Can Dogs Hear Better than Cats?

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Introduction

Dogs vs cats. Cats vs dogs. Which is the better species? It's one of the oldest rivalries in the world and one passionately debated by dog and cat lovers the world over, and we're always looking for any ammunition to help bolster our arguments for why canines are far superior to their feline counterparts.

However, when it comes to hearing, it's bad news for the canine community. Cats have better hearing than dogs and are capable of detecting sounds at much higher frequencies than your pooch.

Don't take the news to heart, however, as dogs are still pretty impressive performers in the hearing stakes.

Signs Your Pet has Heard Something You Haven't Detected

Most dog owners are well aware that their furry friend has a pretty capable sense of hearing — when they decide it's actually in their best interests to use it. Many a canine has the remarkable ability to seemingly hear the fridge door opening from miles away, but when you try to tell them to stop digging through the trash for a tasty snack, they all of a sudden have trouble picking up what you have to say.

However, despite what your dog's selective deafness may have you believe, canines have a powerful sense of hearing that's much stronger than our own. There's a good chance you may have noticed this when you're enjoying a quiet moment at home with your pet, but then they detect a sound you've clearly missed.

The signs of this are many and varied, but the first clue you'll usually notice is your dog's ears perking up. Doggy ears are amazing listening devices and will soon start to rotate this way and that as your pooch narrows in on the source of the sound. Depending on what they hear, they might switch from relaxed to alert, get up, and "follow" the sound to investigate it more closely, and they could start barking, wagging their tail or doing something else to let you know what they've heard and how they feel about it.

Body Language

Your dog's body language can indicate that they've detected a noise. Clues to look for include:
  • Alert
  • Barking
  • Head tilting
  • Raise ears
  • Head turning
  • Ears up

Other Signs

Other signs you can keep an eye out for include:
  • Ears rotating and tilting
  • Head or entire body moving to follow the source of the sound
  • Barking or growling at the sound
  • Sniffing in the direction of the sound

The Science of Dogs' and Cats' Hearing

Though dogs and cats have many differences, one of the key similarities they share is that they both have remarkable ears. Let's start with dogs. 

Canine ears boast 18 muscles that allow your pooch to tilt and rotate them in the direction necessary to focus in on and identify a sound. The pinna (the part of the ear that sticks out from the head) is shaped in just the right way to catch sounds, amplify them and then channel them through to the eardrum. In fact, dogs are capable of hearing approximately four times better than the average person.

But cats have an even more sensitive sense of hearing. Sometimes described as satellite dishes, cat ears are highly sophisticated pieces of anatomy that can rotate up to 180 degrees to locate and identify sounds across an impressive frequency range. 

The average human ear can hear sounds between approximately 20Hz and 20,000Hz. Meanwhile, doggy hearing ranges from 40Hz up to around 40,000Hz or potentially higher — which is why dogs respond to those high-pitched training whistles that we can't even detect. 

But then we get to the feline population, who can pick up sounds ranging from roughly 30Hz to 60,000Hz. In the hearing Olympics, the cat is the clear winner.

Training Your Dog to Listen

Okay, so dogs aren't quite as adept at hearing as cats, but they've still got two pretty powerful sound detectors on the top or sides of their head. But just because they've got this wonderful hearing power doesn't mean our dogs will always want to use it — much to many an owner's dismay. 

If you've ever experienced the frustration of trying to attract the attention of a dog with selective deafness, you'll be well aware just how crucial it is to get your dog to listen to you at all times. But how can you do that? Well, remembering these simple tips is a good place to start:

  • Focus on me. If you want your dog to listen to you, it's important to make doing so worth their while. If you give your canine companion a treat, praise, or their favorite toy when they pay attention to you, it won't take them long to realize that listening to you above all other distractions will bring a whole lot of good things into their life.

  • Train the basics. Whether you're bringing home a new puppy or adopting an older pet, teaching your pooch the training basics is vital. "Sit", "stay", "down" and "drop it" are all key areas to focus on, and make sure you use a reward-based training method for the best results.

  • Remove all distractions. Start training your dog to listen to you in an environment free of distractions. Once they've nailed the basics and will reliably listen to you in this situation, move to locations where there's a whole lot more going on around them. When your dog focuses on you rather than watching, sniffing, running after, or listening to something else, you'll be well on the way to overcoming their selective deafness.

Your dog's ears are incredibly useful tools, so make sure your pooch is harnessing their hearing power to listen to the most important person in their world: you.

How to React if Your Dog is Losing its Hearing:

  • Par for the course. Some hearing loss is a normal part of aging for dogs, so make sure you're prepared to help your furry friend cope with their changed circumstances.
  • Keep a close eye. If your dog's hearing is on the way out, they may no longer be as adept as they once were at detecting danger. Whenever you're out and about where there are any hazards, for example near a busy road, keep a close eye (and a leash) on your pet at all times.
  • Change things up. Did you know you can train a deaf dog to understand and respond to hand signals? You most certainly can, and you may have to consider this option if your pet can no longer hear what you have to say.
  • Approach with care. If your dog is sleeping or has their back turned, advertise your approach as much as possible. The last thing you want to do is frighten your pet, so give them a chance to detect your scent first.