Floppy, folded, small, large—dogs’ ears come in many shapes, but they all serve the same purpose: as funnels for sound. Did you know that at least 18 muscles work to tilt, raise and rotate these furry appendages, helping the dog identify and capture sounds from different directions?
Unlike humans who have a very short ear canal, dogs have a long, narrow ear canal that makes almost a 90° bend as it travels to the deeper parts of the ear. Compared to cats, dogs tend to have many more ear problems and infections, especially dogs with heavy, floppy ears. (Read our tips on cleaning your dog’s ears at home.)
Dogs' hearing ability is dependent on breed and age, but the average hearing range is usually around 67 Hz to 45,000 Hz (45 kHz). Human hearing stretches from 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz (or 20 kHz), but most adults actually top out at 16k Hz.
As dogs hear higher-frequency sounds than humans, they also have a different acoustic perception of the world. Sounds that seem loud to people often have high-frequency tones that can scare dogs. Ultrasonice dog whistles have been used in dog training because they produce sounds at frequencies higher than those audible to humans but well within the range of a dog's hearing.
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fast facts about canine ears and hearing
1. A dog’s level of attention can be determined by watching the dog’s ears. Erect ears facing forward indicate that she’s engaged, and slightly pulled-back ears signal that she’s feeling friendly; ears laid tightly back against the head suggest a fearful or timid reaction.
2. Dogs’ ears move independently of one another.
3. Even during the quiet hours of the night, the world is a noisy place for dogs, who can hear the high-frequency pulse of the crystal resonator used in digital alarm clocks and bodily vibrations of termites in the walls.
4. A dog’s ear canal is L-shaped: vertical toward the jaw, then taking an almost 90° turn horizontally toward the ear drum. This makes examination challenging and predisposes dogs to a variety of ear ailments, including parasites and yeast infections.
5. Domestic dogs can hear significantly higher frequency sounds than humans, although not as high as cats.
6. A Bloodhound named Tigger from St. Joseph, Ill., whose right and left ears measured 13.75 and 13.5 inches respectively, holds the title for longest ears, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. That length has a purpose: to help direct scent to the Bloodhound’s sensitive sniffer.
7. University of Cincinnati researcher Pete Scheifele, also the director of UC’s Bioacoustics and Canine Audiology Clinic, is developing a hearing aid that will help dogs with acquired hearing loss.