At the Sound of the Tone...

January, 2021

Things change pretty fast, especially in the realm of technology. I remember when I got my first cell phone, sometime around 1993. It looked pretty much like the cordless phone I had in my house, and like the house phone, was capable of only two things – making phone calls and receiving phone calls. It was rather large and I hardly ever used it because each minute of use cost money. It was supposed to be used for emergencies only, and thankfully I never had one, but I enjoyed being an early adopter of technology nonetheless. Frankly, it was just cool to have a phone in your purse in 1993.

Technology has changed and has changed us over the years; the cell phone, once a device for emergencies only, is now the mainstay of everyday life for both adults and children alike, and the means by which most of us communicate with each other, receive  our news,  and even shop for life's necessities.

The first recollection I have of my cell phone having any sort of impact on my dogs was when we were living in Phoenix, AZ. At the time, the phone I had made a beeping noise when I had voice mail. For some reason unbeknownst to me, this tone bothered Nigel.

When he heard the short but sharp beep he would begin to whine, but would settle down as soon as I cleared the voice mail. I never did

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figure out exactly why the tone suddenly started to annoy him, but I replaced the phone, and none of the other cell phones I had during his lifetime had that effect on him. Flash forward to Norman's puppyhood... to help with the pain and frustration of teething, most evenings I would give him a bully stick to chew. Wanting to make sure that he didn't chew too long, I would set a timer on my phone for about 20 minutes. When the timer sounded, I would take away his bully stick, and praise him for being a good boy while giving him a treat. Eventually just hearing the sound of he timer, was enough for him to drop the bully stick and scamper to the kitchen for his treat. 


For years, the ringing of a traditional doorbell (whether at the door or on television) has caused most dogs to bark and run for the door to see who has set foot on their turf. Now many of us have video doorbells, which allow you to replace your traditional doorbell sound, with a notification on your phone. But, many of our dogs, now understand that a particular sound emitted from your phone, means the same thing – someone is at the door. Our dogs, while not direct users of technology, have incorporated our technology into their lives, affecting their behavior. Canines 25 years ago did not live with the  level of and types of technology that our dogs do today. As I type this tale, Norman and Sooner lie next to me, peacefully sleeping, and unaffected by the sounds of typing or the occasional notification that a new email has been delivered. If the video doorbell tone emits from my phone, all bets are off.

It's not surprising that our dogs are sensitive to sound, after all, puppies can hear before they can see and their sense of hearing is second only to their sense of smell. A dog's sense of hearing is said to be twice as good as a human's. We live with amazing, adaptable, intelligent little creatures, capable of learning things that we don't even know we're teaching. To live in our world, they must sift through the onslaught of sounds they hear daily. They understand and can catalog in their brains, the different sounds in the human-centric world they inhabit, and they act upon the ones that are important to them. They can distinguish the different tones in our voices, and our modern canine companions now can distinguish and act upon the sounds our phones and other technology makes.  In their constant presence and observance of their human companions, they are adapting to technology along side us; they listen and they watch us, learning by our repetition in response to the sounds of our ever-present technology.

©2019 by Barbara Huffman