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The Science Behind Sounds Only Dogs Can Hear


Your dog is calmly lying down by your side. Then, for no apparent reason at all, they leap up and gaze intently in a random direction!

Sound familiar? While your furry friend’s unpredictable alertness may seem like a quirky habit, there’s a good chance they’re actually reacting to a noise you can’t hear. In fact, doggy ears can pick up a whole range of sounds that are completely inaudible to humans! Learn about the incredible science behind sounds only dogs can hear and how you can use your pup’s listening skills to your advantage.

Pooches and Pitches

Just as certain insects can see ultraviolet colors that are invisible to us, dogs experience a spectrum of high-pitched sounds that humans can’t hear. Our canine counterparts can hear frequencies up to 67,000 Hertz (Hz), while our ears only catch sounds up to 64,000 Hz, according to Psychology Today. Aside from dog whistles—which are specially designed to emit high frequencies only dogs can decipher—the frequencies from household items such as computers, TVs, and ultrasonic humidifiers can all reach your furry friend’s ears (even though they may be inaudible to you). Your pup may find these shrill sounds annoying, so it’s important to turn them off when they’re not in use.

Other sounds only dogs can hear include noises that are too soft for our ears. Dogs are great at picking up low-decibel sounds like a scurrying mouse or a truck rumbling in the distance. The next time your furry friend appears to go on high alert, they may be responding to a super-low noise!

Despite these advantages, it is not completely true to say dog hearing is better than human hearing; people are more alert than dogs to lower-frequency noises, such as the bassline to your favorite song or the turbines of an airplane flying overhead.

A Trait Passed Down Through Generations

dog pulling on leash

Like many of our pups’ fascinating traits, dog hearing abilities date back to their wild ancestors. These ancient creatures relied on hearing the soft, high-pitched sounds of their rodent prey for survival, according to Morgridge Institute for Research. Although tasty dog treats and kibble have replaced most dogs’ need for hunting, that amazing sense of hearing continues to live on from generation to generation.

 

RELATED: Can Dogs See Color?

 

Why DON’T Dogs Like Certain Sounds?

It probably won’t come as a surprise that dogs’ fear of fireworks, thunderstorms, and vacuum cleaners are related to the intense noises they produce. What you might not know is that these kinds of sounds may feel much louder to your pup than yourself. Because dogs are so sensitive to a variety of sounds—even soft ones—noises that are objectively loud are further amplified through doggy ears. So, the unpredictable booms of an Independence Day celebration or a midsummer storm can give dogs quite the fright.

Fur pals’ sensitivity to high frequencies also impacts their reaction to certain noises. Sounds produced by smoke alarms, police sirens, and even crying babies have a heightened effect on dogs and their tender ears. Signs your pup is afraid of a noise include panting, hiding, pacing, shaking, or having a potty accident. If your dog shows these signs and you cannot control the noise, take them to an area where the noise will be less intense.

Why DO Dogs Like Certain Sounds?

excited dog

Because dogs have maintained their wolf-like hunting instincts, they enjoy noises that remind them of prey. Squeaky play toys are a perfect example of sounds dogs like, captivating pups with their mouse-like sound. Keep that fun bit of dog ancestry in mind the next time you watch your best friend pounce on a squeaky ball! Chirping birds can also rouse up excitement, as many dog breeds were originally bred to hunt fowl. Just keep an eye on your dog when outside to make sure they don’t disturb any wild birds.

As much as instincts impact the sounds dogs like, many of their favorite noises are established through positive association. The sound of a crinkling treat bag, ringing doorbell, or even your own voice may be music to your dog’s ears!

How to Make the Best of Your Dog’s Listening Skills

Cue words such as “sit” and “stay” are important dog training tools, but did you know the way you speak these phrases can be even more impactful? A study conducted by researchers from Eötvös Loránd University revealed that hearing praise words spoken with a “praising inflection” activated the reward center of the brain. Meanwhile, praise words spoken neutrally did not activate the brain’s reward center. Using an affectionate tone of voice for a job well done or a stern “no!” after misbehavior will help you capitalize on those perceptive dog hearing abilities and become truly harmonious with your pooch.

More Than Meets the Ear

Our best friends have plenty of remarkable characteristics, and the variety of sounds only dogs can hear makes them even more impressive. The next time you notice your dog perk up their ears out of nowhere, just imagine the array of super-quiet or high-pitched sounds they might be hearing. As humans, we can only guess!

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