This isn't much of a question and more of an observation. While watching the film Lemming (dir. Dominik Moll) earlier, during the scene where Alain (the male lead) goes back home to find lemmings invaded his kitchen, I notice my cat who was sleeping happily till she heard the squeaks of the lemmings and then perked up and woke up for a bit. She went back to sleep as soon as she realized the sounds were coming from the tv. What intrigued me was, before that point, the whole build up with sound was pretty disturbing but my cat was unperturbed by it. Got me thinking about how my cats, we've got two of them at home, are often nonchalant to the sounds of the films that we are watching. They don't react to loud sounds, nor to the non-diegetic ambience/sfx beds of horror films.

So I'm wondering of the complex sound designs, what are the sounds in there that will trigger a response (e.g. fear) from animals? Would these sounds be more powerful to just be used on their own? Or are we humans too complex and have just been desensitized to the very sounds that were meant to target our primal instincts, that we have to layer in other sounds that attempt to trigger other connections in our minds? It makes me wonder if we could discern what sounds affect animals, we could possibly use the same sounds on our audience.

Apologies if I seem to be rambling but was wondering if anyone else has noticed how their pets or any other animals react to film sound.

  • Cool question! My dogs are unperturbed by explosions, guns, car chases, etc., but as soon as they hear a dog bark, whine or growl they are sitting up, paying attention, and cocking their heads from side to side. – Jay Jennings Sep 1 '11 at 16:26

I've recorded my cat as much as I can since he makes some great noises. The fun part comes when I'm editing he starts talking back to himself and getting agitated looking for the other cat that's heard but not smelled. I've ended up having to do any of that editing while he's hard asleep or on headphones. Occasionally he'll respond to birds as well.

  • That's bizarre. On the contrary, my cats don't seem to respond to recordings of them. Can we swap cats for a day? Hahaha... – user6513 Sep 2 '11 at 16:42

Last summer I was working on a show that had dogs chasing the main characters through a forrest. I was cutting at home one day in the hot summer and had my windows open. Over a period of about 15 minutes I had every dog on the block going nuts reacting to the angry growls and barks I was cutting. At first they were reacting to the sounds I was cutting but then they seemed to be reacting to each other. After some time they seemed to figure out that my "dogs" were repeating themselves a lot as I went through the scene over and over. Sadly my recording gear was not with me or I would have got a great chorus of dogs. Maybe I will try it again just to record the results.

  • That''ll make a pretty interesting chorus I reckon. Do it do it! – user6513 Sep 2 '11 at 16:44

My cat seems to hate sweeping frequencies in the high-mid range. Not a particular tone itself, but when it changes from low to high.


I've seen a show before on dog 'language'. What may sound like a generic bark to the untrained ear can actually be one of several main types of communication, distinguished by subtle changes in the sound.

Typically, a bark or growl can be either a greeting/announcing location to 'the pack'; a territorial/aggressive noise to warn others; a 'claiming' growl, to warn of possession of food etc.; or playful.

Whilst this may sound like common sense, I was quite surprised by an experiment in the show. They put a dog on it's own in a room with food. The dog made a move for the food the instant he was left alone. A growl (posessive) was played into the room, and the dog instantly backed off and left the food alone. The test was repeated, but this time a different growl (playful) was played into the room. I could barely hear a difference in tonation etc but it clearly had a different meaning to the dog; he didn't seem to care and just went ahead and ate the food!

To cut a long story short, with respect to animal noises/calls, I believe a lot of them are primarily species specific. Humans would be generally unaware and unaffected by the different calls of different species, as dogs and cats are to noises we respond to as mentioned (explosions etc). It's possible that certain different animals may respond to pitch variations etc though; whilst not necessarily sounding like an animal call, the tone changes probably still relate a certain message to them. And, of course, greater sensitivity than ours of hearing in different frequency bands must be taken into consideration!

With regards to our primal instincts, I don't think we've been completely desensitised. For example, a twig-snap can still make us alert and on guard; no doubt instinctively from when we were stalked by predators =P

(First post: sorry for rambling on a bit!)


I'm a little late here but I noticed this... One of my cats goes completely insane about The X-Files theme. She intriguingly smelled the computer or tv, depending on which one was playing. Later I found out she goes nuts with human whistling and comes running to my lap as a dog every time I whistle and meows if I don't stop. She does react to baby cry and all sorts of high frequency sounds that seem to fall between whistling and crying (being kittens or human babies). Strange enough, I have other cats that don't give a damn about those. Could it be because the first cat was the only one that had kittens? Since then, she went more sound sensitive. Does a cat life experience also changes the importance on the type of sounds to which it is more alert? It seems like it does.


I was cranking the resonance on a couple of synth patches a few weeks ago while working in headphones and had a fun time trolling my cat via the higher frequencies. She was not amused.


Ive seen cats react to bird sounds on TV

Good question though, someone in a multimedia class I'm taking said that they are teaching cats how to paint now.

EDIT: When I see a cat or dog sometimes I meow and that almost always gets their attention. They must be tuned to that type of sound

  • 1
    cats to paint? that's insane! – user6513 Sep 2 '11 at 0:48

My cat is not bothered by my guitar or sound from it at all. The other cat we have, the second she sees it, she freezes in fear and then bolts away.

  • 3
    My friends cat once knocked a harmonica out of my mouth, while I was playing. He was not a fan. – AdamAxbey Sep 1 '11 at 21:28

Cats are always (well the ones i tried with anyway) intrigued by Didgeridoo sounds, and so far, every dog i've "played at" runs away like there's no tomorrow!

  • That's interesting to note. I wonder why though. – user6513 Sep 2 '11 at 0:49
  • @Tak yeah i'm curious to... Its kind of like when my baby cousin cries when he sees a pilates ball. – Filipe Chagas Sep 2 '11 at 1:08

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