How well do dogs hear?

Estimated Reading Time 5 minutes
How well do dogs hear?

Did you know that dogs possess a much more sensitive sense of hearing compared to humans? They can easily hear something even when you hear nothing. Dogs can hear high-frequency sounds. They can easily differentiate and associate sounds with certain people, animals, or things. And they can pinpoint a sound’s exact location using their sense of hearing. If you watch your dog’s ears for cues, you can likely get information about your surroundings that you would have missed. It’s no doubt dogs have a fantastic sense of hearing. But how much can they really hear? Keep reading to find out!

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What types of sounds do dogs hear?

Sound is created by air vibrations. The sound and the frequency will be higher as the number of vibrations per second increases. Dogs can hear sounds of up to 50,000 vibrations per second (50,000Hz). On the other hand, humans cannot hear sounds that vibrate at greater than 20,000 vibrations per second (20,000Hz). Hertz is a unit of measure of sound frequency; the higher the frequency, the higher will be the pitch of the sound.

The ability of dogs to hear high-pitched sounds is inherited from their wild ancestors who prey on mice and other small rodents. Being capable of hearing the squeaks and scurrying of these tiny animals through the brush makes it easier for wolves and wild dogs to know where a specific sound is coming from. They can tell which direction the sound is coming from based on which ear is closest to the sound. In the wild, sensitive hearing is essential for survival.

Because of their keen sensitivity to higher-pitched sounds, dogs can help predict earthquakes or the arrival of somebody before you hear the knock on the door. But their sensitivity can also be a bane because everyday sounds can be louder and distressing for dogs. The sound of the vacuum cleaner, lawnmower, or power drill will sound louder to dogs compared to humans. Electronics inside homes also emit constant high-frequency sounds. It’s no wonder why many dogs become scared and anxious during thunderstorms or fireworks.

Why do dogs hear better than humans?

Apart from the important facts already mentioned above, there are other reasons why dogs have a better sense of hearing than humans. These include the following:

  • 18 muscles control the ears of dogs while humans only have six. This means dogs can move their ears easily while humans can barely move their ears. This makes it easier for dogs to tilt, reposition, lower, and rotate their ears to triangulate a sound’s exact location and direct the sound into the inner part of the ear more efficiently. A dog’s ears act just like a submarine’s periscope! The ability of dogs to control their ears and their wide range of hearing makes them much more superior than humans when it comes to the sense of hearing.
  • Some dog breeds have ears that help amplify the sound. Dogs with big, erect ears hear the best because the large outer ear (called the pinna) can direct sound to their inner ear much better. This is like cupping your hand around your ear so you can hear more clearly. However, dogs with long, floppy ears are not as sensitive to perceiving sounds compared to those with ears that are standing. The floppy ears “block” the ear canal, so a considerable amount of the sound waves are unable to reach the inner ear. Dogs with hairy ear canals also have this issue. Take note that dogs with long, floppy ears and those with extra hair in their ear canals have an increased risk of developing ear infections which, if left untreated or without appropriate treatment, can lead to loss of hearing.
  • When it comes to the detectable frequency range, the maximum sensitivity of dogs is 8,000 Hz which makes it easier for them to hear prey. In humans, the maximum sensitivity is only 2,000 Hz.
  • Dogs can detect slight differences between sound frequencies.
  • Humans hear best when the sound is coming from the side because the ears are flat against the head. The ears of dogs are on top of their heads which allows them to perceive sounds originating in front of them more acutely.
  • Dogs can hear independently with each ear, while humans are unable to do so. Thus, a dog can hear one sound on his right ear and hear something different with his left ear.
  • Dogs can filter out sounds that are distracting them so they can concentrate on what they want to hear.

Can dogs be trained to hear specific sounds?

Dogs can be trained to hear and recognize a wide variety of sounds. With regular training, consistency, and positive reinforcement, desired results can be achieved. Training sessions are also great times to strengthen your bond with your canine buddy.

Normally, a dog instinctively learns to form associations with specific sounds based on their exposure and experiences. A common example would be the sound of your car coming up the driveway or the sound of your voice. These experiences and associations make it possible for a dog to predict what happens next, making it easier for them to adapt and be prepared. This association ability can be used to train your dog to react to specific sounds.

Training to improve hearing is not exclusive only for some service dogs. You can improve your dog’s hearing by training him to react or not react to a specific sound. For example, if your dog shows an expected reaction to a certain sound, be quick to offer a bite of his favorite treat and lavish praise. This will tell him that you are pleased with his behavior. If you want your dog to “not” react to a certain sound, like the ringing of the doorbell or a knock on the door, give him treats and shower him with praises when he does not bark in response to the specific stimulus.

Can ear cropping affect a dog’s hearing?

For some breeds of dogs, like the Doberman Pinscher and Great Dane, ear cropping is still quite common, although the procedure has been regulated in some states and deemed illegal in some countries, such as England and Wales.

During ear cropping, a dog’s ear flaps (pinna) are altered. Since the pinna plays an important role in funneling sound into the inner ear canal, dogs with cropped ears lose some sharpness in their hearing. Also, cropped ears cannot be fully rotated, making it harder for these dogs to communicate using their ears.

Like their tail, the ears of dogs are an important visual sign in dog-to-dog and dog-to-human interactions. The position of a dog’s ear is important during social interactions with other dogs or other pets. The movement of a dog’s ears forms a part of their body language and can reveal a lot about what they are feeling.

Read more:

Examining and Caring for Your Pet’s Ears

Common Ear Problems in Dogs

How to Clean Your Dog’s Ears

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Published: 10/11/2021

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