Does your dog seem to notice even the slightest of sounds from across the room? How about from the other side of the house? Does it come running to you when it hears a can of food being opened? Maybe your dog even begins barking seconds before a person rings your doorbell. It’s no secret that dogs have amazing hearing. But have you ever wondered just how far they can actually hear? Read on to learn more about the impressive nature of a dog’s hearing.
Generally speaking, dogs can hear about four to five times better than the average person. For example, if you hear a truck coming down the street from one block away, your dog will be able to hear that same truck four or five blocks away. That is a big difference.
Hearing ability in dogs does, however, vary by breed and therefore allows some dogs to have slightly better hearing than others. Larger dog breeds that have upright ears tend to have the best sense of hearing, whereas dogs with smaller ears, or ears that hang downward, may have less hearing sensitivity.
Some dog breeds that are best known for their excellent hearing abilities include:
- Labrador Retrievers: These dogs are known for being very dependable service dogs, which is in part due to their great sense of sound.
- Poodles: Even though poodles have floppy ears, they still have a great sense of hearing—this is one of the exceptions to having upright ears for great hearing.
- Cocker Spaniels: These dogs have large ears which makes their sense of hearing very acute.
Although those are some of the dog breeds that have the best sense of hearing, all dogs can hear very well—much better than any human can. Regardless of the dog breed they belong to, most dogs can hear sounds anywhere between 80 feet and one mile away.
What Sound Frequencies Can Dogs Hear?
A dog’s ability to hear things far away is not the only thing that makes their hearing abilities impressive. Dogs can also hear a wide range of frequencies including tones that most humans can’t perceive at all. Every sound consists of an invisible wavelength that travels through the air. The higher the pitch of the sound, the closer together the wavelengths are, as they travel through the air. The term that describes the closeness of a sound wave is described as its frequency.
Noises that have a high sound frequency have a high-pitched tone. On the other hand, sounds that have a low sound frequency have more space between each wavelength and therefore how a lower frequency tone. These would be considered deep sounds or bass-heavy sounds. Each sound frequency is measured in Hertz (Hz), with lower measurements equalling lower tones. When it comes to low frequencies, humans and dogs are pretty similar in their ability to hear them.
Both humans and dogs can hear sounds as low as about 20Hz. This is around an octave lower than the lowest note on a bass guitar. The difference comes into play when you consider higher frequencies. Humans can hear sound frequencies all the way up to 20,000 Hz, while dogs can hear as high as 70,000 Hz to 100,000 Hz! These are known as ultrasonic sounds.
Does A Dog’s Ear Structure Affect Its Hearing?
Believe it or not, humans and dogs both have similar ear structures but different purposes. Human hearing evolved to hear speech better and to enhance communications. Canine hearing evolved to detect danger. Let’s take a look at the components of a dog’s ear that allow it to have a better sense of hearing than we do.
A dog’s ear is comprised of three parts. They are as follows:
- The outer part of a dog’s ear is called the pinna. It has swirls and grooves that help to amplify and guide sound waves that enter the ear into the canal.
- The middle of a dog’s ear consists of three bones that are called the ossicles. These connect to the eardrum and help transmit the vibrations that enter the inner ear.
- A dog’s inner ear contains the cochlea. This is a spiral-shaped cavity that has a sensory organ that works to process sound and send it to the brain.
The ear canal of a dog is shaped like an “L”. It starts as a proportionally long, straight tube that then angles towards the eardrum. This angle is what helps to prevent debris from entering the middle of the ear area.
What’s also noteworthy about a dog’s ear is how it’s able to move. We know that humans aren’t able to move their ears around to get a better sense of sound, but dogs can. This is because a dog’s ear contains eighteen muscles that allow them to independently alter the angle and shape of its outer ear. The ability to move and adjust the angle of their ear is what helps them hear sounds from multiple directions and heights.
Signs Your Dog Might Hear Something You Don’t
It’s common for dogs to react to noises that we can’t hear. Sometimes they will behave strangely and without an obvious reason, leaving us wondering if they’ve heard or sensed something that we can’t. In some of these cases, your dog could be reacting to something that we can’t hear like a high-pitched noise or something far away. Here are a couple of signs to look out for if you’re wondering if they hear something that you don’t:
- Your dog has its ears raised and pointing forward, indicating that it hears something alarming. Your dog may growl, bark, or display aggressive behavior.
- Your dog’s ears are flattened against its head. This can be a sign that the sound your dog hears is making it feel frightened or that it finds the sound mysterious, or intimidating.
Beyond the angle of your dog’s ears, you’ll want to take note of what direction they’re pointing as well, as this may give you a clue about where the sound is coming from. You can also take note of your dog’s body language. If it has its tail tucked beneath it or low to the ground, your dog may be hearing something that’s making it afraid, like thunder or fireworks.
How Well Do Dogs Hear Human Voices?
Human voices range anywhere between 350 Hz and 3,000 Hz. While most dogs will usually have no problem hearing a person speaking when they are near them, they can struggle to hear certain voices at greater distances. You may be wondering how this would be possible if dogs have such good hearing even at great distances. This is because dogs generally have an easier time hearing high-pitched voices than they do low ones. This means that a dog would have an easier time hearing a woman calling them from far away rather than a man, as their voices are deeper.
While dogs can understand specific commands from their owners, they are far more responsive to the particular tone of voice than the individual words themselves. A dog is so good at discerning sounds that it can even tell if you are feeling happy or sad simply based on the pitch of the words as you say them.
How Far Away Can Dogs Hear Dog Whistles?
Dog whistles will emit tones ranging between 23,000 and 54,000 Hz. This range is well beyond the range of normal human hearing. While each dog whistle may vary slightly in its type, most dogs can hear one from about 400 yards away.
Dog whistles are helpful when it comes to training a dog, especially if the dog struggles with following spoken commands. Since the whistles operate at a higher pitch, it is much easier for the dog to hear them at greater distances rather than if it were at a lower pitch. Rest assured, dog whistles don’t create a high enough tone to cause damage to your dog’s eardrums, so you can use them from a distance without worry.
How Did Dogs Evolve To Hear High-Pitched Sounds?
Thanks to the predatory heritage of dogs, they have evolved to be adept at hearing high-pitched sounds. Dogs’ ancestor, the wolf, tends to prey on small rodents like mice, so the ability to hear the tiny animal’s squeaks became an important part of their survival. This allowed them to develop an acute sense of hearing geared toward higher-pitched sounds over time and is why they are now able to hear high-frequency sounds that are way outside of the audible range for a human.
This ultra-sensitivity to high-pitched sounds can also explain several seemingly strange phenomena around dogs involving their sense of hearing. Some people may believe that dogs have ESP when it comes to certain things like their ability to predict earthquakes. In actuality, what they’re doing is using their highly sensitive ears to pick up on the sounds prior to an earthquake that we cannot hear.
This also explains why they can “predict” the arrival of someone on your doorstep before they’ve had a chance to ring your doorbell. This can be explained by their ability to hear the sound of a car pulling into the driveway better than you can, or even hearing them step onto your porch. Without understanding how dogs’ hearing works, it’s easy to consider these things as being supernatural in nature.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Mary Swift/Shutterstock.com
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