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How Does your Dog’s Sense of Hearing Affect Behavior?

Author: Greg Raub | Date: August 21, 2014

As a kid I remember being fascinated by the idea of a silent dog whistle – something dogs could hear but people couldn’t. It is true that in terms of hearing the biggest differences between us and our four-legged friends is that they can hear much higher frequency sounds.

That could explain a few things:

  • Your dog barks at the vacuum cleaner?  It may not just be making the loud noise we hear, it could be making a high-pitch noise that is causing your dog to react.
  • Sometimes your dog listens and pays attention to you… and other times he doesn’t?  That quiet room you’re in may not be as quiet as you think.  Your dog may hear the high-pitch hum of a florescent light, the whir of a furnace motor or even the “silent” resonator inside your alarm clock.

Beyond understanding that your dog may be hearing things you don’t, it’s also important (and helpful) to think about the sounds we use to communicate with our dogs.

  • Short staccato sounds – like snapping your fingers, clicking your tongue or making a kissy noise with your lips will sometimes get your dog’s attention better than, “Fido, come.”
  • The tone of your voice can also be important.  Does your dog get excited when you say “Do you want to go for a walk?”  In her book Inside of a Dog, Alexandra Horowitz suggests this experiment.  Instead of saying “Do you want to go for a walk,” try saying “Do you want to snow forty locks” using the very same tone you always use.  Horowitz suggests that many, if not most, dogs would still get excited.
  • Initial sounds also seem to be important.  There is some belief that when we are talking to our dogs they only hear the first word or first sound before reacting.  So thinking about the example above, it could be that all your dog has to hear is “Do…” and he reacts with excitement.
  • You need to choose your words carefully.  There has also been some research that indicates dogs may not be real good at distinguishing similarly sounding words from each other.  So before you name your puppy Bo, like the first family did, you might want to think about whether your puppy would understand when you said “No, Bo.”

Maybe the most important thing to remember about how your dog hears is that it is only one sense your dog uses to understand his world – and to understand you.  In previous blogs I’ve written about the other senses – sight and smell – both of which your dog uses in combination with his hearing.

How well does your dog hear and understand you?  Are there certain words or tones that are more effective than others?


This post was originally published on October 21, 2013.


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