Question about Dogs and Hearing

My dog (German Shepherd) seems to have some odd hearing. He can be on the couch in the living room (back of the house), laying down, with the TV on and the air conditioner running and yet will spring up at a moment’s notice and go running to the dinig room bay window (separate room front of the house that looks out on the street) and start barking wildly.

Two minutes later someone will come walking past walking their dog. (He only barks at other dogs.) From the direction they are coming, they are JUST coming around the corner (we’re at the end of a street) when he shoots off the couch and can’t even be SEEN until they’re by our driveway yet he knows they’re coming. And he has NEVER been wrong.

So the question is do dogs have some kind of supersonic hearing or something? Or is my dog just an oddball?

Their hearing is more acute. Mine used to spring up barking and a few seconds later you would hear the approaching police/fire sirens on the highway half a mile from here (which she hated). Many other accounts speak of dogs and cats giving their owners warning of approaching buzzbombs during the war.

Dogs have much more acute hearing and hear into higher frequency ranges than humans. Supposedly one reason they “stare intently at the wall” and freak people out is they’re hearing a tiny insect moving inside the wall.

But I have read that it is not as “directional” as human hearing (perhaps because their ears are not on completely opposite sides of their head?) That seems counterintuitive, but if you 'll accept anecdotal claims, I can report that when my our family dogs hear someone getting out of a car in the parking lot, they immediately cast about with their eyes and noses trying to find the person, and sometimes they are looking the wrong way for an embarrassingly long time before they swivel around and finally find the person whom they hope will come pet them.

What is it today with dog owners who aren’t aware that dogs have better senses of hearing and smell than humans? And think their totally normal dog has mysterious powers?

My old dog knew when my dad was coming home a LONG time before he pulled into the driveway - he had to have been hearing his car a good half mile away. No matter what time of day or night, he met Dad at the door.

It is more directional than human hearing. Have you not seen a dog turn its ears towards the source of a sound? They will turn them until they get the best signal, so that they know exactly where it is coming from (although this may sometimes take a moment or two, and, like humans, they can be confused by echoes and other effects). Very possibly a dog can also do some crude rangefinding on sounds, by turning the two ears independently.

Most humans can’t move their ears independently, and rely largely on whole head movements to tell the direction of sounds. We get some directional information from the separation of two ears (as do dogs), but not very much. It has been experimentally demonstrated that if someone is prevented from moving their head, and given no other cues, they cannot even tell whether a sound is coming from in front or from behind. Your dog can tell by turning his ears. On those occasions that we do better than dogs, it is probably because we are using other cues, or background knowledge, rather than relying on sound alone. (And, you know, dogs have poor eyesight, are rather easily distracted, and are quite dumb.)

Thanks for the helpful input, but I am completely aware that dogs have better senses of hearing and smell than humans - I was asking because none of the other, many dogs I’ve had, have ever been able to “hear” another dog walking by two minutes before it can even see it. That’s what I was getting at.

But again, thanks!

Those other dogs might be able to hear it, but perhaps they just don’t care - unlike your dog, who is in your house, and doing his best duty to defend it.

My dog is scared of thunder, and I think she can hear it from a couple of states away. (grin)

Missy2U, I doubt your dog is hearing the person/dog coming directly. Around here, we frequently get “chains” of dogs barking. One dog sees the “intruders” coming, starts barking and then a dog a couple houses down starts, and then the next, etc.

Your dog may be hearing the “chain” developing and is anticipating someone coming.

Also, it’s not just dogs. We had a cat once that heard the school bus on the other side of the neighborhood and walked up to the bus stop to greet our kids before it came. It would even meow to be let out and it’s even harder to hear the bus inside.

That would not surprise me at all. It may be that **Missy2U’**s dog has learned the barks of the different dogs in the neighborhood, and figured out “when I hear Rex bark, that usually means there’ll be a dog in front of MY HOUSE really soon, so I better be ready to go bark at that dog!”

ftg That may be EXACTLY it! There are dogs in just about every one in three houses (townhouses - we’re all attached) through the whole complex. That makes perfect sense! Thanks!

kenobi 65 - it’s funny you mentioned that - there’s a dog that lives across the courtyard from us that is his buddy - they watch for each other to come out and bark at each other - it’s his buddy. They’re probably a football field away, but Baron sees when he’s out and wants to go out too and they just bark at each other. It’s kinda funny actually - it’s like they’re doing a dog “let’s catch up - it’s been so long since I’ve SEEN you” kinda thing!

Next question. Do German Shepherds like earmuffs? It can get kinda tough when I’m on a conference call for work. :smiley:

MsBatt, so is mine. Unfortunately, he decided the space between the bed and the nightstand is the place to hide. That spot is maybe six inches wide. He weighs 165 lbs. I finally convinced him the downstairs bathroom was a good place to hide. Which means we can’t use it because he takes up the ENTIRE bathroom when he’s laying down, but hey - if it makes him feel better! Oddly, the fireworks this year didn’t bother him. Which is good!

Thanks, everyone for your comments. Appreciate it!! And Baron (the dog) says HI!

  1. You can train your dog to not bark, or to stop barking once started, but it will take some educated effort.

  2. I have a dog who is ‘car protective’. He barks at people who get too close to the parked car – but only if I am not in it. I have tried to sneak up on him, but he is never, ever fooled, he can always tell it’s me. He can’t see out of the car, he’s just going on sound.

  3. I was out of state when the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake occurred. The epicenter was 3 miles from my house (which was destroyed). My dogs were confined to a pen in the backyard, from which they had never offered to escape. Some time between 15 minutes to an hour before the quake, they both broke out of the pen, found some neighbor children taking a walk through the woods, and went home with them.

When I managed to get home and collected them, they very clearly were afraid to go home. It was kind of spooky.

Your dog probably smells them, rather than hears them. My german shepherd would sometimes jump up at night from a sound sleep and start barking wildly and scratching at the door. I used to think she was imagining things until I let her out and followed her several hundred yards toward a wooded area, where we found fox tracks in the snow.

Humans have very good directional hearing; better than a cat I’ve heard, probably better than dogs too. That’s why human ears are so convoluted and asymmetrical; depending on what direction sound is coming from it’s subtly distorted, enabling the human to tell the direction it’s from. Human hearing is basically optimized for conversations; a human can stand in a crowd of talking people, locate one voice out of many and keep track of where they are and what they are saying in the babble. Dog ears are built more for sensitivity.

Humans hear roughly from 20 Hz to 20 kHz (20,000 Hz). Dogs vary a bit by species, but the average I see tossed around a lot is 40 Hz to 60 kHz. At the low end, around where most of the sound energy is in the human voice for example (2 or 3 kHz and below), dogs hear about as well as humans, though their ears are more directional (as was already noted) and some breeds have ear shapes which tend to focus the sound energy better. At higher frequencies though (say 5 to 15 kHz), a dog’s ears are more sensitive than humans, and at the high end of human hearing a dog can easily hear sound levels that a human can’t. Then of course at even higher frequencies (above 20 kHz), humans can’t hear at all.

The trouble with measurements of things (how good directional hearing is, and actually a whole lot of other characteristics of perception) like this is that they are traditionally made with the receptor organs (ears, in this case) artificially kept static. It may indeed be the case that under such circumstances human hearing is more accurate directionally than that of cats and dogs. However, those circumstances are artificial and utterly unnatural. In real life humans turn their heads to locate sounds, which hugely enhances our ability to do so. If you really want to know which direction a voice is coming from (by sound alone), you don’t keep still and listen hard, you turn your head until you are getting the best signal. As I mentioned in my earlier post, people who have their heads kept artificially still, cannot even distinguish between a sound coming from in front and one coming from behind. Dogs and cats not only turn their heads to locate sounds, but also turn their ears independently, allowing them to do much better than humans can.

Unfortunately, it is only fairly recently that perceptual science has come to recognize the pervasive importance of the active movement and active deployment of the sense organs (the point applies to all of them), and most textbooks, introductory courses and popular accounts (and even quite a lot of research publications) still implicitly treat the sense organs as though they were essentially static, passive transducers. However, they are not static or passive in reality, and this in fact makes a huge difference to their actual capabilities.

I wish I could convey this to my neighbors. Their idiot dogs yap all day and all night, while my dog, after years of training, doesn’t. I had an edge, though, since I was home all day with him for his formative years. The key is catching him just before he’s about to start barking (or just as he starts) and not yelling at him. I would just put him in a “down stay” whenever I heard the neighborhood dogs starting up, and his energies would be focused on paying attention to me rather than to the other dogs. Ever since he was trained reliably, when he hears the other dogs start going on about something, he comes over to me or whoever is in the room and, if we look calm, he lies down.

He probably barks incessantly when we’re not home, of course. That’s how these things always work.

One can immediately put the lie to this statement by observing dogs pouncing on mice or even grasshoppers in the pitch dark or under several inches of snow. These animals aren’t digging holes or chasing the animals by sight. They are pouncing on top of their prey from a distance of 2-3 metres and hitting it with their paws. Dogs are also capable of catching thrown toys fitted with noise making devices while blindfolded or in complete darkness.

The directionality of canine hearing is quite obviously orders of magnitude better than human hearing. Maybe, just maybe a highly trained person could catch thrown objects using just sound if they practiced for many years. But any mongrel dog can learn that trick in a couple of minutes with no practice at all.

The idea that human hearing has better directionality than that of dogs is simply absurd.