Has your dog ever started barking for what appears to be no reason? Maybe he perks up and looks off into the distance. Or maybe he acts excited about a family member coming home long before you can hear the rumble of the family car.
Perhaps these observations have made you wonder how far dogs can hear. Or why they have such good hearing in the first place?
Let’s explore all things canine hearing — from how they hear to what sounds dogs can hear that humans can't. So sit back and let's learn a little bit about our furry friends' impressive ability to hear!
How Far Can Dogs Hear?
Dogs have incredibly sensitive ears and can hear sounds at a much farther distance than humans. But just how far can dogs hear?
It varies considerably but, on average, dogs can hear about 4-5 times as far as a human can. To put that in perspective, while a human may be able to hear a sound from about 100 yards away, a dog could hear the same sound from 400 - 500 yards away.
Furthermore, dogs can hear big sounds at incredible distances. For example, on a clear day and under the right conditions a dog can hear thunder rumbling from up to 40 miles away!
No wonder why they get nervous during thunderstorms. Imagine how loud thunder must be for them when the storm is close!
Interestingly, it's not just the distance that dogs can hear sounds from that is impressive — it's also the clarity with which they can hear them. Dogs have an amazing ability to pick up on subtle sounds that we would miss entirely.
So next time you're out for a walk with your furry friend, pay attention if he suddenly starts barking or acting nervous. He may have heard something you can’t!
How a Dog’s Hearing Works
The inner ear of a dog is very similar to a human's. There are three tiny bones that transmit sound vibrations to the cochlea, where they are turned into electrical signals that the brain can understand. There is also an eardrum and Eustachian tube that connects the middle ear to the back of the dog’s nose.
Though the structure is similar, humans and dogs have different needs when it comes to hearing. Thus, our hearing has developed in different ways and dogs definitely got the better end of the deal — at least when it comes to hearing sounds at a distance.
Human hearing is more attuned to understanding speech, which is more important for us. The brain is very good at differentiating sounds that are only slightly different from one another.
However, the main purpose of dogs’ hearing is to detect approaching danger. They can both hear it from farther away as well as hear a much wider range of frequencies than we can.
The design of a dog’s ear also plays a big role in how well they can hear. The shape and size help funnel sounds into the ear canal more efficiently. The canal itself is formed in an “L” shape. The long, straight tube funnels sound down toward the eardrum and the sharp angle at the end helps keep debris from getting into the sensitive part of the dog’s ear.
Plus, they have 18 muscles that allow them to change the angle and even the shape of the outer ear, helping them to hear better. Pay attention the next time your dog seems to be listening to something far away. You might see his ear moving around as he’s trying to get a better lock on the sound.
What Sounds Can Dogs Hear That Humans Can't?
Dogs’ ears are very sensitive and they can hear sounds at frequencies that humans cannot. This is why they can hear things like whistles and sirens that we cannot.
Humans can only hear sounds with frequencies between about 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz. But dogs can hear sounds between about 40 Hz and 65,000 Hz. That means they can hear high-pitched sounds that we can't even imagine.
Furthermore, dogs can hear much quieter sounds than we can. Even if the sound is within your range of hearing, your dog will hear it first.
To illustrate, let’s examine the range. We measure the intensity of sound using decibels (dB) and 0 dB was chosen as the average intensity of a sound that could just barely be heard by a young human. Sounds too quiet for the human ear are measured using negative decibel values.
On average, dogs can hear sounds between -5 dB and -15 dB. That’s why your dog seems to hear an approaching car or person before you do. They can hear the sound before it becomes loud enough for you to hear it.
What Makes Some Dogs’ Hearing Better Than Others?
Barring disease or injury that affects their hearing, all dogs can hear better than humans. But not all dogs hear the same. Like humans, some dogs have an even keener sense of hearing than others. Let’s explore some of the factors that contribute to a dog's ability to hear.
Ear Size and Shape
Larger ears are better able to collect sound waves and funnel them to the inner ear, where they are converted into nerve impulses that the brain can interpret. So, dogs with large, floppy ears, like basset hounds and beagles, tend to have better hearing than dogs with smaller, pointy ears, like Chihuahuas and poodles.
Dogs with ears that are set high on their head, like German shepherds and border collies, have an advantage over dogs with low-set ears, like bulldogs and boxers. That's because high-set ears allow sound waves to reach the inner ear more directly.
Ear Canal Size
The size of the ear canal also affects the dog’s hearing ability. Smaller ear canals funnel sound waves more efficiently to the inner ear. Thus, dogs with smaller ear canals, such as poodles and Yorkies, tend to hear better than dogs with larger ear canals, such as Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers.
Some breeds of dogs are simply more adept at hearing than others. In fact, some breeds have been developed with the express purpose of producing a type of dog with exceptional hearing.
Sight hounds, for example, such as greyhounds and whippets, have been bred for centuries to hunt by sight, so they have extremely keen eyesight. But in order to do this effectively, they needed to develop exceptional hearing as well, in order to be able to track their prey by sound.
Your Pup’s Incredible Hearing
How do dogs use their super hearing powers? Well, they use it for all sorts of things! They use it to communicate with other dogs, find prey, and stay safe from predators. They also use it to figure out what we're saying, even though we don't always realize it.
So the next time your dog barks in the middle of the night or perks up and seems nervous about something, pay attention. He may be hearing something that you can’t!