How Dogs Hear High & Low Pitches

Depending on the shape and position of Dino's ears, it may be hard to believe those big, floppy ears are excellent hearing tools. However, his range of hearing is twice yours. Don't feel bad; your pup's ears have a lot of work to do and compensate for his poorer vision.


Understanding Frequency

To get an understanding of how Dino hears pitch, it's helpful to know the difference between sound and frequency. Sound is the movement of longitudinal waves hitting the ear. Frequency is the number of sound waves per second, measured in hertz, or Hz. Frequency is heard as tone and pitch, and the lower the frequency, the lower the pitch. The roll of thunder has a low pitch and a long wavelength, and is about 20 Hz. The roar of a jet engine has a high pitch and short wavelength, and is about 10,000 Hz.

Dogs' Frequency Range

Humans hear in a frequency range of 20 to 20,000 Hz. Despite their overall superior hearing, dogs don't hear to the low levels humans do. Some dogs can hear as low as 40 Hz, while others can't hear sounds below 60 Hz; the lower limit depends on the breed and age of the dog. Dino's hearing does outshine yours on the upper end of the frequency range. In fact, he can hear at twice the range you can. Louisiana State University estimates dogs can hear up to 45,000 Hz. The sound of a vacuum cleaner can be loud to us, however when your pup runs away from it, he's probably fleeing the sound of a high-pitched noise you can't hear.

Movement to Catch Pitch

Erect or folded, a dog's ears are positioned on his head for maximum receptiveness. Dino's outer ear, known as the pinna, is controlled by more than a dozen muscles. Those muscles work to move his ear around toward whatever sound catches his attention. Dino's ability to change the shape and direction of his ear transmits sound to his eardrum. His long ear canal is an effective funnel to his middle ear.

Inside the Ear

After Dino turns his attention and his ears to the noise that interests him, the sound travels to his middle ear. The eardrum and a small air-filled chamber containing three bones -- the hammer, anvil and stirrup -- reside in the middle ear. The size of the chamber and the stiffness of the bones affects how sound is transmitted. In Dino's case, the configuration contributes to his higher hearing range. Dino's inner ear plays its part in his extended hearing range. A dog's cochlea makes 3 1/4 turns; this important hearing organ is filled with hair cells that pick up auditory vibrations. No one knows definitively, but it's believed that the longer cochlea, and the additional hair cells, help extend a dog's hearing range.

By Betty Lewis

About the Author
Betty Lewis has been writing professionally since 2000, specializing in animal care and issues, business analysis and homeland security. Lewis holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from West Virginia University as well as master's degrees from Old Dominion University and Tulane University.