How Do Dogs Hear?

If dogs could talk, they’d almost certainly proclaim hearing as their second most important sense. Smell being their first most important sense. Because people are so verbally oriented, we expect our canine counter parts to listen a lot, and they’re remarkably willing. If you watch even a sleeping dog, you’ll notice their ears swivel, reacting to sound.
Humans and canines share many of the same anatomical characteristics of the ear. The difference is the outermost section. Our ears are very much plastered to our heads, and the ability to wiggle them even a tiny bit is considered amazing. A dogs ears are made to collect sound. Some may be floppy or erect, but they are far superior to ours. A dogs ears can move independently from eachother, making it easier for them to discriminate and pick up sounds all around them.
The external auditory canal leads down from the base of the outer ear called the pinna. It then makes a nearly right angle turn inward to the eardrum. Vibrations reaching the eardrum pass through the tympanic cavity via three tiny bones known collectively as the auditory ossicles. This section comprises the middle ear.
The inner ear is responisble for turning vibrations into nerve impulses. Vibrations pass through a snail-shaped tubular structure called the cochlea. This converts the vibrations into nerve impulses and then sends them along the auditory nerve to the brain for processing.
Ok, so now you know how the canine ear hears.. now lets talk about what it hears. Sound is measured in vibrations, or cycles, per second, termed either cps or hertz. It is accepted that humans can hear 20 to 20,000 hertz, with the optimum range between 1,000 and 4,000 hertz. Agreement among scientists about canine hearing, however, differs. While it is generally acknowledged that dogs hear somewhat less in the ultra-low range and considerably more in the high-frequency range, actual numbers vary widely. Most experts cite upper limits of 35,000 to even 100,000 hertz! It is said that Pavlov (famous for making a dog salivate by ringing a bell) demonstrated that dogs react to sound at 75,000 hertz. Whatever the upper number may be, it is far greater than ours!
So having a high hearing range means that dogs are flooded with sounds. One impressive talent dogs seem to have is the ability to screen incoming sounds. If you’ve watched your dog sleeping soundly suddenly spring into alert at the sound of the can opener or the crinkling sound of a bag after sleeping through loud music, a blasting t.v., or the family wrestling match, you’ve witnessed sound screening at work.
Dogs also have the ability to locate the exact point where the sound is coming from. Which isn’t really suprising if you think about it. A wolf or wild dog hearing the sound of a rabbit, but misjudging it’s location by a few yards wouldn’t make for a well fed dog.
Probably the most intiguing element of canine hearing is the mobile ear flap. Dogs can foucus and capture sounds with each ear independently. Police have learned to watch their dogs’ ears for clues to a situation. Both ears focused in the same direction as the muzzle indicates a suspect in that direction, while one ear flicking repeatedly away from the forward direction to some other consistent position likely indicates a second person in the area.
So now you know how dogs hear, and what they can hear. If you’d like to test your dogs’ hearing try putting your dog in another room with someone else and have that person distract them by talking to them. Then go into the kitchen and crinkle a bag of chips or of their favorite treats and watch them come running! Another way to test your dogs’ hearing is to wisper a command to them while they are just laying around, even if they don’t obey the command, you’ll more than likely see their ears move in your direction!
The following are some ways to recongnize hearing problems in your dog:
Pups are born deaf. As a matter of fact their ears don’t open until they are 10 to 14 days. If your pup is not responding to sound after that time, it may be congenitally deaf. This problem is often associated with white coat coloring, and occurs more in Dalmations, Bull Terriers, Jack Russells, and Australian Shepherds/Cattle dogs.
Any dog that does not seem responsive to sound, no matter it’s breed or age, should be checked for effective hearing. You can preform a very rough test by standing behind your dog and clapping your hands loudly, but your veterinary neurologist can preform an actual hearing test called a BAER, or brainstem auditory evoked response, test. This test simply measures the degree of hearing loss in each ear.
Since the middle ear is long and curves at a near right angle, it is important to clean your dogs ears regularly. The middle ear is a great place for bacteria and yeast to grow, especially if your dogs ears are floppy. Bacteria and yeast can cause painful ear infections and block, even destroy in worst cases, your dogs hearing.
So remember, if you call your dog to you and he/she doesn’t respond, have him or her checked out by a vet. If everything is ok with your dogs ears, he/she may just have changed their name for the day!

About thecanineguru

I am a canine behaviorist of 23 years and offer canine rehabilitation, training, and behavior change to clients under the given name "The Canine Guru." I am known mostly for my online presence through my blogs, Doggy Times and Doggy Times II. Both were honored by MSN Editors multiple times. My methodology focuses on energy and how to use and read it. I firmly believe in operant conditioning and positive reinforcement. I don't feel that choke, pinch, or electric collars are necessary when working with dogs. The harshest method I ever use is the squirt bottle and the occasional touch, or poke. I'm known for "speaking" to dogs in their own language using body language, energy, touch, and the occasional sound.
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16 Responses to How Do Dogs Hear?

  1. Ceejae ! says:

    I LOVE THE PICTURES! and i love boston terriors! just love the whole space

  2. Lee says:

    My dog seems to know when the wireless security alarm is armed- even though it doesn’t beep. She will panic and refuse to come in the house. Is this possible? Is there a question I can ask an alarm company to be sure I get a system that doesn’t bother her?

  3. Brandon Ross says:

    Lee, thanks for the comment! Are you positive she is reacting to the alarm? Is there anything else that happens at the same time as the alarm being armed? She has obviously had some kind of negative experience with the alarm that triggers her fear of it. This is a tough one to help with online. I suggest you have a behaviorist come to your home and observe the behavior. Because with out being able to read her body language, see potential cues, and so forth, there is no way to diagnose or help with her problem online. Best of luck!

  4. Lakota Drake says:

    this helped me for the science fair thanks a bunch for posting! :]

  5. Lee,

    I’d strongly suggest changing your alarm system. Most motion detectors these days use infrared but some use ultrasonic doppler detectors. If you have ultrasonic motion detectors and the system is on, while you cannot hear anything, to your dog it sounds like there’s a screaming jet engine running at full takeoff power inside your home.

    Back in the 1960s, ultrasonic detectors was the norm. Back in 1969 I worked in a drug store and since I was blessed back then with hearing out to 24 kHz I could hear it. When it was on it was so loud I could hardly hear normal sounds and it made me feel nauseated. I’d walk in and yell, “hey, you forgot to turn the alarm off.” The pharmacists were amazed because they couldn’t hear a thing. I could also hear the loud sweep frequency that used to come from television sets at 15,750 Hz. I could hear it loudly from outside the house. Modern TVs that don’t use tubes no longer make that noise. Of course at my age I can’t hear it anyway. haha. (Our high frequency hearing rapidly degrades with age.)

    Anyway, if you have an ultrasonic motion detector, your dog can definitely hear it.

  6. I'am epic, awesome, perfect and fantastic!!! says:


  7. Shea says:

    Would this explain my dog leaves the room or even goes outdoors as soon as I turn on my cell phone. Doesn’t even have to make a sound, and she is outta here! Do cell phones emanate high frequency sounds that would repel her?

  8. Paul Bonsky says:

    The other day my wife and I were on the cell phone with me 2000 miles from her and my dog. I was coming across on the speaker phone at her end. We decided on a little test of hearing with our Brittany who was standing at the window watching for squirrels like he does on many occasions. I few feet away I said the word “squirrel” over the cell phone and he did not move or even flinch. I then asked my wife who was sitting a few feet away from the dog to say the word. She did and the dog as expected went nuts looking out the window for the imaginary squirrel.

    Why would he react to her saying the word and act like he couldn’t hear me? I think he knows when I am on the phone speaking with my wife but I don’t think he focuses on the sounds from the cell phone. What is you opinion?

    • Dog’s have a very good sense of hearing, but I think most dogs learn to tune out digital sounds. Speaking over the phone is not the same as speaking in person, the sound is different. There are digital echos and noise.:)

  9. Kelvent Loh says:

    Dog have a so good sense of hearing,I think it must be the most strongest ofhearing animal in the world.Somesimes it will bark is because it hear something is coming.I don’t know how their ears are made with a exellence hearing!

  10. Kelvent Loh says:

    It’s a good thing to have a dog.

  11. Jadon says:

    I love dogs

  12. middleMAD says:

    Any advice? My senior dog looks in an entirely different direction when i call her now. Always reacts sharply to her right. She is not connecting my mouth in front of her and the sounds coming out. Thanks!

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