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Charlottesville's Professional Dog Grooming

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Charlottesville, VA 22911

The Sense of Hearing

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007 by Mike Cronk

My in-laws have lived with Loretta and I for the past seven years and Pop would often spend his late afternoons sitting on our back deck with my Great Dane Molly.  He always marveled at Molly’s ability to differentiate my car coming up the drive from any other.  When she heard my engine, she would get up and come around to the front of the house to greet me.  She didn’t do this for my wife, our kids, or anyone else for that matter—she was my dog.  She learned the sound of my car engine and could identify it.  This experience is not unique.  It can be attributed to the canine sense of hearing.

Recent advances in science have enabled us to measure brain activity in dogs reacting to sound.  Through this, we can determine what noises dogs are able to hear and compare that to our human ability to detect sound. 

The frequency of a sound wave is measured in Hertz or Hz.  The highest pitched sound that man can hear is around 20,000 Hz whereas dogs, depending on the breed, can hear between 47,000 and 65,000 Hz.  Humans have evolved to interpret the lower pitches of conversation which is around 2,000 Hz.  Above 12,000 Hz, our ability to hear compared to dogs diminishes so much that it is impractical to compare us. 

The canine ability to hear high frequencies has been attributed to their wolf ancestry.  Dogs preyed on mice, voles, and rats which all produce high pitched squeaks.  The wolf that heard the higher pitch of rodents stood a better chance in the hunt and therefore survived (good ol’ Darwin) and so did the ability to hear high frequencies.  Cats, who are more carnivorous than dogs, can hear sound 5,000-10,000 HZ higher.

With such a greater hearing ability, it is no wonder that dogs may be anxious around vacuum cleaners, leaf blowers, lawn mowers and the like.  Dogs can hear pitches that our ears are deaf to.  “Dog whistles” are tools which take advantage of this difference between our species.  These whistles have proved valuable in police work and in training when human hearing is not desired.

Dogs are also more sensitive to pitch differences than we are.  Research has proven that dogs can detect the difference between the musical note C and another note which differs by one-eighth of the distance between that C note and C sharp.  Knowing this, it isn’t a surprise that Molly knew which engine noise was mine!

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