Facts about the animal kingdom

What Can Dogs Hear That We Can't?

Eduarda Piamore
By Eduarda Piamore, Expert in canine and feline psychology, education and training.. May 31, 2024
What Can Dogs Hear That We Can't?

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The world is a symphony of sounds, but for our dogs, it's a whole orchestra we can't even perceive. Dogs possess a remarkable hearing ability, far surpassing that of humans. This incredible auditory ability plays a crucial role in their survival instincts, communication, and even their bond with us.The subtle sounds we miss can be a wealth of information for a dog, helping them navigate their world and understand their environment.

In the following AnimalWised article, we will explore how does canine hearing works and 5 sounds that dogs hear that we can't.

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  1. How do dogs hear?
  2. Seismic activity
  3. Rodent and insect sounds
  4. High-Frequency electrical appliances
  5. Heart and lung rate

How do dogs hear?

Understanding the science of canine hearing begins with a closer look at the anatomy of a dog's ear. A dog's ear is divided into three main parts: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear.

  • The outer ear consists of the pinna (or auricle) and the ear canal. The pinna is the visible part of the ear that captures sound waves and funnels them into the ear canal. Dogs have highly mobile pinnae, allowing them to adjust their ear position to better detect the direction of sounds.

  • The middle ear contains the eardrum (tympanic membrane) and three tiny bones known as ossicles (the malleus, incus, and stapes). The eardrum vibrates when sound waves hit it, and these vibrations are transmitted through the ossicles, which amplify the sound before it reaches the inner ear.

  • The inner ear houses the cochlea, a spiral-shaped organ filled with fluid and lined with tiny hair cells. These hair cells convert sound vibrations into electrical signals that are sent to the brain via the auditory nerve. The inner ear also contains the vestibular system, which helps maintain balance.

The unique structure of a dog's ear allows for superior hearing capabilities compared to humans, particularly in detecting higher frequency sounds. Humans can hear sounds in the frequency range of approximately 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz (20 kHz). Most adult humans, however, experience a decline in high-frequency hearing as they age, often losing the ability to hear frequencies above 15-17 kHz.

Dogs, on the other hand, can hear frequencies ranging from about 40 Hz to 60,000 Hz (60 kHz). This means dogs can detect sounds at frequencies nearly three times higher than the highest frequency humans can hear. This expanded range allows dogs to perceive sounds that are completely inaudible to us, including many ultrasonic sounds.

The ability to hear higher frequencies is beneficial for dogs in various ways. It allows them to detect the high-pitched sounds made by small prey animals, hear ultrasonic signals used in dog training devices, and pick up on subtle environmental sounds that humans might miss. This heightened auditory sensitivity is a key aspect of their evolutionary adaptation as hunters and social animals.

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Seismic activity

While dogs are known for their superior hearing in high frequencies, they can also pick up on some sounds at the lower end of the spectrum that might be difficult for humans to hear. This could include sounds like very low rumbles.

These rumbles are a specific type of low-frequency sound – infrasound. Infrasound waves are even lower in frequency than what humans can typically hear (below 20 Hz). In this sense, dogs might be sensitive to these infrasound waves, which can sometimes precede earthquakes. This sensitivity explains why some dogs exhibit anxious or restless behavior before an earthquake hits, potentially due to the vibrations associated with these infrasound waves.

While some anecdotal evidence suggests dogs might be sensitive to infrasound preceding earthquakes, there is no conclusive scientific proof to support this claim. More research is needed to understand this connection fully.

Also, even for regular low-frequency sounds (not infrasound), a dog's sensitivity to vibrations might play a role in their perception. They might pick up on subtle ground tremors associated with these sounds that humans wouldn't notice.

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Rodent and insect sounds

Dogs' superior hearing range allows them to perceive a wider sound world than humans. This includes the ultrasonic communication of rodents and the high-frequency sounds produced by many insects. Rodent communication relies on these high-pitched calls (30 kHz to 110 kHz) for social interactions and locating pups in distress. Similarly, many insects use high-frequency sounds (exceeding 10 kHz) for communication.

Dogs can hear these high-frequency sounds due to their sensitive hearing range. The ability to detect mice and nsect sounds can be beneficial for dogs in the wild, aiding them in locating food sources or avoiding potential threats. Even domesticated dogs may respond to these sounds, displaying behaviors such as head tilting, ear twitching, or investigative sniffing.

Even today, dogs with keen hearing are valued for their ability to control rodent populations. Breeds like terriers are particularly adept at detecting and hunting rodents, making them useful in agricultural settings and homes.

What Can Dogs Hear That We Can't? - Rodent and insect sounds

High-Frequency electrical appliances

Dogs can't directly hear the electricity itself because electricity is the flow of charged particles, not sound waves. However, they might be sensitive to the sounds produced by some high-frequency electrical appliances.

This is true of certain electrical appliances, particularly older models or those with malfunctioning components, because they are likely to emit high-pitched noises as byproducts of their operation. Newer, well-maintained appliances, on the other hand, are less likely to emit these high-pitched noises.

These sounds can fall within the range of a dog's hearing (up to 70 kHz) while being inaudible to humans (limited to 20 kHz). Sounds like the whine of a transformer, the high-pitched whir of a faulty motor, or the electronic hum of certain appliances might be detectable by dogs.

The intensity and duration of these sounds can be bothersome or even stressful for dogs. They might exhibit signs of anxiety or discomfort, such as pacing, whining, or hiding.

It is important to note that not all dogs will be equally sensitive to these sounds, but if you suspect your dog is bothered by an appliance, observe their behavior and consider unplugging the appliance for a while to see if their behavior improves.

What Can Dogs Hear That We Can't? - High-Frequency electrical appliances

Heart and lung rate

Dogs' remarkable auditory capabilities may extend beyond high-frequency sounds to include the ability to hear internal bodily sounds like heartbeats and lung activity.

A heartbeat produces low-frequency sounds from closing heart valves. While primarily lower frequency, dogs' sensitive hearing might pick up faint sounds, especially in quiet environments. Their keen sense of vibration might also play a role, as the rhythmic pulsations can create vibrations detectable through close contact. Dogs lying close to their owners might hear or feel these subtle sounds and vibrations, providing comfort and familiarity.

Lung activity produces sounds like breathing, coughing, and other respiratory noises, encompassing a range of frequencies. Normal breathing sounds are relatively low frequency, but certain respiratory conditions can produce higher frequency sounds, like wheezing, that dogs might detect.

In fact, dogs have been known to alert humans to changes in breathing patterns, sometimes even detecting health issues like asthma attacks or respiratory infections. This ability might stem from their acute hearing and their capacity to sense subtle environmental changes, including sound and smell.

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Some service dogs are trained to monitor their owners' health by detecting specific sounds or changes in bodily functions. For instance, medical alert dogs might respond to abnormal breathing patterns or other physiological changes, offering assistance to individuals with chronic health conditions.

If you want to read similar articles to What Can Dogs Hear That We Can't?, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

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What Can Dogs Hear That We Can't?