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Dog Hearing and Sense of Smell

Updated on June 11, 2012

The Sense and Scents of The Dog

Dogs seem to have good sense when it comes to using the scents they possess. Let us consider the dogs nose to begin with. If we could take the inner surface (the cells) of a dogs nose, unfurl it making the measurable area flat, these scent cells would be as long and as wide as the entire exterior of the dog they reside upon. They perceive the world so differently than do we humans, using these scent cells to tell them most everything they need to know the instant the dog meets another dog. Wouldn't this be a great attribute for humans to have, although it may create for some very uncomfortable social greetings.

Dog Nose Lore

...if you're looking for folklore regarding the subject, I offer this;

While humans use a pen or keyboard to share their biography, dogs use urine to write theirs. By leaving a memoir of themselves on a tree trunk, they are explaining many things about who they are. The dog's urine will have a different smell and can tell another dog the ins-and-outs of the authors health, age; whether it is a boy or a girl, or a girl in heat; and to some degree the emotional state of the dog who left the message. My advice is to never underestimate the information that your dog may be acquiring while walking along a popular dog path and sniffing in the current events, news, gossip, and possibly the great dog literature of our time.

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This great sense of smell may be due to the constant, and health indicating, renowned wet snout a dog follows around. Is this really why they have such wet noses? Actually, scientists have quite a few answers as to why the dog has such a spongy wet nose. One more well known reason is that the moisture evaporation helps to keep the sweat-gland-less k9 cooler. Some speculate that the wetness does in fact assist in gathering scent information off of the surrounding air. But, if you're looking for folklore regarding the subject, I offer this;

...our dogs cold wet nose is a reminder, a badge of honor if you will...

When God flooded the earth and all of the life on the planet had to be rounded up and kept safe aboard Noah's ark, the dog became the sentry (scent-ry?) on board. Making patrolled rounds on the big boat keeping the other animals safe and calm. While conducting these rounds, the two dogs came upon a coin-sized hole, which was leaking profusely. One of the dogs ran for assistance, while the other stayed behind stuffing its nose into the hole, stopping the leak. When Noah finally got his sons on scene to make the repairs (he was an old guy after all) the brave dog was sputtering, gasping, and in a great amount of pain! But, the dogs' quick and sacrificing actions had averted a major disaster. According to the tale, our dogs cold wet nose is a reminder, a badge of honor if you will; delivered upon them by God to commemorate the heroic actions of our k9 companions that day.

...Think size doesn't matter?

Scientists Conduct Hearing's on Dogs Hearing

Compared to human hearing, dogs hear far differently, and not just because they are more sensitive to sounds. The tones a k9 can hear can exceed 45,000 cycles per second (cps), whereas our human ears can only reach to about 20,000 cps. So the 'dog whistle' who many suspect makes no noise at all, is actually manufactured to chime-in at approximately 25,000 cps, making it a silent song for our human ears.

...they have a fondness for noise...

Think size doesn't matter? Well in dog ears it surely does. Smaller dogs can hear much higher tones than larger dogs. The tiny construction of their inner ear causes a resonance within the ear that amplifies these high tones. On the flip-side, big square headed dogs—think Mastiff and St. Bernards— can actually capture sub-sonic tones with their bulky skulls and inner ear design, that humans could never imagine. This is partly why Saint Bernard's are quite good at avalanche rescue. With this sub-sonic hearing they can acquire muffle noises of trapped humans under the deep packed snow. It is estimated that this ability allows them to detect the creaking and low sounds made by a hillside of snow as it starts to move over the ice or rock, giving early warnings of an avalanch to unaware humans.

When it comes to hearing high and low tones, our canine counter parts hear music far differently as well. Dogs, in truth, may not like music at all. They percieve it as noise and as they have a fondness for noise more than that for what we refer to as music, dogs may like the noises we make with our odd contraptions. Should they hire a musician to compose a piece, I am certain it would be like that which Wagner composed—only much louder.

"Is a tasteful color of green dangerous or unhealthy for dogs?"

Frequency Range for Dog Hearing Compared to Other Animals

A Look at the Dog Eye

The fact that the canine has a better sense of smell and a keener range of hearing than we do, should not get you down. We have a sense that wins gold far and above dogs; our vision is considerably better than that of the pooch. That's right, we can see an array of colors and shades that a dog cannot begin to imagine.

Incorrect for many years, scientists were certain that dogs could only see the world around them in shades of gray. More recently and with much truer accuracy, scientists' research shows that they in fact do have some vision within the color spectrum. This was uncovered by putting the dogs through training to determine the differences between colored lights. Reds and greens emitted by the lights were found to be unknown to the dogs. Which means that k9's probably see the world in shades of yellow and blue.

The judge had some idea of the theory that dogs were color blind...

The tests would indicate that our k9 pets don't put as much value on colors as humans do. A perfect example of this would be a dog who is allowed to lay on a tattered old couch in a spare room. He has curled up on this comfortable piece of furniture with no concern from his humans for many years. Suddenly, he is exiled from hopping up and resting his shaggy body on our newly reupholstered (in a fine, delicate tasteful green colored material) sofa. Our dog is very confused by this sudden change wondering, "Is a tasteful color of green dangerous or unhealthy for dogs?"

The experiment the scientist's conducted with lights brings to mind a story I read about some time ago. The story is about a blind man named Bill Bowen and his seeing eye dog, Bud. Bowen was diagnosed as being legally blind, he only had a fine reminder of vision remaining at the peripherals of his eyes. This is why he required Bud to guide him through his travels each day.

In 1984, Bowen got arrested for drunk driving; as he was in the front seat of a car that had recently been seen weaving and erratically changing lanes down the road. When he was in court for this crime, he stated he was only a passenger in the car—Bud was actually the driver. The judge had some idea of the theory that dogs were color blind, "Witnesses say that the car did stop at the red lights and resume when the lights turned green. How could Bud do this since it is well known that dogs are in fact color blind?" Bowen, who was unaffected by the question said, "Bud has learned to determine that when the light at the top is lit, he needs to stop. And when the light at the bottom is lit, he can go."

Just before the case was about to move on to the next stage, Bowen broke down confessing that he indeed was the driver of the dangerous car, and that he had lied about it. He admitted that he had indeed been drinking and driving the vehicle, and suddenly felt ashamed for trying to frame his loyal sight dog Bud. "Okay. But I still don't understand." stated the judge. "If you are blind, how did you read the stop lights?" "Well," Brown spoke, "You see that really was Bud. He was in the passenger seat, and he would bark once to tell me if the light was red and twice if the light was green."


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Comments for "Dogs, How Dogs Hear and Smell"

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  • profile image


    8 years ago


  • K9keystrokes profile imageAUTHOR

    India Arnold 

    9 years ago from Northern, California

    PegCole~ Thank you for the read today! Glad you enjoyed learning about how our dogs hear and smell the world around them. I appreciate your support!



  • PegCole17 profile image

    Peg Cole 

    9 years ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

    I'm back to reread this informative and enjoyable hub. Loved your analogy to checking email on walks with your dog. It explains all the scouting; they love to smell all new things I bring into the house as well.

  • K9keystrokes profile imageAUTHOR

    India Arnold 

    10 years ago from Northern, California

    Juliette Morgan~ "pee mail"--hilarious! Thanks for the nice comments and I am so glad you like my little dog article!


  • Juliette Morgan profile image

    Juliette Morgan 

    10 years ago

    Wow first class article!! I never underestimate my dog's perception of the pee mail he sniffs out!! Thanks for sharing.

  • K9keystrokes profile imageAUTHOR

    India Arnold 

    10 years ago from Northern, California

    toknowinfo~Thanks for the comments! I will get over to your hub soon to read your dogology series. I appreciate the read.

  • toknowinfo profile image


    10 years ago

    Dogs are amazing! Their superior sense of smell and hearing is only part of their sense and sensitivity towards people. My pug can see well enough that he watches tv with us and barks whenever he sees an animal, even if it is a cartoon. If only we could reason with him that they won't come out if the tv. I hope you will check out my hubs, as I wrote a lot of hubs on dogs and their intelligence. Look for my "DOGOLOGY" series. Looking forward to you stopping by and commenting on what you think.

  • humagaia profile image

    Charles Fox 

    10 years ago from United Kingdom

    The one thing I do know is that dogs use their nasal sense to make sense of the world around them. And that goes for understanding the temperament of each human they encounter. The expression 'they sense fear' is very true. They also sense aggression, and love, and kindness and most important who is the bringer of food.

    A dog must be in an environment where there is an alpha male and a queen - these should definitely be human if you are going to be able to control the dog.

    If it comes to you sniffing then it is trying to fathom out who is top dog. Make sure it is you.

  • K9keystrokes profile imageAUTHOR

    India Arnold 

    10 years ago from Northern, California

    SteveoMc~Thank you for your comments, Dean Koontz is certainly the Master at creating a human-like persona for dogs. It would seem that because they have such a grand sense of smell that cow dung would be avoided. It is however theorized that they roll in such bad smells because they themselves can sense aroma so well. They do this rolling to hide their own scent, as a disguise~if you will. One not very welcome at a costume party to be sure! I appreciate your comments.


  • SteveoMc profile image


    10 years ago from Pacific NorthWest

    Wow, great information. I love Dean Koontz because he has great dogs in his books. He sometimes gives them thoughts and voices, it is intriguing to say the least. What always amazes me is the fact that they like the rottenest smells, if they can smell so good, how come they can't figure out that cow dung smells so bad?

  • K9keystrokes profile imageAUTHOR

    India Arnold 

    10 years ago from Northern, California

    PegCole~So glad you stopped by! Thank you for the nice comments on the hub. Nice to have built-in alarm clocks! The playing they do as dinner gets delayed is an internal instinct to 'hunt' before earning their food. A dog will always eat better and find more emotional pleasure with meals if he has a good romp or walk prior to endulging. Makes him revert back to a wolfing memory of the hunt before one can eat. I am so grateful for the read and the comments! Thank you.


    chardee42~You are correct in your remarks. How sophisticated the canine snout is, more so then we humans can gather. I enjoyed the 'stew' story very much. Thank you for sharing and for the comments!


  • chardee42 profile image


    10 years ago from Orlando, FL

    I remember watching a TV show about dogs not long ago. They said while a human might walk in to a house and smell a "stew" cooking on a stove, a dog can smell the individual ingredients of the stew.

  • PegCole17 profile image

    Peg Cole 

    10 years ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

    This one had me captivated from the first doggy photo to the well written and informative article. Very entertaining and enlightening.

    Our dogs can tell time. We call them our wake up dogs, they get us up every morning at 6am, even on weekends :( They also know what time their dinner is and tell me when to get busy fixing it. If I don't, their play gets so loud I can't hear the news. Thank goodness for TiVo.

  • K9keystrokes profile imageAUTHOR

    India Arnold 

    10 years ago from Northern, California

    LeanMan~You are correct, our canine friends offer far more than the senses we know. What a sweet image you offer of your dogs anticipating your arrival, they are a beautiful being! I appreciate your comments greatly.


    sunforged ~How fortunate you are to have such well read companions! It would stand to make good sense, all things considered. I am loving this 60dc2 event! I am honored that you find time to read my hubs. Thank you for stopping by.


    equealla~Thank you for making the leap on over to the K9keystrokes page! Always pleased to see you have come by. Thank you for stating your amuzement at the newspaper concept, thought it only appropriate , what with being a hub on dogs and all! ;') I am so glad you are finding increased general knowledge on the topic of dogs. Thank you for your comments.


  • K9keystrokes profile imageAUTHOR

    India Arnold 

    10 years ago from Northern, California

    Dobson~How awful, the end your loyal dog met. But what a true friend and amazing sences, waiting for his people-pack to come home! You place in my head a kind of Rockwellian image of your school day bus ride. Thank you for the comment!


  • equealla profile image


    10 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

    The idea of a dog newspaper written on the pavement was really amusing. You have a lot of information dotted above, to help us understand our dogs better. Very interesting points, and have definitely increased my general knowledge.

  • sunforged profile image


    10 years ago from

    If sniffing down the doggy trail is the equivalent of reading the great doggie literature and news of our time, then my dogs are librarians.

    Love the imagery,I learned something here.

  • LeanMan profile image


    10 years ago from At the Gemba

    It never used to matter how quietly I approached my home, my dogs were always at the gate waiting for me, having sat there minutes before I arrived. They most certainly have more than just their senses of smell, sight and hearing to rely on.

  • Dobson profile image


    10 years ago from Virginia

    I had a dog when I was a child that would watch us get on the school bus in the morning and come to meet us in the afternoon. He dsiplayed impeccable sense , but unfortunately fell victim to the dog vs car phenomenon.

  • K9keystrokes profile imageAUTHOR

    India Arnold 

    10 years ago from Northern, California

    Jane@CM~LOL! How funny. I could drop a piece of steak in the garage and my dog would smell it before it hit the grease! Thank you for the comments, I am always grateful that take the time to read my work.


    ~Always choose love~

  • Jane@CM profile image


    10 years ago

    You have so much information on dogs! Yes, they are perceptive. Ours use to hear the bus coming home before I did! Her sense of smell is horrible - you could drop a small piece of steak & you'd have to tell her where it is LOL



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