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How well do dogs hear?

Original Publication Date: August 31, 2015
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

You have probably watched your dog perk their ears and cock its head. You just know they're hearing something, but you hear nothing. That's because dogs have the ability to hear much more than we do.

Interestingly, all puppies are deaf at birth. Some are born with genetic abnormalities and never develop a sense of hearing. Spotted and merle-colored breeds with a considerable amount of white hair are more prone to permanent deafness. Dr. George Strain, a professor of neuroscience at Louisiana State University reported Dalmatians seem to be at most risk with 30 percent born deaf in one or both ears. Other breeds prone to congenital deafness are bull terriers, Parson terriers (formerly known as Jack Russell terriers), Australian cattle dogs and whippets.

Curiously, congenital deafness is not common among pure white breeds such as the Samoyed or the Spitz.

At 2 or 3 weeks of age, the sense of hearing has completed development in most pups, and they can hear two times better than humans. We detect a range of low-pitched frequencies of 20 Hz or cycles per second to high pitched frequencies of 20,000 Hz, but hear best from 1,000 Hz to 5,000 Hz where most human speech occurs.

Dogs can perceive a range of frequencies almost twice that of human ears and can hear sounds from about 40 Hz to 45,000 Hz.

Frequencies above 20,000 Hz are known as ultrasound. When a dog tilts its head to listen to a seeming imaginary noise, they're hearing ultrasounds that you simply cannot perceive. Hearing in this range is a defense advantage that can alert a dog to approaching predators.

How well do dogs hear?
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Dogs can also hear sounds about four times farther away than humans. What you hear at 20 feet away, your dog can hear at 80 feet. Your pup may be dancing at the door for no apparent reason, because they can hear approaching visitors long before they reach your front porch. Canine ultra-sensitive hearing is what makes such good guard dogs.

Dogs have another feature that helps them hone their sensitive hearing. Their ears have 18 muscles, so they can move and maximize their ability to hear from different directions. Having ears on top of their head also aids their ability to catch sound. Breeds with pointy erect ears have a bit better hearing than floppy-eared dogs.

Additionally, canine ears hear independently. One ear can hear you while the other detects a rattle in the bushes. Plus, they can filter out a blaring radio while detecting the opening of a bag of treats.

In the wild, dogs used their exceptional sense of hearing to hunt and guard against predators. As part of your family, they can alert you to approaching intruders and be guardians of your home. They are our best friends.


Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at HolisticTouchTherapy.com.