Can Dogs Hear Rhythm?

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Introduction

Do you often feel as though your dog catches the beat to a favorite song or find humor when your dog seems to get his or her feet tangled in a mess? Our dogs tend to gravitate to the things we love. It's a nice thought to think they can enjoy music in the same way as we do, or that it brings them the same amount of pleasure. 

While some dogs appear more coordinated than others, the question remains as to whether or not dogs can hear rhythm. It's no secret that their hearing is superior to humans, but can they truly enjoy a good beat?

Signs of Dogs Hearing Rhythm

When you put on your favorite song, your dog may act happy, suggesting dogs can equally enjoy the music and beat. But can they? 

A dog may seem to react more positively to upbeat songs. Put on a fun, upbeat tune and grab your pet for a good dance. They will join in eagerly, happily wagging their tail, ears up enjoying the song with you. Sing to your pet and they may join in, barking excitedly along with you. Their tail may even appear to hit the beat, suggesting that your furry loved one can catch the rhythm of the song. 

However, studies suggest that your pooch is simply responding to your own reactions. While dogs have an amazing sense of hearing and can sense pitch and emotions, studies suggest catching a beat is outside of their abilities. Some dogs are more coordinated than others. Some can barely jump and catch a ball at the same time. All are uniquely different in personalities and abilities. 

If your dog is reacting to music, wagging their tail in time with the rhythm, there is a good chance they are responding to the cues you are sending. Your dog can hear the music - but feels and senses you.   

Body Language

Signs that your dog is hearing rhythm include:
  • Barking
  • Listening
  • Wag tail
  • Raise ears
  • Spinning

Other Signs

More cues your dog will give while reacting to the rhythm are:
  • Peeing
  • Singing
  • Howling
  • Dancing
  • Weaving

History of Dogs Hearing Rhythm

YouTube is full of examples of dogs who appear to have rhythm. These are typically learned responses. A trainer off-screen may be moving their hand up and down, directing the obedient dog to move in a certain manner. A reward might be at the ready for the superb acting being demonstrated. The response is not to the music. It is not the rhythm the dog is responding to, but rather, the trainer's command. 

While dogs cannot hear a specific rhythm, their sense of hearing has been used throughout history to benefit us. A dog's sense of hearing is second only to their sense of smell. Dogs have 18 muscles in their ears, allowing them to move their ears in the direction of the sound. Their ability to hear far exceeds our own. The two combined heightened senses are the reason they are so exceptionally gifted when it comes to search and rescue.  

Science of Dogs Hearing Rhythm

A dog's sense of hearing is more sensitive than a human's. They can hear at higher frequencies and have a hearing sensitivity of 40Hz to 60,000 Hz (compared to their human's ability to hear at 20 to 20,000 Hz). When it comes to pitch, humans can hear about a 1/3 of what a dog is able to hear. Because of this, dogs often respond to sounds humans cannot even hear.

In order to determine if an animal can keep a beat, scientist introduced them to tempo changes and measured their reactions. Surprisingly few animals can keep even a basic rhythm. Studies suggest only animals capable of hearing a rhythm are the vocal learners. This would include humans, certain breeds of birds, and maybe cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpuses), but that's about it. Dogs, unfortunately, do not make the list. 

So while your YouTube playlist may seem to suggest that dogs can hear rhythm, it does not line up with the science. What you are seeing is a trained response brought about by faithful pets responding to their human's wishes.

Training Dogs to Hear Rhythm

Start by offering your dog a treat. Hold the treat in front of your dog, ensuring it is seen. Encourage your dog to follow your hand as you guide them in a circle or to bob their head up and down. At the end of the desired motion, give the treat and praise to your dog. 

Repeat the movement with the desired treat over many different times. Your movement is what will keep the rhythm, ensuring your pet adjusts to the speed and frequency of the movement. You can further drill in this movement by using the same song every time. 

Soon, the dog will recognize the song and the movement will come naturally as they anticipate the reward. Once a command is no longer needed, it will give the illusion that your dog can hold a beat. Once your dog is familiar with one song, train them for another. Your pet will be a YouTube star in no time with these new found moves! 

How to React to Dogs Hearing Rhythm:

  • Join in! They are reacting to your joy.
  • Encourage it!
  • Grab a camera and record it for YouTube so the rest of us can enjoy, too!