Dog ears come in a variety of shapes and sizes, all contributing to their ability to detect and localize sounds. However, most dogs are about as sensitive as we are to specific decibels (loudness) of sounds. Where we differ most is in our range of frequency sensitivity.
To understand the auditory world of a dog, we have to first understand our own. We hear frequencies that range from 20-20,000 Hz. However, as we age and attend more concerts, the higher end drops to about 12,000 Hz. Accordingly, we communicate within this auditory range. Most of the sounds we make are 100-1,000 Hz, which is fortunately well-within the hearing range of dogs.
Yet again, dogs have another superpower: ultrasonic sound detection. They can hear sounds up to 45,000 Hz! The dog-whistle is a perfect example of a sound detectable only to them, but that’s not all. The world is constantly buzzing with high frequency sounds: your ticking alarm clock, buzzing digital appliances, vibrations of termites within the walls, humming fluorescent light bulbs. This is why your dog may be frightened of machines such as the vacuum cleaner, the lawn mower, and the garbage disposal. In addition to their already shockingly loud sounds, these machines contain moving parts that create high-frequency, painful shrieks that we are (fortunately) oblivious to.
Dogs inherited this supersonic ability, long before the creation of these machines, from their wolf and jackal ancestors. The individuals better able to hear their prey squeak and rustle as they scurried across the ground were more likely to survive and reproduce.
So, now that we understand what dogs can hear, we can become more effective communicators by adjusting our awareness of the sounds we make. We know that dogs are instinctively more interested in higher pitch sounds because they tend to signify the presence of prey. They are also more easily distinguishable from the constant conversation going on around them. To get your dog’s attention or interest, use high-pitch sounds. When commanding in training, a longer, descending tone is more effective than repeated, rising tones because it induces relaxation and calm behavior, rather than excited, predatory behavior.
Ever wondered why your dog seemingly barks for no reason? Now you know. There’s a whole world of sounds we’re unaware of. It’s not always easy being a superhero.