It is a known fact that dogs have super, sensitive hearing. However, there is a difference between just hearing a sound and recognizing a sound. Footsteps could be anyone's steps on the path, but your steps sound different to your dog.
Dogs can recognize individual footsteps because their acute sensitivity to sound is heightened not only by the sound, but by other factors as well. Dogs are in tune with different sounds related to your footsteps at specific times of the day. They can hear sounds further away than we can. These extra special awareness characteristics make it possible for dogs to recognize differences in footsteps and pick out yours, especially when you are coming home.
Signs a Dog Recognizes Your Footsteps
It is amazing to see how your dog can be lying on the mat, one minute and then, in the next minute, with tail wagging, your dog is at the door ready to greet you enthusiastically. You wonder how they did that! Dogs can hear the frequency of sound twice as well as humans and they can hear sounds four times further away than we can.
Your dog hears footprints, voices, and other familiar sounds long before you do. While you hear sounds twenty feet away, they can hear it forty feet away. What makes them able to recognize your footsteps amongst all the other sounds going on at that time? Dogs are very good at picking up small environmental clues. They are so close to their owners and so involved in the daily routine that they can hear other sounds associated with footprints and they respond accordingly.
For example, they may hear you jangle some keys in your pocket as you get ready to open the door. Perhaps you use a bus route to get home. Your dog will hear the bus and your footsteps and know this signals the master’s return.
This association of sounds and footsteps is called ‘associative learning.’ Dogs have become very good at hearing sounds that connect, like footsteps, with other clues. When your dog hears your footsteps alongside other routine sounds, the association of the sound and the time and place trigger the welcoming body language and the ‘associative learning’ pattern.
History of Dogs Recognizing Footsteps
Dogs have been around man since their early history as they became part of the caveman’s family. Dogs became domesticated from their wolf ancestors and were seen to be useful as guard dogs and companions. During this time dogs became very good at observing the movements of their newly adopted families.
Dogs learned how to fit in. They learned the little signs that showed the hunting party was on its way home and a reward would be forthcoming. Dogs and wolves have the same ear-turning ability and can turn their ears to face the direction of the sound.
Hearing dogs offer a valuable service to the deaf and there are many heartrending stories of dogs and their hard of hearing companions. Max is a little boy who was born with a hearing defect. He was not coping at home or in school until Chloe, a hearing dog, came into his life. Chloe hears for Max and supports him socially as attention is focused on Chloe and not on Max. Chloe helps Max communicate with his parents as she climbs the steps to deliver notes from downstairs to upstairs. These encouraging doggie steps won Chloe and Max the ‘Life-changing Child Partnership Award' in 2014.
Science of Dogs Recognizng Footsteps
Dogs are sensitive to our daily lives and the steps we take to go to work or school - or just out and about. They can hear our steps as we come home and walk towards the front door. What a welcoming sight, as your dog is there ready to greet you at just the right time.
How does your dog know exactly the time that you will step into the room or open the door? Dogs have their superb hearing, but they are also tuned into circadian rhythms. These rhythms are part of the physical and mental environmental changes your dog can sense. Think of them as sort of environmental clock, where certain things happen at certain times, within the twenty-four-hour day.
Your dog knows when its time to sleep and eat, go for a walk or when you walk down the passage. This environmental awareness, together with a good sense of hearing, enables your dog to welcome you home every day by recognizing your footsteps.
Training Dogs to Recognize Footsteps
Training a dog to be a hearing dog is particularly suited to dogs who are predisposed to be service dogs. Labradors rate highly as hearing dogs with their gentle nature and loyalty. Hearing dogs are trained to hear and sense sounds that would be dangerous. They then alert their owner to the danger by dropping to a down position on the floor or gently leading their owner away from the sound of danger.
Initially, the hearing dog would be trained in general obedience, followed by learning how to react to different sounds. The training would alert the hearing dog to sounds that would be out of the ordinary - sounds that a hearing person would hear, but a hard of hearing person would not.
Hearing dogs can alert their owners to oven alarms, alarm clocks, doorbells, and the sounds of family members, a baby crying, or footsteps approaching the front door. The hearing dog would learn the difference between friend and foe. Loud footsteps that could warn of a stranger approaching or the soft sound of a lock being tampered with would warn the hearing dog of possible danger.
The hearing dog would never run after a dangerous sound and its training would keep the hearing-impaired person from possible dangerous situations. The trained hearing dog gives the deaf person peace of mind as their dog can be alert and warn of all dangerous sounds not heard by its deaf owner.
The training involves the prospective owner and the dog so that the range of sounds can be tailor made to suit their needs. It stands to reason that a dog, with its sensitive hearing abilities, and protective nature would be able to sense footsteps and learn the pattern of movement of friendly family members.
Written by a Rhodesian Ridgeback lover Christina Wither
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 06/22/2018, edited: 04/06/2020