We all know that a dog’s sense of smell is their strongest but their sense of hearing is also truly remarkable. Understanding more about doggy hearing can help us to understand more about canine behaviour and some of the fantastic things that they can do.
Not a lot of people know this but puppies are actually born deaf and cannot hear until they are around 3 weeks old. Their sense of hearing develops fast though and within a few weeks they can impressively already hear twice as many frequencies and at least four times the distance as humans can!
So how is it our dogs have such an acute sense of hearing compared with humans? Well the first advantage that dogs have is anatomical. Humans have only six ear muscles, which allow barely any movement, infact; only a few people can give their ears even a little wiggle! Dog’s ears on the other hand are controlled by an incredible eighteen muscles and therefore they are able to lift, tilt and rotate their ears in order to funnel the sound in to the ear more efficiently.
Also, human ears lay flat on the side of our heads, where as many dog breeds have ears that are anatomically placed at the top of the head which are often erect. Having high ears that can move in multiple directions create the perfect antennae’s for sound. Of course not all breeds have erect ears, those with floppy or excessively hairy ears may not be able to hear as well. Some dogs also suffer from ear infections or deafness related conditions so it is important to check your dogs’ ears and hearing at regular veterinary health checks. Dogs with narrow or hairy ear canals will benefit from regular ear maintenance such as plucking and ear cleaning.
As well has having anatomical advantages, the canine ear are also able to hear at much higher and lower frequencies than a human’s. This is why dog whistles appear silent to humans but are very loud and audible to our canine companions. Dogs that react to hoovers are actually reacting to the sound of the motor, which is audible as a high-pitched squeal, which can send some of them barking mad! Because of this increased sensitivity, dogs tend to find loud noises uncomfortable and this is undoubtedly a contributing factor to stress and fear demonstrated during thunderstorms or firework displays.
The dogs’ sensitivity to various frequencies also likely explains other phenomena such as being able to predict an earthquake or your dog seemingly knowing when a visitor is about to arrive before you do. Quite simply they can hear them coming way before we can.
Because of our canines’ incredible hearing we have been able to train them to help provide important services to society. Deaf people often report feeling isolated because of their disability so as well as providing all-important companionship; hearing support dogs are trained to alert their owners to certain sounds such as fire alarms, the doorbell or the telephone. Dogs have also been used in search and rescue operations for centuries as their sense of hearing and smell combined allows them to detect missing or trapped people far more quickly than humans can!
If you think your dog suffers from hearing problems then try this simple test:
• Find a quiet area
• Make sure your dog is facing away from you or is asleep
• Make a sudden loud noise like a call, a whistle or shake some keys
• Don’t bang on furniture or the floor as this creates vibrations that might be detectible even in deaf dogs
• Look for reactions like turning to face you or ear twitching – this means your dog can hear you
• Try the same test outside, in the park or in a more noisy area. Dogs with good hearing should react in the same way as they did in the quiet area test. However, if there is no reaction here (and provided your dog is not completely distracted) then this could mean that hearing is deteriorating.