Can Dogs Hear High Frequency Sounds?

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Introduction

Shhh! What's that sound? If you've ever sat there obliviously while your dog has picked up a sound out of your range of detection, you'll be well aware that canines and humans have different hearing abilities. Whether detecting the sound of a car in the driveway or food hitting their dinner bowl from miles away, dogs have a quite remarkable sense of hearing.

In fact, our furry friends are capable of hearing sounds at a much higher frequency than we can — while we can hear sounds up to around 23,000 Hertz (Hz), our furry friends can detect sounds at a frequency of 45,000Hz.
Why are dogs such grrr-eat listeners? Keep reading to find out.

Signs Your Dog has Heard a High-Frequency Sound

You're lazing around on the couch with your dog curled up beside you. It's a lazy afternoon and not much is happening, when all of a sudden your dog's ears perk up, they lift their head, and focus all their attention in a certain direction. You haven't detected anything out of the ordinary, but your pooch is well and truly aware of something new or unusual that's disturbed the peace and quiet.

In many cases, it's pretty easy to tell when your dog has detected a noise outside your hearing range. The first sign you notice may be a raising of the ears, and the tilting of those ears as your dog narrows in on the source of the sound. 

What they do next could vary depending on your dog's mood and the nature of the sound they've just heard. For example, they may dismiss the noise as nothing worth investigating, raising an eyebrow, letting out a sigh and then resuming their lazing around. However, if it's intriguing or potentially threatening, your pooch might go on high alert.

They could raise their head, turn to follow the source of the sound, and even move closer to investigate. They might bark, growl, or even whimper, and their tail could start wagging.

Body Language

Your dog's body language can reveal that they've detected a sound you've missed. Cues to look for include:
  • Alert
  • Head tilting
  • Wag tail
  • Raise ears
  • Head turning
  • Tail up
  • Ears up

Other Signs

Other signs that indicate your dog has detected an interesting noise include:
  • Raising their head
  • Moving to follow the source of the sound
  • Sniffing the air
  • Barking
  • Tilting ears
  • Pawing at ears

History of Dogs Hearing High Frequencies

For animals living in the wild, all their senses are crucial to their ability to survive and thrive. For wolves, the ancestors of today's domestic dogs, being able to detect danger from as far off as possible would no doubt have been an important weapon in their survival. Alongside their even more powerful sense of smell, this impressive hearing ability would also have helped them become fearsome hunters.

But what about the ability to hear at high frequencies? Why did dogs evolve to hear at higher frequencies than we do? In a nutshell, they've adapted in this way to be able to locate where a sound is coming from. 

They do this using a process known as 'binaural spectral-difference cueing', which basically allows them to compare the frequency of a sound as it arrives in each separate ear. The ear on the side of the head farthest away from the sound effectively falls in the head's 'shadow', so some of the frequencies are absorbed, meaning that the ability to hear a higher upper frequency limit is essential to be able to identify where a sound is coming from.
That said, while dogs can hear much higher frequencies than us, they've got nothing on bats and whales, which are capable of detecting much higher frequencies.

The Science of Dog Hearing

Have you ever noticed that your dog has the remarkable ability to move its ears? Sure, some people can jiggle their ears around a little as a party trick, but they've got nothing on your pet's ability to rotate their ears this way and that to pick up new and interesting sounds. 

Dogs have 18 muscles in their ears which allow them to wiggle, rotate, and tilt their ears to the best angle for focusing on a sound. By way of comparison, human ears only have six muscles, not to mention a far more limited range of movement than that enjoyed by our furry friends, while dogs have substantially longer ear canals.

As a result, our canine pals can detect sounds up to around 45,000Hz, while the average human ear tops out at 23,000Hz. It's a sizable difference, and explains why your pooch can often detect sounds you simply can't. However, humans are slightly better at picking up sounds at the lower end of the spectrum, capable of picking up 20Hz sounds as opposed to a dog's bottom limit of 40Hz.

Training Your Dog to Listen to You

Any dog owner who's ever spent time training a puppy will be familiar with the concept of selective deafness. These are the moments when your dog hears only what they want to, preferring to keep playing at the park or maybe race off after the neighbor's cat than do whatever boring thing you want them to do.

To help ensure that your dog always listens to you, even when they've just detected a new and interesting sound from somewhere else, it's important to concentrate on teaching your dog that there are plenty of benefits that come with listening to what you have to say. 

By rewarding your furry friend with a tasty treat when they give you their full attention, and when they respond to your commands accordingly, they'll soon come to associate prioritizing you above all else with good things. If your pet isn't particularly food-oriented, reward them with their favorite toy or heaps of praise instead.

Patience is the key to success, so make sure you never lose your temper and always try to maintain a consistent approach. If you start training your puppy to focus on you from a young age, you'll give them the best chance of being able to ignore any high-frequency distractions and turn their ears in your direction.

How to React When Your Dog Hears Something You Don't:

  • Monitor them. Keep a close eye on your dog for any signs that the sound could be causing them pain or discomfort.
  • Investigate. Look in the direction your dog is focusing on to try to determine the source of the sound.
  • Use training tools. There are special dog training whistles designed to tap into your dog's ability to hear high-frequency sounds.