Is a dog’s hearing better than a human’s

Dog's ear

Yes, a dog’s hearing is better than a human’s at the higher frequencies. At sounds of low pitch or frequency a dog’s ears have about the same ability as those of humans. At the higher end of the frequency range of audible sound, dogs are far superior to humans.

Dog's ear

Dog’s ears. Photo: sergio souza on Pexels.

Young people can hear frequencies of about 30,000 cycles a second. When they become young adults the upper limit is about 20,000 cps and at retirement it is reduced to about 12,000 cps. In this article I am referring to “pitch” and “frequency” as meaning the same thing. High frequencies are high-pitched sounds and low frequencies are low pitched sounds.

So the dog can hear sounds which are ultrasonic to humans (outside of our audible limits). For example, a dog can pick up the sound of a bat or a mouse; sounds which are inaudible to humans.

Dogs can detect frequencies at an upper limit of 35,000 to 40,000 cps and some people think it may be as high as a 100,000 cycles per second.

Common sense dictates that the dog’s evolutionary history is the reason for this superiority over humans. When there were no domestic dogs in the world there were wolves and they had to survive by hunting and sometimes they preyed on small animals which make high-pitched sounds. They can detect prey animals by the sounds that they make even if they can’t see them.

Some scientists believe that wolves can detect frequencies as high as 80 kHz (80,000 cps). Some scientists also believe that wolves can hear better than domestic dogs.

The finely tuned hearing of the domestic dog allows him or her to detect sounds outside the home that people inside are totally unaware of. The classic example is when a person returns home at night from work. The dog may hear them approaching from some distance. They might detect the sound of their footfall or the engine of their car. They will be able to detect the difference between these specific sounds and similar ones made by different people and different vehicles. Dogs are ahead of the game in terms of anticipating the return of their “master” or leader.

There has to be a postscript to what I said. A lot of dog breeds have floppy ears where the ear flap covers the ear canal (and therefore the ear drum). Ultimately, this is due to selective breeding over eons. When you selectively breed you end up changing the DNA of the animal and in doing so the cartilage of their ear flaps can become more elastic, which is unable to hold ear flaps (pinnae) erect.

It is hard to deny that dogs with floppy ears must have impaired hearing compared to dogs with normal ear flaps which are fully functioning and which captures sound in the usual way. Floppy ears must negate the superiority of dog’s ears over human’s.