What Is a Dog’s Most Important Sense?

Have you ever wondered how your dog perceives the world?  In this article we will shed some light on how your dog hears, sees, and smells the world he lives in.

How Do Dogs Hear?

Dogs seem to have magical skills when it comes to detecting a coveted snack. Dogs are born with a knack for hearing high-pitched sounds. Opening a bag apparently falls into that sound category, suggests Christine Zink, author of the book Healthcare & Nutrition for Dummies. Over time, dogs may gradually lose their ability to hear lower-pitched noises, but they retain their high-pitched hearing. If you want to get an older dog’s attention, Zink therefore advises that you try speaking louder and/or using a higher-pitched voice.

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As well as being able to hear high pitched sounds, a dog’s ears are designed to pick up sounds from far away.  Dogs are able to move each ear independently to enable them to locate where sounds are coming from.  They can do this because they have around 18 muscles in each ear!  Some dog breeds are considered to have better hearing than others; Labrador Retrievers, Poodles, Golden Retrievers, and Cocker Spaniels have all got excellent hearing abilities.

Is A Dog’s Hearing Better Than Humans?

Dogs in general, however, have much better hearing than we humans do.  Dogs have the ability to hear nearly twice the number of frequencies than what we can.  Young humans are able to hear sounds up to 20,000Hz (20,000 vibrations per second), whereas dogs can hear sounds up to 50,000Hz (50,000 vibrations per second).

According to Morgan Spector, author of Clicker Training for Obedience: Shaping Top Performance – Positively, your dog’s hearing is 12 times more acute than yours. Even dogs with some hearing loss can detect a cellophane bag opening a quarter of a mile away! 

How Far Can a Dog Hear?

An average dog can hear sounds that we cannot hear past 100 yards.  Dogs can hear sounds (as we do), at four times the distance away.  So for example the level we can hear something when we are standing 20 feet away, a dog can hear at that same level 80 feet away.

Is A Dog’s Hearing Better Than a Cat’s?

When it comes to hearing, cats beat dogs paws down.  While a dog can hear sounds up to 50,000Hz (50,000 vibrations per second), a cat can hear sounds up to 60,000Hz (60,000 vibrations per second).  Cats also have the ability to rotate their ears up to 180 degrees which helps them to precisely locate the direction a sound is coming from.

Additionally, your dog has a keen nose. When you add that adept sense of smell to your dog’s impressive sense of hearing, it’s no wonder that dogs, even senior ones with some hearing loss, can make a beeline for potential snacks.

How Do Dog’s Smell?

According to Bash Dibra, noted animal behaviorist and author of DogSpeak (Fireside), “A dog’s sense of smell is so acute because dogs have at least 25 times more olfactory receptors, and 40 times the smelling brain power, than humans. “A dog’s nose can even distinguish between the cheese, meat and ketchup on a cheeseburger. And, as you already know, some dogs are trained to use this smelling skill for good; for rescue or drug tracking, and bomb-detection work.

Why Is a Dog’s Sense of Smell So Important?

Of course, sniffing the sidewalk, the fire hydrant and other dogs may seem pointless to you, but it provides a wealth of information to your dog. Dogs have a need to know, and smelling is how they learn.  This is how they process their environment and who is (or has been) in it.  “Dogs smell each other and their secretions to monitor physiological and emotional changes,” says Dibra. “It’s like getting the morning paper or a hot-off-the-press tabloid.”

Allowing your dog the time to sniff while out on your daily walk not only gives your dog great pleasure, but also allows them to make sense of what is going on.  For an anxious dog, this could help them feel more secure.

Which Dog’s Have the Best Sense of Smell?

If you are looking for a dog with a strong ability for scent tracking then you can’t go past a Bloodhound.  These dogs are built to track and will do so until they have found their quarry.  Other breeds known for an acute sense of smell include; Basset Hound, Labrador Retriever, Beagle, German Shepherd, and Black and Tan Coonhound.

How Far Can a Dog Smell?

A dog’s sense of smell is so strong that according to Alexandra Horowitz, author of Inside a Dog, they are able to detect “a teaspoon of sugar in a million gallons of water, or two Olympic-sized pools worth” 

The distance a dog can smell depends on factors such as the type of scent and wind direction.  Don’t be surprised if your dog can pick up a scent that is up to 20 miles away!

Is your dog like a shopaholic at a rummage sale, smelling anything and everything that comes its way? You are not alone. As every dog knows, the best way to get the scoop on anything is through its nose. 

How Can I Stop My Dog Sniffing Everything?

If sniffing becomes excessive for your dog, try these strategies to simmer down its snout.

  • Offer a diversion, like a chew toy, or a treat that has a scent your dog loves.
  • Teach your dog to use the crate, especially if sniffing visitors is of high entertainment value to it.
  • Clap your hands and take charge with your leash when your dog sniffs other dogs inappropriately or excessively.
  • Give your dog plenty of exercise and attention.

Your dog’s sense of smell is a powerful and useful tool for the animal. Basically, its sniffing and whiffing ways are simply a part of its nature.

How Do Dogs See?

This morning, while Riker (my four-year-old Australian Shepherd) and I were walking around the Oceanside Harbor, I saw his nose twitch and his head swivel. He had caught the scent of something and was trying to find it. His nostrils flared and he inhaled deeply, bringing more air in as he processed the scent. It only took him seconds to pinpoint the location of the gray ground squirrel perched on a large stone near the sidewalk ahead of us. As Riker stared and sniffed, the squirrel froze for a few seconds, hoping to avoid detection, then dashed off the stone and into a burrow underneath. Riker, on a leash, couldn’t run after the squirrel, but he sure wanted to!

I enjoy watching Riker on our walks. He sees and smells a much different world than I do. At the harbor, I see the boats on the water and the seagulls flying overhead, and I smell the sea air. But watching Riker’s reactions enables me to see so much more.

What Does a Dog’s Vision Look Like?

Dogs see very differently than we do. Although the ability to see can vary from dog to dog, just as it does with people, most dogs are near-sighted compared to us. Testing dogs’ ability to see is, of course, very difficult but most experts agree that most dogs see well close up but their vision fades about a quarter mile away. So a squirrel 12 feet away is very clear, but a seagull flying out over the ocean is probably not at all visible.

Dogs’ vision is also designed to detect movement much more than ours is. We can see and recognize a squirrel sitting still on a rock, but most dogs recognize the squirrel once it dashes away. That’s why most prey animals will freeze (hold still in place), once they have been spotted.

Can Dogs See in Color?

So while dogs are highly equipped to see moving prey, how good are they at seeing colors?  As it turns out dogs do not see color as well as we do.  A dog’s ability to see color has been likened to a human who has red-green color blindness – which means that they are unable to distinguish between the colors red and green.

For dogs, it isn’t so important to see the world in color, as it is to detect movement and see in the dark.

Can Dogs See in the Dark?

Yes dogs can see in the dark, well better than a human can anyway.  It is thought that dogs can see in light that is up to five times dimmer than what a human can.  Couple this with the ability to detect movement, makes dogs efficient nocturnal hunters.

Dogs eyes are well equipped to see in the dark as they have large pupils to let in more light, and more light-sensitive cells in their eyes.

It’s a Dog’s Perspective

Dogs also see the world from a different perspective. Lie down on the ground and position yourself so that your eyes are at the same level as your dog’s eyes. Now look around. What do you see? Changes in the ground, mounds and gullies, seem both deeper and taller. Street curbs even seem different. Riker’s eyes are 18 inches off the ground when he’s relaxed, and at that height I stare into bushes instead of down on them. A retaining wall seems much more formidable and a park bench looks like a barricade rather than someplace to relax. It’s a different world.

The next time you go for a walk with your dog, instead of watching the world around you, pay close attention to your dog. What is he sniffing? Obviously, he will sniff the ground and poke around in the long grass and sometimes you won’t want to know what he’s smelling. But pay attention when his head goes up and he’s sifting the air currents. Where is the breeze coming from? Then watch him as he tries to sort it out. When he spots something, see if you can spot it, too. Sharing your dog’s perceptions of the world will enable you to see both your dog and the world around you in a whole new way.


Article written by Author: Amanda Harrison, Liz Palika, and The Dog Daily Expert

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