Does your dog come running from the other side of the house when he hears the can opener?
Does she start barking and growling minutes before a stranger rings the doorbell?
Although dogs are often celebrated for their powerful sense of smell, they also have a tremendous sense of hearing.
When you understand how your dog’s hearing works, you’ll have an easier time training them, predicting their behavior, and keeping them safe when loud noises occur.
Here’s a closer look at the fascinating science inside your dog’s ears.
Dog Hearing: An Overview
Generally, dogs can hear about four to five times better than the average person.
For example, if you hear a motorcycle on a street one block away, your dog can hear it four or five blocks away.
Hearing ability can vary by breed. Larger dogs with upright ears tend to have the best sense of hearing.
Breeds known for excellent hearing include:
- Labrador Retrievers – Their expert ears are one reason why they’re such dependable service dogs
- Cocker Spaniels – Their large ears aren’t just for show.
- Poodles – Even though they have floppy ears, this breed still has tip-top hearing.
Regardless of the breed, most dogs can hear sounds between 80 feet and one mile away.
What Sound Frequencies Can Dogs Hear?
While their hearing distance is impressive, it’s not the only reason as to why a dog’s hearing is considered so remarkable.
Dogs can also hear a wide range of sound frequencies, including many tones that humans can’t perceive at all.
All sounds make invisible waves that move through the air.
The higher the pitch of the noise, the closer its waves are to one another.
The term describing the closeness of any sound waves is sound frequency.
Noises with a high sound frequency have a high-pitched tone, while those with a low sound frequency have low, bass-heavy tones.
Sound frequencies are measured in Hertz (Hz), with lower measurements indicating lower tones.
As far as low frequencies go, dogs and humans are pretty similar.
They both can hear sounds as low as about 20Hz, which is about an octave below the lowest note on a bass guitar.
However, high frequencies are a different story.
Humans can hear sound frequencies as high as 20,000 Hz, but dogs can hear frequencies as high as 70,000 Hz to 100,000 Hz, known as ultrasonic sounds.
How a Dog’s Ear Structure Affects Their Hearing
The ears of dogs and people have similar structures but different purposes.
Human hearing evolved to hear speech and enhance communications, while canine hearing evolved to detect danger.
A dog’s ear has three parts:
- The outer part of the ear is called the pinna. Its swirls and grooves help amplify and guide sound waves into the ear canal.
- The middle ear consists of three bones called the ossicles. They connect to the eardrum and help transmit the vibrations to the inner ear.
- The inner ear contains the cochlea, a spiral cavity with a sensory organ that helps process the sound and send it to the brain.
A dog’s ear canal is L-shaped, starting as a (proportionally) long, straight tube before angling towards the eardrum.
The angle helps prevent debris from entering the middle ear area.
Finally, another noteworthy feature of dog ears is how they move.
Eighteen muscles allow dogs to independently alter the angle and shape of each outer ear.
The ability to adjust their ears helps dogs hear sounds from multiple directions and heights.
Signs Your Dog Hears Something You Don’t
Your dog will react to noises that you can’t hear. If they’re behaving strangely without any obvious reason, they might be reacting to a far away or high-pitched noise.
Signs that your dog hears something include:
- Ears that are raised and pointing forward can indicate your dog hears something alarming. He might bark, growl, or otherwise display aggression.
- Ears flattened against the head can signal a sound your dog finds frightening, mysterious, or intimidating.
Aside from the angle of your dog’s ears, also note the direction they’re pointing as well as your dog’s overall body language.
How Dogs React to Common Noises
No two dogs react in exactly the same way to noise. Responses can include fear, aggression, hiding, or even indifference.
However, while individual responses vary, a few generalizations typically apply.
How Do Dogs Respond to Human Voices?
Human voices range between 350 Hz and 3,000 Hz.
While dogs usually have no problem hearing a person speaking when near, they can struggle to hear voices at greater distances.
Generally, dogs have an easier time hearing higher-pitched voices than low ones.
For that reason, dogs are more likely to respond to women than men when called from far away.
While dogs can understand specific commands, they’re far more responsive to tone of voice than individual words.
In fact, your dog can likely determine whether you’re happy or sad simply from the pitch of what you’re saying.
Why are Dogs Afraid of Thunder?
Thunder combines a variety of elements that can upset dogs, such as:
- Noise – Aside from the thunder itself, many dogs also become alarmed by the sound of wind
- Visuals – Flashes of lightning can also scare dogs
- Pressure Changes – Dogs can feel the drop in barometric pressure
Generally, dogs are able to detect storms about 15 to 20 minutes before they occur because they can both hear thunder and smell rain from great distances.
How Far Can a Dog Whistle Be Heard?
Dog whistles emit tones between 23,000 and 54,000 Hz, which is a range beyond normal human hearing.
While specifics vary based on the type of whistle and dog, most dogs can hear a dog whistle from about 400 yards away.
Whistles are helpful when training a dog, especially if the dog struggles to follow spoken commands.
Additionally, a whistle allows you to call for your dog from a far greater distance than by using your voice alone.
Whistles don’t create a high enough tone to damage your dog’s eardrums.
However, as an extra precaution, most experts recommended that you avoid blowing the whistle when you’re standing right next to your dog.
Are Fireworks Dangerous to Dogs?
Fireworks combine loud, unpredictable noises with flashing lights and strange smells.
It’s no wonder many dogs cower in fear on the Fourth of July! Even a single firework can evoke extreme responses in dogs, including:
Never punish your dog for their response to fireworks.
Instead, try providing them with a safe area, such as your bathroom or their kennel, where they can hide.
Also, give them what’s called a sacrifice item, such as a cardboard box they can destroy.
It can act as a helpful way for them to release energy and relieve stress.
Your dog’s amazing sense of hearing allows them to experience a world of sounds far beyond the capabilities of human beings.
However, their exceptional hearing also means they can become afraid or agitated by sounds that their owners are completely unaware of.
By understanding how your dog’s sense of hearing works, you can help keep them happy, comfortable, and safe.