first non-family member to visit this space and she normally didn’t cry in this manner. The parents told me she was happiest here and she would enter the crate on her own and found peace and solace there. I was numb. Emotions ran fast and hard. “But I don’t understand how you can say she likes it here like this” I queried. “Is this cruel to keep her here and in this condition?” They said the vet told them she was not in pain and this was the best life for her. Did I see a way to enhance her life or help her recover from her thunder phobia? No. I could do nothing for her or them at this point. I did question whether this was humane and best for her and if she would be better off being put down. They said no, they couldn’t do that. I’ll never forget this dog and these people who so loved their dog. It was the most heartbreaking situation. This was the day I vowed to do something to help prevent any other dog or their family from being in a situation such as this and living this way, deformed and shattered, in darkness and removed from life other than a few hours a night with dad.
My resolve cemented, I began a journey. New to me, how do I begin?
I called the vet and gained more information on her history. He shared about other clients who had sound terrors and their experiences. I went online and researched. I contacted past clients with dogs who had thunderstorm fears. I took down copious notes. We discussed when they first noticed problems, how it progressed, why, who, before, during, after, what actions were taken to address the situations, results, any ideas or suggestions or anything they had to share. I read everything I could find on the topic of sound fears. This was my discovery phase.
I never let go of the focus on addressing this problem. I’d contemplate and meditate on this issue. This process took months and months. Finally one day it came to me.
I went back to families, retraced my steps…have you tried this? No. OK, Let me do this and I’ll be back! I began trials with a few dogs and willing parents. Hope shined her light on a solution. Eagerly I again researched but this time I narrowed to the sounds dogs were triggered by. How do I introduce them safely? Wait! Counter-condition them. And WOW – habituate the same sounds to prevent sound fears. Multi use – of course! Prevention is ideal! Start pups off right with sound socialization and they will enjoy a better quality of life. Help for all.
I return to the folks who had participated in the past. More trials. We step through training. I’m present to set up and begin each dog. I walk the process with each family. Encourage those who want to give up and feel hopeless. The feedback from the dogs was especially important. I learned the training is individual for each dog, meaning the training may be similar however the pace is unique to each dog and it can’t be rushed without having to fall back even further to proceed again.
Never give up.
Compassion, paying attention to the dog’s signals, training people what those signals may look like. Experiment with timing, how often, when is ideal time, process and method that works best. Bite sized pieces worked best. Don’t push too hard, too fast. We noted progress-measuring success in steps. How is the counter conditioning affecting the dog? The family? The parents? Kids? Other animals of the household? This required so much care. It was a labor of love and devotion to the beloved dogs.
Along the way people asked about other behaviors….
Hands on experience refining my skills working with dogs in a loving and gentle and clear communication to help in best methods for the love of dog.
Based on all I have done – research, trials, hands on experience, practice, review and modification, to success, this became my dissertation and I earned my PHD in dog socialization specializing in sounds. (Unofficially without the benefit of college.) I am an expert by hard work and never giving up and surely by grace given.
Step one completed.
Next was to collect the sounds known to trigger dogs. I continued from the list of already known. If I’m going to do this, do it completely to include all sounds that can trigger dogs. The list was long. It was beyond the old fashioned studio with noisemakers to make a believable and accurate representation of the sounds. I needed to collect all the sounds in the best quality possible.
This was new to me as well. The only recording experience I had was as a child with an oversized personal recorder my dad gave me for Christmas. I had one cassette and I recorded myself singing awfully again and again. Maybe that was a premonition of things to come. And it wasn’t a singing career.
Back to research again. I called all the audio businesses in Atlanta and the largest ones in the Southeast Region asking for their professional opinion. I sought to find the best help and equipment.
There wasn’t a way to bring the actual sounds together in a studio. I was going to need the best portable equipment to go to the sources of the sounds themselves. At that time, the available selection outside of Hollywood was limited. A terrific store in Atlanta brought in the best equipment in their company and took excellent care of me. We scheduled time for me to come by and pick up the equipment. They laid everything out in the retail store area and trained me in what each item was, how to assemble the pieces and use them, and then how to disassemble safely for storage and transport. They helped me select all the needed extra items to get the best possible recordings. I wish I recalled the name of the company. They were amazing, patient and cheerful and carried everything out to my vehicle.
I would be recording sounds where THEY are. They would not be coming to me. Imagine planes, trains, and semi-trucks in a drive through in a neighborhood – that would be something. I would be driving to each location, assemble the gear, record, then disassemble, store, pack into the vehicle and repeat again and again and again throughout Atlanta.
So I’d look at the list of sounds and figure where I could record the sound. Often I’d call the business that had that particular sound. It was important to get a clear recording of only that one sound. For example I called train companies until I found the right one for a certain location. Then we’d discuss the best time and exact location along with where to position myself to capture the clearest, purest sound of the approaching train, the whistle and retreating train without car traffic, school bells, or other surrounding sounds. Not so easy or fast to figure out.
I scheduled time with airports and got authorization to access restricted areas for the best recordings of specific sounds.
While at the Atlanta Airport and all geared up, I came upon the police department on a lower level. I stopped in and asked if I might be able to capture the sound of a siren. I was told to wait outside by the patrol car and they’d send someone out.
An officer comes out and inquires what I want. Sir, if you could please run the siren for maybe 20 seconds I will record it for the dogs. I tell him about the training and answer his questions. I’m tired from walking all over the airport capturing sounds while lugging all the equipment. I’m hoping to grab the siren sound and get to the vehicle and call it a day. Satisfied I’m on the level, he says ok and opens the car and turns on the siren. He plays it for well over a minute. I wanted to leave but politely waited until he turned it off. My arms felt like lead holding out the mike on the extended tripod and my back ached with all the gear hanging on my body and strapped to me in other areas. I thank him and begin to turn away. Hey wait he says. Don’t you want the other sounds! It’s ok. Thanks for your time. I appreciate it. No, you want to have those too! And the officer proceeds to play each siren sound for a long time and I had no idea there were multiple sounds. It just didn’t seem to end. This man is being so nice and giving so much of himself in kindness for the dogs and I’m losing the ability to hold the mike up and it slowly makes it way towards the ground. (You get to hear them all on the training too.) The people who gave were mostly like this man –givers and loving dogs. It was so inspiring and lifted me up when I was dragging during parts of the project.
Step by step I went through the list, requesting permission and arriving to assemble equipment, search out the point person, be led to the spot and wait for the moment to record, thank them, return to the vehicle, disassemble and pack the equipment. Is this passion and determination or what! It was a project. By the end I was glad to return the equipment and say good-bye to it. I asked the employees at the store what to do with the filled DAT tapes. The reply – recording studio or buy software and do it myself.
Step two completed.
DAT tapes on my desk and I first look at software and quickly determine I’m in no way qualified to do it myself. Picking up the phone I begin the process of calling Atlanta recording studios. I made my request. They sneered over the phone. Hah! We “do music”, not sounds. I called all the bigger studios. Same answer.
Well then, I’ll have to find a smaller studio and see if I can find one that first of all is willing, and then able to provide an end product I was seeking. Days of phone calls later a kind, willing sound man with his own studio in the basement and who wasn’t snobby about “music” said “Sure, come on down and let’s see what we can do.”
It took a couple of weeks, working in between other scheduled artists to transfer the media from the DAT tapes to reel to reel. Then editing each sound and capture the name of each sound in an organized manner that would flow though to the end result. Mastering so the sounds were in similar range and not get quietly lost or “blare and scare” dogs.
Hey, how will people know what to do with the sounds? Oh yea, I needed to write training and record it. I noted I could speak just fine until I was standing in a small “box of foam” space, small glass window to see each other and a mike. I had on headphones hearing unusual sounds and my voice sounding alarming in my ears. Ewww! He was an excellent coach “don’t stop, just keep going”.
We determine the training naturally begins on track 1. How do we want to present the sounds? I sat there clueless. How about by tracks and we sat together and considered each sound track and put them in collections. From there we examined each collection to have it flow smoothly and not be choppy and horrid to anyone’s ears. It was a fabulous idea and then remastering, of course.
How much time between sounds? Between tracks? We complete and while sitting back relieved we were done comes the information there is only 72 minutes space available on the CD. The training was over by 5 minutes. What to remove?
Again we go through each sound and carefully edit out seconds, repeating this process for hours to shave off the overage. It was not an easy task. Keeping all details clear while moving things around back in the early 2000s of earlier sound studios was quite the project in itself in a small basement studio.
We were both mentally and emotionally and physically exhausted by the time we completed this project. The price tripled and he still gave me a huge deal. I was handed a master CD with a smile, a hug, and blessings of good fortune for the dogs and me.
All N All Productions with Baatin, based in Atlanta, GA, is the recording studio I used and I highly recommend him.
Step three completed.
I need to locate a fabulous CD duplicator and printer combo to create the finished product. My artwork was in no way in compliance with the requirements and they did the artwork in house. Back and forth on the proofs and color and sizes of the printed media to match. Funny how the artwork for the jewel case prints a different color shade than the label for the CD. Back and forth and printers tweaked until we got what we wanted. So many details! Patience. Do it top notch because it’s for the well being of the dogs. Don’t be cheap, no corners cut.
Delivery! Boxes and boxes opening to boxes and finally a plastic wrapped CD – The Sound Socialization Training CD birthed. (Originally named Angel Dog Sound Socialization.)
There have been great technological advances in audio over these years so in that vein I reviewed the training and updated it with better quality sounds. The training was expanded to give specifics for breeders, families with a new puppy or dog, and counter-conditioning for dogs in fear of sounds. The training is now downloadable for immediate access so you can begin right away.
It’s been a journey and not through yet. My passion for all animals, dogs especially, continue. I’ve found myself talking with horse people and helping them. It lead to barn people which lead to show animals and also rescue dogs, groups, service groups, and dog clubs. Listening to their concerns and desires to be of assistance.
I’ve met so many tender souls and been given the blessing to make a difference in their lives.
I’m considering going the next step (of course) of setting up therapy centers to address “the whole picture” of some fears to rehabilitate dogs. For instance controlling atmospheric conditions, cause static on dog fur to alert of impending thunderstorms. Those dryer sheets have another purpose to wipe your dog down pre-storm and eliminate static shocks that alarm and begin the fearful responses in many.
Centers could be created to go in depth for the animals who are multi-symptom to multi-stimuli.
I still remain curious and seek to learn. My passion is dogs and I stay open for new and more information. Dogs, people, life, and intuition are my teachers.
Until then, would you be so kind as to tell other dog owners about Sound Socialization? It’s a wonderful gift to the dogs. It’s less expensive than many of the dog toys sold today. And it benefits dogs to help them enjoy a wonderful quality of life.