A dog’s sense of hearing is much keener than that of a human. In fact, the canine sense of hearing is second only to its sense of smell, and these two phenomenal senses are why dogs are so adept at search and rescue missions.
If someone is trapped in a building, for example, a dog can pick up on sounds that they may make that human ears can’t detect, which aids in the rescue efforts.
While there is no apparent difference among breeds in the range of sounds and frequencies they can hear, dogs with ears that are upright, like some terrier breeds, rather than floppy, can hear slightly better. As a dog ages, its sense of hearing decreases, much as with humans.
Dog Ears Versus Human Ears
You may have noticed that when your dog hears a sound, its ears will move forward, or the dog may cock its head to the side.
Your dog can hear sounds up to a distance of four times what you can hear, so even if you don’t pick up on a sound in the distance, your dog can. This accounts for your dog perking its ears when you haven’t heard anything, and explains why dogs can alert you of a visitor before anyone pulls into your driveway or knocks on your door.
Dogs have 18 muscles in their ears, allowing them to rotate their ears and tilt them in several directions. Humans have six muscles in theirs, and we lack the ability to rotate or tilt our ears in a direction that will help us pick up on sound.
Dogs’ ears are shaped for amplifying sound as well due to their rounded shape; this is especially true for dogs with upright ears.
In some cases, we may hear a sound that sounds a little loud, but your dog may be frightened by it.
This is typically due to the sound being produced by tones of either a high or a low frequency that are disturbing to a dog. This also accounts for many dogs’ fear of common household appliances, such as the vacuum cleaner.
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Dogs can also be more sensitive to sounds like gunshots; while they tend to startle human ears, the frequency of the tones can cause physical discomfort to a dog.
Not only can dogs hear sounds that people can’t hear, they are also quite adept at distinguishing sounds that may be similar from one another.
For example, if you hear multiple dogs barking in your neighborhood on any given day, you may not be able to distinguish one bark from another. Your dog, on the other hand, can distinguish between the different barks. They have the ability to hear details in a sound that are discernible to the human ear. They can also detect very soft or quite sounds that might be missed by the human ear.
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In addition, dogs can hear sounds of a much higher frequency than what humans can hear. Dog whistles, for example, are produced to make a sound that is much higher in frequency than human ears can detect.
We can hear only the sound of the air blowing through the whistle, but the dog can detect the high pitched sound we associate with a whistle. In this way, the whistle can be used in training a dog, but it doesn’t disturb humans. (Many trainers recommend not using a silent whistle, though.)
It is believed that thousands of years ago, the ancestors of domesticated dogs, wolves, used this ability to hear high-frequency sounds for hunting.
Mice and other vermin were a large part of the diet of these animals, and they make high-pitched squeaks and squeals. Being able to hear their prey from a considerable distance enabled the wolves to be better hunters. Scientists believe that dogs have lost some of their hearing ability as they have evolved as compared to their ancient ancestors.