Though our dogs may not always listen to us when we want them to, our furry friends actually have a very impressive sense of hearing. Not only are their ears more powerful than our own, capable of picking up sounds at a distance four times greater than human ears, but they can also detect sounds across a much greater frequency range.
The hearing range of dogs is approximately 40 to 60,000 Hertz (Hz), while the average human is only capable of picking up sound waves from 20 to 20,000 Hz. As a result, our canine companions can detect a wide range of noises that would otherwise pass us by completely unnoticed.
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Signs Your Dog Has Heard Something
Noticing your dog hear something that you haven't even registered can be quite a disconcerting experience. While you're sitting there, oblivious to the fact that there's something interesting going on, your dog instantly perks up and goes to a state of high alert as they investigate an intriguing or worrying noise.
With dogs capable of hearing sounds up to 40,000 Hz higher than the average human, your pet will quite regularly detect sounds that fall on your deaf ears. The key to realizing when this happens is recognizing the telltale signs that your dog has heard something you've missed.
One way to do this is to watch your dog's ears. While canine ears come in all shapes and sizes, they're also home to 18 muscles that allow them to be rotated, tilted, and maneuvered in different directions to capture sounds. Watch closely and you'll notice just how much your dog's ears move up, down, back, and to the side when they detect an interesting sound.
Depending on the sound, your dog's next reaction may vary. Some noises will be dismissed with nothing more than a raised eyebrow and a sigh; others will require an instant response and investigation. If it's the latter, your dog's body language can instantly change from loose and relaxed to alert and tense. Their ears will perk up, they'll raise their head, and they may even get up to investigate the source of the sound.
Some dogs will bark or growl, whine or whimper, raise their hackles or wag their tail. It all depends on what the sound is and whether your pooch sees it as a cause for concern, excitement, or something else entirely.
- Head tilting
- Wag tail
- Raise ears
- Ears up
- Ears rotating and tilting
- Head turning
- Moving to investigate the source of the sound
The Science of a Dog's Hearing Range
While the dog's sense of smell is widely known as being something of a superpower, the fact that they also have impressive hearing ability sometimes flies under the radar. For a human with normal hearing, sounds from 20 to 20,000 Hz fall within the boundaries of frequencies we're able to detect.
Sounds above this upper limit are called "ultrasonic", and can't be picked up by human ears. But they don't go unnoticed by our canine companions, however, as dogs can hear sounds at frequencies as high as 60,000 Hz. You may have experienced this first-hand if you've ever used an ultrasonic dog training whistle — you mightn't hear a thing when you blow it, but your dog certainly does.
Why did dogs evolve the ability to hear such high frequencies? To answer this question, we need to look at the ancestor of today's domesticated dogs, the wolf. Along with their impressive sense of smell, one of the abilities that makes wolves such fearsome hunters (and adept at detecting approaching danger) is determining exactly where a sound is coming from.
This process is known as binaural spectral-difference cueing and is used by all mammals. When a dog hears a sound, the ear that's farthest away from the source of the noise is shadowed by the head. This means some of the frequencies are absorbed as they pass through the head, with higher frequencies absorbed more than lower ones. By comparing the frequency range of a sound as it is captured in each ear, dogs can locate where that sound is coming from.
Training Using Ultrasonic Sound
Some pet products aim to tap into the dog's high-frequency hearing ability. Browse through any online pet supply store and you'll probably find dog training whistles and anti-bark collars designed to eliminate and correct problem behaviors by emitting sounds above the human hearing range.
However, there has been plenty of debate among dog lovers over whether these devices are safe to use or if they could potentially be harmful to dogs. While there are some dog owners and trainers that recommend their use, many others claim they are inhumane and should never be used.
With positive reinforcement training now seen as the best way to help our pets learn desired behaviors, any methods that rely on punishment or correction may not be as effective. Instead, they may produce fear and anxiety in your dog.
There's also the argument that it's impossible for the average dog owner to determine just how much discomfort these devices cause for their pet. If you can't hear a sound, how can you tell just how painful it could be for your pet?
Most experts recommend positive reinforcement training using a rewards-based method. If you're unsure of what this involves or how to get started, get in touch with a force-free dog trainer near you.
How to Help Your Dog Cope with Hearing Loss:
A common problem: Unfortunately, hearing loss is a common part of the aging process for dogs, just as it is for humans. As a result, the frequency range your dog is able to detect will diminish as they grow older.
Ask your vet: If you notice signs of hearing loss, take your pet to the vet to determine whether the problem is age-related or caused by some other underlying health issue.
Communicating: You'll need to develop a more effective way to communicate with your dog, so you may want to consider incorporating hand signals into your training.
Be careful: Take care not to startle your dog. Approach slowly and gently so they can smell or sense you coming.
Stay safe: Remove hazards from your home and yard and take extra-special care of your dog when out and about — he or she may not be as adept at detecting hazards as they once were.