It is fairly well known that dogs can hear pitches of sounds that are outside of the normal range of human hearing, but is that that only difference between us? Any dog owner who has stood forlornly in a field calling for their dog to return and being ignored could be forgiven for thinking that dogs don’t have very good hearing at all. But unless a particular dog has a specific hearing difficulty, the chances are that your dog is simply exhibiting “selective deafness” or choosing to ignore you, and can actually hear you perfectly well!
If you have ever wondered how well your dog hears and how the function of their ears differs from ours, read on to learn more about dogs and their hearing.
One of the main differences between dogs and people where hearing is concerned, is that dogs can move their ears to pick up sounds, and people can not. The senses of people are much more weighted to the side of vision than hearing, meaning that we tend to rely on our eyes more than we do our ears, while for the dog the reverse is true. For dogs, their sense of sight is not particularly well evolved, but their sense of smell is incredibly advanced, with their hearing coming a close second.
Dogs can move their ears to pick up sounds coming from different directions, and move their ears independently of each other in order to build up a more complete picture of a sound and its origin. People are unable to do this, and we are unable to identify the origin or location of a sound if we cannot hear it with both ears at the same time!
When it comes to the range of sounds we can hear, for low frequency sounds, dogs and people are about evenly matched. However, when it comes to high frequency sounds, dogs are way ahead of us, and dogs can hear high frequency and high pitched sounds much more effectively than we can.
The human range of hearing is considered to be from around 20Hz up to 20kHz, while for dogs, their range runs from approximately 40Hz to 60kHz, a much wider range of hearing particularly at the higher end of the scale. Understandably, dogs with erect ears with the ear canal open to absorbing sounds have better hearing than dogs with floppy ears, where the ear canal is covered. Nevertheless, the hearing of dogs of all types can reasonably be considered to be much superior to that of people.
As mentioned, dogs can move and swivel their ears in order to hear, something that people are totally incapable of! This allows dogs to benefit from a much wider range of hearing, and allows them to build up a better picture of the world around them. Dogs constantly pick up sounds both near and far by means of adjusting the position of their ears, without even realising they are doing it. Using the swivel and direction of the ears to pick up a comprehensive picture of what is going on around them from every direction allows dogs to detect the presence of threats and predators early enough to be able to make an informed decision about how to respond to it!
The ears and hearing perform another important function for dogs; they help them with their balance. This is also true for people, and most of us are familiar with how an inner ear infection or cold or flu and stuffy head can lead to feelings of disorientation and lack of balance.
The ears of the dog can also help to signal their mood and intentions; as well as swivelling to take in the direction of sounds, dogs adjust the position of their ears as part of their reactions to the things going on around them too. Alert, engaged dogs will usually have their ears pointing towards the object of their interest, while a dog that is being chastised or knows they have done something wrong will usually position their ears lower down or drooping. Dogs that are feeling threatened or planning to attack will normally flatten their ears back against their skull, as a means of minimising their profile and presenting the smallest possible target to their enemy.
Your dog is entirely likely to be able to hear much more keenly than you are, which comes with a range of limitations as well as benefits. You will be able to use a special silent (to people) dog whistle to train and recall your dog if you wish to, but don’t forget that your dog will also be able to hear sounds outside of the range of human hearing in other situations too. For instance, if a neighbour is using an ultrasonic pest repellent on their garden, your dog will probably be able to hear this at all times, even if you are not aware of it.
Similarly, loud noises as well as high-pitched noises will affect your dog more than they would yourself. If your dog always seems keen to hide from (or fight!) your vacuum cleaner, this might actually be due to the fact that the noise it makes is painfully loud to your dog, and you should try to make sure that you do not use it in his presence if he seems unhappy with it.