“That Sound Is Driving Me Crazy”: What Your Dog Hears

Key Points

  • Fireworks, loud music and gunshots are sounds that drive a dog crazy.

  • Dogs have ultra-sensitive hearing, allowing them to hear higher and lower frequencies your ear cannot.

  • Avoiding sounds that drive a dog crazy supports their hearing and ear health.

  • Signs your dog may be losing their hearing include excessive barking, being unresponsive to commands, and being easily startled.

Have you ever wondered how the sound of fireworks or a knock at the door sounds to your dog? Dogs have exceptional hearing and rely on it as one of their main forms of communication, but there are sounds that drive your dog crazy.

Do your dog's ears perk up suddenly as if they hear something in the distance? Does your dog start howling for no apparent reason and a minute or so later the fire truck passes by? These are examples of your dog's "superpower." They can hear frequencies lower and higher than your ear can pick up. It's those high-frequency sounds that drive your dog crazy.

Your ears only pick up on sound frequencies in your immediate surroundings. Your dog's ability to hear higher and lower frequencies gives them a better sense of what's happening all around them.

Because their ears are so sensitive, some sounds are quite uncomfortable for them — hence the howling at sirens in the distance. Luckily, these painful frequencies aren't that frequent, so they’re not constantly bombarding your pet's ears.

Dog listening to music

Your canine's hearing is one of their best tools for learning. Using sound is also an excellent tool for training your pup.

It's important to know how your dog hears these frequencies and which frequencies and environments to avoid to prevent those painful incidents.

Why Dogs Hear So Well

Dogs are excellent hunters and predators. Many dog breeds are popular in hunting because of their natural predatory instincts and ability to track prey.

A dog's hearing enables them to survive and find food in the wild. The ability to hear tiny sounds allows these animals to capture prey for their pack and be alert to a threat.

Even dogs that have never seen a tree outside of their backyard or hunted anything wilder than a butterfly hear much more than you do. Canines make excellent protectors because they hear noises before you do and can alert you to danger. 

How Do Dogs Hear?

Dogs move their ears almost like an antenna to capture sounds that could mean danger — or dinner. A dog's ear contains 18 muscles, compared to the six muscles in your ear. Each of these muscles plays an important role in their ability to hear a wide range of frequencies.

Moving their ears and tilting their heads allows the dog to more clearly receive sound traveling throughout these ear muscles. When your dog tilts their head while you are talking to them, they are focusing on you and trying to understand what you are saying.

Dogs not only respond to words they have been taught but also to your tone. Notice the fluctuations in your voice the next time you interact with your dog. You likely change your tone while talking to them and they become familiar with your pattern and rhythm.

Test this by saying their favorite words but with a different tone or inflections. If your dog doesn't respond as normal it means they react to your tone of voice and not to the words. You can try a reverse experiment by replacing your usual praise/play words with other words to see if you get the same response as usual.

Can Dogs Experience Hearing Loss?

Dogs experience hearing loss just as humans do. Prolonged exposure to certain sound frequencies damages your dog's ear.

High-frequency tools like dog whistles or frequency apps aren't always safe. You can't hear these frequencies, but your dog can. You don't know how irritating they are to your pet because you cannot hear the sounds.

Two dogs with alert ears

When using a dog whistle or dog-training device, always check to ensure their frequencies are not harmful to your pet.

Most dogs tolerate frequencies ranging up to 25,000Hz. Higher frequencies damage your canine's hearing. 

Dogs Can Be Deaf

Some dogs are born deaf and some become deaf as they age. These dogs are either unable to hear most sound frequencies or they are unable to hear any at all.

A deaf dog learns to communicate using their other senses. They interpret their surroundings and communicate with their people through their senses of sight and smell.

When a dog is deaf, their other senses become heightened and assist them in their daily functions.

Hand commands, facial expressions, and bodily movements are great for teaching your dog tricks and training. They also guide the dog or get their attention. 

Do Deaf Dogs Wear Hearing Aids?

There are hearing aids for deaf dogs, but most dogs don't like a foreign item attached to their ear. 

Dr. Peter “Skip” Scheifele, the executive producer of FETLAB, tells Starkey Sound Bites it is possible to put hearing aids on dogs, but "if you're going to put a hearing aid on your dog, it requires a commitment to training that dog, because the dog does not want to have something in his ear. […] And even if you train the dog to accept it, there is no guarantee that the dog will ever acknowledge the fact that that hearing aid is doing anything different for him than any other time in his life, other than having something in his ear."

While hearing aids are a possible solution for deaf dogs, they are not likely to work long-term. Consult a veterinarian to understand your options. Your dog may have no change in behavior even with a hearing aid.

Your Dog's Ear Type

All healthy dogs have excellent hearing, but dogs with floppy ears are prone to hearing issues. Floppy ears have a different anatomy than small to medium size ears. Large, flapping ears trap moisture, enabling bacteria and other organisms to grow and increasing the likelihood of ear infections.

Floppy-eared dog breeds who love to swim have more ear infections than other breeds. After your dog leaves the water, moisture remains in their ear canals. Even your dog's vigorous shaking doesn't always remove all excess moisture from the ear.

Prevent infections by lifting your pet's floppy ears and drying any moisture after every swim. Ear infections produce swelling that temporarily impacts your dog's hearing. 

Wax buildup is another common issue for dogs with large ears. Trapped debris in the ear canal causes an increase in wax. Too much wax buildup impairs a dog's hearing.

Examine your dog's ears to see if they have excess buildup. Consult a veterinarian if you notice any abnormalities. Proper care of those loveable floppy ears keeps your dog's hearing keen and sharp.

Identifying Hearing Loss in Dogs

There are a few key signs to look for if you suspect your dog is losing their hearing. 

Dog hearing sound

Easily Startled

Dogs are usually on high alert. They notice even the smallest sounds in their surroundings. Sneaking up on your pup is almost impossible, but not if they're experiencing hearing loss.

If your dog jumps when you walk into a room, it's a sign they didn't hear you coming. Your dog jumping or getting excited when you walk into a room is different than being startled.

Look for odd behaviors, like your dog barking at you when you walk near them or jumping up and backing away when they finally hear something approaching.

If they are experiencing hearing loss, they hear you approaching much later than normal. When they hear you, and then see that you are closer than they expected, it confuses them and can provoke a startled or fearful reaction.  

Non-Responsive Behaviors

When you call your dog, how long does it take for them to appear? Most dogs answer a call within a few seconds – especially if there are treats involved.

A dog rarely ignores their owner and almost always responds to their favorite words. When a dog is losing their hearing, though, they don't respond to verbal commands as they did. 

Try talking to them in another room, using words that excite them the most. See if they answer your call. If they don't respond, they may have a hearing problem.

There are other reasons your dog may be unresponsive, such as illness. Give it a few days for any temporary issue — such as an ear infection — to resolve. If it doesn't, consult a veterinarian. 

Dog with big ears

No Longer Alert

A healthy dog is always alert and barks at any noises that trigger their instinct to protect themselves and their "pack."

Dogs can have special triggers unique to them. Some "talk" to the television, some "sing" to your favorite songs, and others bark when they hear your neighbor jog past the front door at 6 a.m.

A dog with lost or diminished hearing no longer responds to their trigger sounds as usual. At first, this may seem like a good thing because you don't have to put up with your dog's vocalizations. If this continues for a few weeks, examine their ears for any obvious cause. Take appropriate action to treat or diagnose the problem.

Changes in Their Barking

A dog's bark changes as they age, especially as they grow out of their puppy phase. If your dog is older and you notice changes in their barking, this may be a sign of hearing loss.

Some dogs bark less when they suffer hearing loss because they do not hear things to trigger their bark response. Others bark louder and more often because they cannot hear their own bark.

Sounds To Avoid

Spending time with your dog is important. So is steering clear of places with loud noises that harm your dog's hearing and cause undue stress for your pet.


Front yard Roman candles, bottle rockets, and firecrackers are trouble enough for your dog. Massive missiles with big booms are a definite no-no.

If the noise is too loud for you, imagine what your hyper-sensitive hound hears.

If you take the dog to a fireworks show, they can't walk away or plug their ears. It's best to let them stay at home and enjoy the peace and quiet.

Dog with fireworks

Gunshots While Hunting

Labradors, beagles, and foxhounds are natural hunters. They enjoy seeking out prey just as much as hunters enjoy catching them.

Unfortunately, dogs exposed to gunshots frequently experience hearing loss down the road. Hunters protect their ears while hunting, but it's more difficult to protect your dog's.

To keep your dog's ears healthy, don't take them with you every time, find another way to track animals, or use alternative tools on your hunting trips. 

Loud Music

Enjoying your music at full volume has consequences for your canine. Their hearing is too sensitive to be around loud stereo speakers for too long.

Lower your volume whenever your dog is around, whether in the home or the car. If possible, use headphones so you can enjoy your music while protecting your pup's ears.

Outdoor concerts should also be dog-free. Have you ever left an outdoor concert with ringing ears? Imagine how your dog's ears must feel the next day. 

Knock, Knock: Who's There?

Hearing is your dog's best tool for staying alert and remaining active. Their quality of life decreases when they experience hearing loss.

Don't take your dog's ears for granted. Take the necessary steps to keep sounds within a normal range when they're around. 

Dog at vet check up

A dog's ear picks up even the faintest sounds. It really is a superpower. To ensure they keep their hearing for as long as possible, pay attention to their ear health and visit the veterinarian at the first sign of a possible problem.

Communicate with your dog — verbally and nonverbally — and strengthen the bond between you and your pet. 

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