Understanding Your Dog’s Hearing

Dogs hear a lot better than people do, partly because their ears are incredibly mobile. They have 15 different muscles that can move the ears in all directions. This helps them detect and understand sounds no matter where they’re coming from. Head cocking is a tool they use to hear clearly. Dogs shouldn’t be doing it all the time, however. When they are, they may need some extra help to hear. Speak in a higher voice.

One way dogs decide what’s worth listening to and what isn’t call for help is by the sound frequency. High-pitched sounds get their attention, probably because they resemble the sounds made by traditional prey such as rabbits and chipmunks. Pitching your voice upward will get your dog’s attention and let him know that he needs to listen carefully to what you’re about to say. Stand where he can see you. Even though a substantial portion of a dog’s brain is devoted to sound, a dog always uses his other senses to augment what he’s hearing. Standing in front of your dog will allow him to watch your face, eyes, posture, and body movements while you talk. Even if your dog isn’t hearing clearly, he’ll be able to gather a lot of information from your body language about what you’re trying to tell him.

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Trim the ears. Dogs with unusually hairy ears may hear a little better if you remove some of the fluff. You can use blunt-ended scissors to trim some hair from the outer part of the ear flaps, but groomers usually prefer plucking. However, dogs don’t enjoy having their ears plucked and will often put up a fight, so you may want to pay a groomer to do it for you.

Dogs may cock their heads to the sides often. Even though it’s normal for dogs to cock their heads in order to hear (and see) better, they shouldn’t be doing it too often. A dog whose head seems to be in perpetual tilt mode probably has an ear problem that isn’t going to get better on its own. A damaged eardrum or an inner ear infection can make it hard for dogs to hear. In some cases, ear problems can throw off a dog’s internal sense of balance, which will also cause him to tilt his head. Any time a dog carries his head tilted for more than a few minutes, he needs to visit his veterinarian.

Lastly, dogs with ear infections often shake their heads as well as tilt them. Use a flashlight to light the inside of your dog’s ear. If you see redness or a discharge, or if you smell an unpleasant odor, he probably has an infection and is going to need antibiotics to knock it out.