There is no denying that dog hearing is excellent. They can hear squirrels sneaking around in the backyard and certainly your car when you are parking outside. Dog whistles, which sound silent to us, get their attention right away and some scientists even think that dogs can hear the seismic activity that precedes an earthquake!
So, why can dogs hear better than humans?
As it turns out, there are a number of reasons, ranging from the ear shape, sensitivity to pitch, and the overall range of sounds that dogs can hear and we cannot. Let’s explore these variables in a little more depth and add a little contrast by comparing dog to human hearing. Some of the differences are really quite amazing!
Table of Contents
Ear shape makes a big difference –especially with motion
First off, one of the most noticeable differences is the actual shape of the ears. Dog ears are shaped in such a way that they capture sound more effectively in the ‘cup’ of the ears. It’s similar in effect to when you cup your hand behind your ear in order to hear something better, but dogs take it up a notch with motion.
You’ve seen it whenever your dog hears something of interest. Those fuzzy, efficient ears move a little towards the sound that’s now got your dog’s complete attention. This is efficient and it’s even fun to watch them do it, but it might interest you to know that despite these advantages, humans are a little better at locating the source of a sound.
Before you rush to declare humans the better listeners, however, you might want to consider where dogs score on pitch.
Pitch: The reason your dog hears that dog-whistle
Dogs have a serious advantage when it comes to hearing high-pitched sounds and softer-pitched sounds. Typically, human hearing is only going to hear a pitch of up to 20,000 Hertz, whereas dogs are can hear between 45,000 – 65,000 Hz!
With softer sounds, we rate decibels that are the lowest a human can hear to be a 0-decibel rating. Dogs can hear between -5 and -15 decibels, so they’ve gotten us beat even on quiet sounds.
Sensitivity ranges are enormous for dogs
While human ears are sensitive to a level of about 2000 Hz, the same level as most speech, dogs are equipped for a higher range of 8000 Hz. They can also spot minute differences in frequency, to a point where they can identify differences in musical notes! Among other things, this can help them to identify an animal that they have heard before quite well by its sounds and at a respectable difference.
All that sensitivity does come at a cost, however. Let’s just say that it’s easy to understand why they hate the vacuum cleaner and the lawnmower so much!
Location vs. Differentiation
We’d mentioned that humans are a little better with location so we should elaborate on this. When there are two different sounds at play, humans can tell the difference within an angle of 1 degree, while dogs actually need about 8 degrees of separation in this regard.
That’s a small victory for humans but lose out yet again when it comes to sound differentiation. The best example of this is when you come home your dog isn’t just recognizing that ‘a car’ is coming into the driveway. They actually know that it’s YOURS.
Muscles… in the ears
When you get down to the core of it, a dog’s ears actually have more muscles than human ears do. Human ears are controlled by 6 muscles and while this sounds just fine, dog’s ears possess up to 18 muscles when it comes to their hearing. With the exception of the degrees of separation among 2 different sounds, dogs have seriously got humans beat when it comes to the question of hearing.
“Not so fast!” – The Cat
While the dog certainly hears like a champ, we should note that his arch-enemy, the cat, has even better hearing. A cat has 30 muscles tasked with enhancing the feline’s auditory perception and puts them to good use.
Now you know why dogs hear better than humans and how those cats keep escaping your dog anyway!