Dogs have an incredible sense of hearing that allows them to detect a wider range of frequencies than humans. But are there certain frequencies that dogs find unpleasant or even painful? In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the science behind canine hearing, look at what frequencies they are sensitive to, and discuss whether certain sounds actually hurt their ears.

If you’re short on time, here’s the key takeaway: High-pitched frequencies above 18-20 kHz are uncomfortable for dogs and can cause hearing damage over time. Certain ultrasonic devices emit these tones specifically to deter dogs from nuisance barking.

Most everyday sounds are not painful, but volume also plays a role in causing dog ear discomfort.

Understanding the Dog Auditory System

A dog’s sense of hearing is vitally important. Their ears play a critical role in communication, hunting, warning of danger, and generally experiencing the world around them. Compared to humans, dogs have a much wider hearing range and can detect sounds at frequencies between 67-45,000 Hz.

We puny humans hear between 64-23,000 Hz. So what does this mean? Dogs can hear higher pitched sounds that are simply outside our auditory limits.

Wider hearing range

The canine ear structure is specially adapted for detecting faint sounds and tracking their direction. The outer flap of their ear, known as the pinna, funnels sound waves down into the ear canal. Humans may have trouble locating the source of a faint noise, but with those satellite dish ears, your pooch has that covered.

Some experts suggest dogs can register sounds at -6 decibels, while humans need a threshold of 0 decibels. Decibels measure the intensity of sound waves. So dogs can hear very very faint sounds indeed! When testing the range of dog hearing, studies indicate they perceive sounds up to 45 kHz, whereas most people can’t hear above 23 kHz.

That’s like an additional octave of sound!

Importance of hearing for dogs

Dogs evolved as hunters, with some breeds chasing down small, fast prey. Keen hearing enabled canines to locate food sources like mice, rabbits, or deer. Hounds such as Beagles are especially known for their stellar sense of hearing when sniffing out animals and tracking them.

Additionally, because wild canines live in family groups or packs, communicating vocally facilitates social bonding, maintaining hierarchies, defending territories from intruders, and clearly signaling when threats appear.

Ears have always and continue to allow dogs to survive and thrive alongside human companions. Today, those same auditory tools help dogs interpret cues from owners, learn verbal commands and praise, or simply enjoy their favorite squeaky toy.

Parts of the canine ear

While humans have one ear canal, dogs and other animals possess two ear canals as their ears can move independently to locate sounds. The main parts of a dog’s ear include:

  • Outer ear – the visible cupped part covered in fur and the canal directing towards the eardrum.
  • Middle ear – contains tiny bones called ossicles connecting the eardrum to the inner ear.
  • Inner ear – filled with fluid and contains the cochlea that sends nerve signals to the brain so sounds make sense.
Dog Breeds Hearing Frequency Range
Beagle 150 Hz – 28 kHz
Foxhound 67 Hz – 45 kHz
Jack Russell Terrier 125 Hz – 40 kHz

As evident from the table, different breeds demonstrate varying levels of sensitivity across the frequencies based on factors like ear shape. But the average pup can hear many sounds humans simply miss. So what noises actually disturb sensitive doggie ears?

Loud, metallic noises from fireworks, clanging pots and pans, or even the pesky smoke detector can hurt. As a general rule of thumb, if a sound annoys you, it likely annoys Fido too. Research suggests acoustic deterrents emitting unpleasant high-frequency pulses above 20,000 Hz effectively repel most canines.

However, cruelty has no place in the human-canine bond. With compassion and dog-friendly training, both species can live in harmony without resorting to harsh tools. To learn more on protecting your dog’s hearing, check out AKC’s guide.

What Frequencies Can Dogs Hear?

Dogs have an amazing sense of hearing that far surpasses human capabilities. Here’s an overview of the hearing range statistics, development patterns, and age-related declines for our canine companions.

Hearing Range Statistics

Most dogs can detect sounds between 67-45,000 Hz, while humans hear between 64-23,000 Hz. This means dogs can hear higher frequency sounds that are inaudible to human ears. For example, dogs can hear high-pitched noises like dog whistles that reach over 20,000 Hz.

Some breeds like Collies and German Shepherds have an even wider hearing range, detecting frequencies up to 80,000 Hz. Their ears can pick up the high-pitched sounds of rodents squeaking and birds chirping. It’s no wonder dogs make such great hunting partners.

Puppy Hearing Development

Puppies are born deaf, only responding to vibrations. Their ear canals open between 8-20 days after birth, enabling sound detection.

Full hearing develops gradually over the first 4 weeks as their auditory nerve pathways mature. By around 21 days old, puppies can hear most normal noises. Their hearing sensitivity increases up to adult levels by 8 weeks old.

Older Dog Hearing Loss Patterns

Like humans, dogs can develop hearing loss as they age. However, the decline is gradual and varies between breeds.

On average, dogs start to lose their ability to hear high frequencies from 8-10 years old. The loss spreads to lower pitches over time. Large breeds tend to show hearing declines earlier, starting from around 6 years old.

By the time dogs reach roughly 12-15 years old, most have significant high frequency hearing loss. Taking care of your senior dog’s ears can help slow the progression.

While deafness can be frustrating for aging pups, speaking to them clearly in a calm tone and using hand signals along with verbal cues can make communication easier. Just because they can’t hear as well doesn’t mean they can’t live a happy life with their loving family.

Sounds That Are Uncomfortable for Dogs

Ultrasonic devices

Ultrasonic devices emit high-frequency sounds that are unpleasant and even painful for dogs to hear. These devices were originally designed as deterrents to keep dogs from barking excessively or entering certain areas.

However, some animal welfare organizations caution against their use as they may be harmful to dogs’ health and wellbeing. Prolonged exposure to ultrasonic frequencies can potentially lead to hearing loss or stress in dogs.

Most people can’t hear ultrasounds above the range of 20,000 Hz, but dogs can pick up frequencies as high as 45,000 Hz. Commercial ultrasonic devices that are marketed as “dog deterrents” operate at 20,000 to 50,000 Hz.

When activated, they produce irritating high-pitched sounds similar to a mosquito buzzing in your ear. Even short-term exposure at close distances can be uncomfortable for dogs. According to ASPCA studies, ultrasonic devices are an “unproven and controversial” means of behavior modification for dogs.

Dog whistles

Dog whistles are small whistles that emit sounds in the ultrasonic range, specifically to get dogs’ attention. They operate at frequencies from 23,000 to 54,000 Hz and produce little to no sound detectable by the human ear.

Dog owners use them to issue commands over distances where a normal voice would be hard to hear.

Dog whistles can be helpful training aids when used properly at reasonable volumes. However, loud or continuous dog whistle sounds have potential downsides. The high-pitched frequencies are more difficult for dogs to localize, meaning they have trouble pinpointing exactly where the sound is coming from.

Excessive exposure can overwhelm a dog’s senses and cause high anxiety or confusion. Responsible owners should keep whistle training sessions brief and monitor dogs for signs of stress.

High-pitched alarms/sirens

Like humans, dogs can perceive loud and abrupt noises as unpleasant or alarming. High-pitched sounds at close range are especially uncomfortable for dogs due to their sensitive hearing. Fire alarms, police/ambulance sirens, home security systems, and smoke detectors often emit frequencies at or above the range audible to dogs.

A 120-decibel siren or alarm at close range can be painful and disorienting for dogs. When exposed suddenly to these intense high-pitched sounds, most dogs will shrink away and try to flee the area or block their ears with paws. Prolonged exposure to sirens can lead to phobias.

It’s important for owners to provide secured comfortable spaces for anxious dogs to retreat when alarms are necessary.

On the other hand, dogs can potentially save lives by alerting owners to alarms and other high-pitched emergency sounds that human ears fail to detect. With training and desensitization, most dogs can learn to stay calm in the presence of smoke detectors and alarms.

Their keen hearing remains an asset.

Preventing Noise-Induced Hearing Loss in Dogs

Recognizing signs of discomfort

Dogs can experience noise-induced hearing loss just like humans. Some signs your dog may be uncomfortable with loud noises include:

  • Flattened ears
  • Trying to get away from the noise source
  • Acting anxious or distressed
  • Panting or drooling excessively

Pay attention to your dog’s body language. If they display signs of discomfort, try to remove them from the noisy environment or take steps to reduce the volume.

Monitoring loud environments

Certain environments tend to be noisier and therefore more risky for dogs’ hearing health. Situations to watch out for include:

  • Concerts, festivals, firework shows
  • Sporting events, racetracks
  • Hunting trips
  • Kennels with excessive barking
  • Car travel, especially with windows down

When possible, avoid bringing your dog to extremely loud events. If you must, take frequent breaks away from the noise.

Using hearing protection gear

There are products available to protect your dog’s hearing in noisy environments:

  • Mutt Muffs: These earmuffs are specially designed to fit over dogs’ heads and muffle sounds. They are adjustable for different head sizes.
  • Earplugs: Custom-fitted earplugs can block noises. These require a vet visit to take impressions of your dog’s ears.

Introduce hearing protection slowly with positive reinforcement training. Make sure your dog is comfortable wearing the gear before exposing them to loud noises.

With some awareness and planning, you can take steps to preserve your dog’s hearing health for years to come.

The Impact of Pitch vs. Volume on Dog Hearing

Noise measured in decibels

The loudness or volume of a sound is measured in units called decibels (dB). Dogs can hear sounds between 15 Hz and 65,000 Hz, while humans can only hear sounds between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz. Dogs’ sensitivity to such a wide range of frequencies allows them to hear noises that seem silent to us.

Sounds below 60 dB are unlikely to bother dogs or cause damage. But sounds above 85 dB can potentially hurt their ears, especially with long exposure. For example, normal conversation is about 60 dB, while a motorcycle engine running can be 95 dB or higher.

Pitch frequency thresholds

The pitch or frequency of a sound is measured in Hertz (Hz). Higher pitches tend to be more unpleasant for dogs than lower-pitched sounds. For example, most dogs are not bothered by the bass beat of music, but they may howl or get agitated at the high-pitched tones of certain instruments like the flute, violin, or cymbals.

Studies show most dogs dislike and try to move away from sounds above 12,000-15,000 Hz. The mosquito ringtone which teens can hear but adults often cannot is around 17,000 Hz, which would be extremely annoying to dogs!

Combined effects on ear pain/damage

Both the volume and frequency of sounds impact dogs. High-pitched sounds above 15,000 Hz are painful at volumes above 90 dB. But those same frequencies may only irritate dogs at 60-80 dB.

Conversely, very low or high bass frequencies below 250 Hz need to be over 100 dB to hurt dog ears. So a combination of high volume and higher pitch is most likely to harm dogs’ sensitive hearing.

One study testing dogs found pain responses started at around 88 dB for a high-pitched 18,000 Hz tone. But dogs showed pain at just 69 dB for a mid-range 2,900 Hz tone. This highlights how both pitch and loudness impact potential ear pain and damage.


While dogs can hear a broader spectrum of tones than humans, high frequencies in the ultrasonic range above 18-20 kHz cause discomfort. Day-to-day environmental sounds are less likely to bother healthy canine ears at reasonable volumes.

However, monitoring both pitch and loudness levels can prevent noise-induced ear pain and hearing impairment in dogs over time.

Understanding your dog’s hearing sensitivity spectrum allows you to limit painful exposures when possible. Be on the lookout for signs of aural discomfort, provide access to quiet spaces, use hearing protection equipment if necessary, and schedule veterinary hearing checks annually – especially for senior dogs or breeds prone to early deafness.

By giving dogs’ ears some extra TLC, you can help preserve their exceptional hearing for years to come.

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