‘Alexa’ isn’t the only thing your Amazon Echo can listen for. Here’s what else

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Alexa devices like the Echo Studio are known for playing sounds, but now Alexa can listen for them as well.


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Alexa-enabled devices with cameras can be your eyes while you’re away, but any Amazon Echo device can become a second set of ears, whether you’re at home or not. A surprisingly powerful new beta feature called Sound Detection lets Alexa listen for sounds other than just the wake word (typically “Alexa,” but it doesn’t have to be). When your device detects those sounds, it can then launch a series of commands in response.

Alexa can listen for a dog barking or a baby crying, as well as people snoring and coughing. With no sound-based Alexa routine templates in the Featured tab to choose from, however, it’s up to you to craft the response you’d like Alexa to have to any or all of those noises. Keep reading for some creative ideas.

Here, we’ll show you how to use Alexa’s Sound Detection feature to trigger a routine, plus provide examples for each type of sound your Amazon Echo can currently detect (in case you’re wondering how Alexa might help with, say, a coughing fit). Just a reminder — this feature is still in beta. If something goes haywire (or even if it doesn’t) you can direct your feedback to Amazon to help improve the feature.

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Alexa can listen for dog barking sounds and respond with whatever commands you choose.


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Crafting Alexa routines can get a little ruff

Routines can be daunting, but this routine and the ones that follow are especially simple.

Background: I have a 70-pound boxer I call Mucho because he’s just so extra. One of the things he does too much of is barking, so I crafted a routine that plays a loud alarm whenever Alexa hears him woofing.

Now, I’m no Pavlov, but guess what? It worked. At least a little. He seems to bark less now that his dinner-bell brain expects an air-raid siren every time he arfs at a delivery person.

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To create this or any routine in the Alexa app, first tap the More menu in the lower right corner, then tap Routines near the top of the next screen. Next, tap the + (plus sign) in the top right corner.

1. Tap Enter routine name and come up with something fun, like “Sonic Barkinator” (you’ll have to capitalize letters manually), then tap the back arrow in the upper right corner.

2. Tap When this happens, then tap Sound Detection (Beta). Tap Dog Barking at the top.

3. The next screen will ask which device you want to listen for a dog barking. It appears each device will need a separate routine, so pick the one most likely to catch your dog in the act. After you tap the device you want, tap Next.

4. By default, Alexa will listen for barking on weekdays from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. and wait 15 minutes before running the routine back-to-back. You can tap Change if you want to modify any of those parameters (then tap Next to get back to the previous screen).

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You can try setting your Echo Show 5 or other Alexa device to play a loud noise and hope it trains your dog to stop barking.


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5. Tap Add Action. This is the fun part, where you create the series of commands you want Alexa to run when your dog barks.

6. First, I tapped Device Settings, then Volume, then I cranked the slider all the way up to 100%. Use your discretion — 100% is loud. Then tap Next twice (the app confirms your choice).

7. Midscreen, tap Add Action, then scroll down and tap Sounds. The app doesn’t play samples, so you’ll have to pick one on faith. I chose Bells and Buzzers, then picked Buzzer, but there are options under Crowds for Crowd applause and Crowd cheers that are less unnerving than an alarm, yet still attention-grabbing — one of those might work just as well.

8. This is the most important step if you want to save your hearing: Tap Add Action one more time, then tap Device Settings, then Volume and put your Alexa speaker back to its normal, comfortable volume. Otherwise, it’ll be stuck at 10, so the next time you ask for the time or the weather you’ll be aurally assaulted.

9. In the upper right corner, tap Save, then choose which speaker you want Alexa to respond from (presumably the same speaker that hears the bark). The message Routine created successfully will flash across the top of the screen.

That’s it. Now it’s a waiting game. The irony for me was actually hoping my dog would bark just so I could see this routine in action.

I’ve simplified the steps in the remaining examples, now that you’re more familiar with the process.

Cubo AI Baby Monitor

A dedicated baby monitor is more reliable than a smart speaker, but Alexa can serve as a backup alert if your baby cries.


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Alexa can pull nanny duty, at no extra charge

My daughter is school-aged now, so my personal cry-detecting routine looks a little different than for an infant (she hasn’t triggered it yet, but Alexa will tell a joke to cheer her up if she does). Since that’s a little niche, I’ve crafted what I think Amazon intended when it implemented this feature.

Note that you really don’t want to rely solely on Alexa to listen for your baby crying. Bona fide baby monitors are chock-full of safety, privacy and reliability features that can give you peace of mind that you’ll be alerted when your child needs your attention. Digital voice assistants are still a relatively nascent technology and smart speakers, including Amazon Echoes, are notoriously unreliable.

I’d use this more as a backup. If you briefly wander out of earshot from your baby monitor walkie-talkie, Alexa will alert you on your phone that your baby is crying. Here’s how to set that up:

1. Navigate to the Routines screen, tap the + (plus sign) and name your routine.

2. For When this happens, tap Sound Detection (Beta), then Baby Crying and choose which speaker should listen for it.

3. Default is to suppress duplicate alerts for 5 minutes, which is as low as it goes. Tap Change to make it longer.

4. Tap Add action, tap Messaging then Notification. Type a message to yourself like, “Your baby is crying.”

5. Optionally, you could add other actions. Under the Messaging tab, tap Send Announcement to have Alexa alert you from one or more of your Amazon Echoes. You could have Alexa play a sound, like in the previous dog barking routine (only probably not so loud). If your baby responds well to music, you could have the Echo speaker in their room play lullabies while you’re on your way to them by choosing Music & Podcasts in the Add Action menu.

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An Echo Show 5 or other Alexa device in the bedroom can turn up the sleep sounds when it detects snoring.


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Alexa can cover up snoring sounds

A sleeping companion who snores is pure kryptonite for light sleepers, but there’s a chance Alexa can remedy the problem before log-sawing wakes you up. I’m neither a light sleeper nor do I share a bed with a snorer, but I do use Alexa as a noise machine to help me both fall and stay asleep, so this is familiar territory for me.

If you’re a light sleeper, you probably have a go-to sound you like to play to help you fall or stay asleep. For me that’s brown noise — most people only know white noise, but there’s actually an entire palette of color-coded sounds, each with varying EQ levels across the sound spectrum. For this routine, use what works best for you.

Start by building the routine just like the previous two, except you’ll choose Snoring from the Sound Detection (Beta) menu.

Under Add Action, if your preferred sound comes from a third-party app like White Noise or Sleep Sounds, you’ll want to tap Skills, then Your Skills, then find the app you use among that list. If you listen to a music file hosted on your preferred streaming service (such as Spotify or Apple Music), then choose Music & Podcasts and direct Alexa to that track.

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Even older Alexa speakers like the third-generation Echo Dot can listen for noises like snoring and babies crying.


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If you’re totally baffled by where your favorite sound comes from, you can always choose the first option under the Add Action menu, called Custom. Tap it, then literally just type the command you speak to Alexa to get the sound you like on the next screen, then tap Next. The only problem with Custom is that the app then won’t let you add any more actions after the custom command, so you can’t do this next part.

If you don’t want the sound to play all night, you can add another action and choose Wait, all the way near the bottom of the menu, then set how long you’d like the sound to play. After that, add just one more action — tap Device Settings, then Stop Audio. Now choose your bedside device and tap Next.

Alexa, how much have I (ahem) been coughing?

I couldn’t figure out what Alexa could do for a cough (beyond maybe ordering cough syrup?) so I asked Amazon. The answer turned me into a real-life head slapping emoji: Once you enable cough detection as a routine, Alexa will start noting every time you cough. Then, if you feel like you might be getting sick, you can ask, “Alexa, how many times did I cough yesterday?” Or the day before, or the day before that, ad infinitum. 

Setting up this routine isn’t that intuitive, so follow closely and no, I didn’t leave anything off:

1. Navigate to the Routines screen, tap the + (plus sign) and name your routine.

2. For When this happens, tap Sound Detection (Beta), then Cough and choose which speaker should listen for it (if you have multiple speakers, you’ll have to set this up for each one). Then tap Next.

3. By default, Alexa will listen for coughing on weekdays from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. and wait 5 minutes before running the routine back-to-back. You can tap Change if you want to modify any of those parameters (then tap Next to get back to the previous screen).

4. Tap Save.

That’s it — no need to Add Action like you do for most routines. Now Alexa will listen for coughing and be able to report back on frequency.

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