The Sound of music

Remember the musical blockbuster, the famous movie of 1965 - The Sound of Music? It was such a musical entertainer that even today the notes reverberate in the memory after 45 years!
Alas, what is music for us is cacophony to dogs. Yes it is true. Reason is simple-dog’s hearing power is much more than ours. In the evolutionary chain we occupy the highest place, therefore all our senses are balanced. We see perfect as per our needs, we hear sounds which we need to hear, we may not be able to hear the ultrasounds, similarly we have enough smelling power to detect smoke and also get worried if our dog is emitting a foul smell!
A dog on the other hand sees sort of blurred pictures in shades of grey, smells a bitch in season from a distance of one kilometer and he can hear even the ultrasounds. Yet he has to combine all the three senses to make out what is what.
Ever noticed your sleeping dog! His ears are always twitching as he snores. Often his legs also move, proving that he is dreaming, may be chasing a beautiful bitch or may be running away from a hefty brute! Then suddenly he gets up and walks up to the wall and attacks the cockroach walking up the wall. Who told him that there was a cockroach there, walking? No one, he just heard the footsteps of cockroach and straightaway attacked it. Similarly have you ever realized who tells him that you are on your way home from office? You message your wife that you are on way; your pooch on the other hand does not know how to read the SMS. But he has a god’s gift which none of us have- his extraordinary hearing power. Amongst the thousands of cars honking on the road he is able to make out the horn of your car. And even if you do not blow the horn, dog identify the whine of the engine of supposedly silent, latest model car. Some people might argue that he goes to receive the master because he is tuned to do so at that time. But when the master is away on tour he does not wait for him, why so- because his car is not on the road.
So refined is the hearing power of a dog that he can make out your moods. The moment you advance towards him to punish him for his misdeed on the carpet, even as a puppy he knows from your footfall that there is something wrong and slinks under the sofa. And you on the other hand proudly say, ‘see he knows that he has done something wrong, that is why he is hiding’.
After smell, hearing is their most powerful asset. If you look in to the pictures of the structures of dog’s ears you will notice that there is lot of similarity, internally between his ears and human ears. But there is a big difference. Dogs can move their ears in all directions that too both ears in different directions as well to locate the precise direction and distance of the source of sound.
The middle ear of dogs is longer and curves at right angles towards internal ear. It is this point of curvature which often harbors yeast, mites and bacteria. They cause lots of pain and discomfort for the poor dog. Dogs with drooping ears face more such problems. Thus ears need to be cleaned regularly. Will tell you how in some other blog. 
Basic physics says that sound waves travel through atmosphere like ripples in a lake. Thus sound is measured in vibrations or cycles per second in terms of cps or hertz. We can hear sounds between 20 and 20,000 hertz with an optimum range between 1000 and 4000 hertz. Dogs on the other hand hear in a high frequency range of 35000 to even 100000 hertz. Technicalities apart the sensitive ears of dogs are always virtually flooded with sound. Long back my father was advised a hearing aid. One day I used it in my ear and lo I could hear some women sing a folk song somewhere far away. I removed the gadget and I could not even make out if there was a sound. But am sure my dog must have heard even the words of the songs clearly-wish he could understand them!
Whether this superfine hearing power of dogs is a utility for them or a nuisance only a dog can tell, but it has a great significance for us. His training programme is based on the sounds uttered by the human master. Expert trainers use minimum words and give commands in whispers only, yet the dog obeys instantly. While you keep shouting Bozo ‘come’ he continues to ignore you. Because he knows you are calling him to lock him up.
A dog as a member of human society has to make lots of adjustments to live with a family. Poor guy has to pay a heavy price for his meals. For he is supposed to sleep in his place, sit at a designated place, never soil the carpets, eat from his bowl only, don’t bother the guests and what not. The list of ‘No’s’ in a dog’s life is endless. How does he understand all what you teach him? He learns by association of ideas. A particular sound he begins to discern from day one you emit indicates you are happy. Also a harsh rude very loud sound which you often emit means danger for your pooch. He knows the master is unhappy and its time to scoot. So sensitive are his ears that he is able to discern even the minutest change in your tone and tenor. It is you who has to learn a lot from your dog when it comes to developing a communication with him, rather than attempting to teach him with loud monologues.
Talk with your pooch in whispers only, please. While training your dog do not act like the instructor from the army in the NCC class of a school. As you already know his hearing power is thousands of times more than yours, a loud command or a reprimand sounds to him like a loudspeaker blaring at full volume in the neighbor’s house during a religious all night gathering. Therefore why do you want him to shut his ears at your cacophonous commands like you do while tossing in your bed at night, trying to shun the noise of blaring music.
Amongst dogs too the hearing powers vary from breed to breed. Some breeds like Alsatians have a greater hearing power than a apparently dumb Lhasa Apso.
Often you will notice that your dog begins to howl at night without any rhyme or reason. You try to make out the cause but you neither see anything nor hear. Therefore you draw your own conclusions and reprimand the dog for spoiling your sleep. In reality he had heard something which had startled him-it was howl of another dog may be miles away! Howling at night to give each other’s location is common amongst dogs and related group of animals-like jackals. It is something like the ‘SMS’ you get from your near one-‘reaching by morning flight’ and you start preparing to receive him/her.
Domesticated dogs learn soon that howling at night is not required. Still some of them do break the rule, but majority don’t.
The hearing power of dogs is of great utility for the Police. In a dark night while tracking for a culprit, often the direction of muzzle and both ears pointing in the same direction, give clues to the policemen that criminal may be hiding behind the bushes ahead. And if one ear is constantly moving as if trying to locate something more indicates that there may be another criminal lurking around.
Knowing their hearing power well, ultrasonic dog whistles were designed. These slim whistles were initially meant for the soccer referees in Spain, where the risk of an attack by an angry crowd was always there. Referee would blow this whistles and dogs guarding the place would come running to scare away the possible attackers. This whistle is often sued by trainers for making dogs perform various commands which can not be heard by even a person standing next to the trainer.
Since his hearing power is much superior, sound has lots of meaning for a dog. When you bring a new pup, he learns all the routine sounds of your home soon. He begins to identify them with your routine. It is important to socialize your dog and for that it is important to get him accustomed to all possible kinds of sounds, right from the sounds of home to sound of your car while he is in the car, to the sounds of traffic on the road to sounds of the market etc. I will be dealing all these issues in detail in later blogs.
Armed with information on doggy instincts and senses we shall venture inside the mind of a dog in next blog and try to find out what goes in there.

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More By  :  V. K. Joshi (Bijji)

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Comments on this Blog

Comment Mitali, in reality they can't block any sound. What happens is that they get accustomed to certain sounds and just ignore them even at the cost of their convenience. Certain sounds for which they are not used to-startle them. Dogs who show no reaction to dewali crackers/thunder etc are in my opinion even dogs-very fit to be a part of human society. But there are many who start getting cranky even at the far away thunder or go off food during Dewali period and prefer to remain hidden under the bed are nervous types. They can be cured with proper training-which I will be discussing in some future blogs.

12-Jun-2010 00:57 AM

Comment I hav read tht dogs can block certain sounds tht they feel are unpleasant. Is this true? Also, my lab Nick is sound asleep evn while thr is loud music blaring in my colony, or during diwali whn thr are firecrackers bursting evrywhr. But he is startled frm his sleep (maybe scared as he runs under the bed) due to a sneeze, cough or evn whn we clear our throat. Why does this happen?

11-Jun-2010 05:36 AM

Comment Kumud you have asked a million dollar question. You are right in saying that your dog thinks that you are a dog. Because the poor guy can not think beyond that. He thinks you are his leader, because you are the provider, the care giver-hence you are the boss. But you have to realize that what he thinks is because of his limited evolution. As a human you are far more evolved and have much greater mental abilities. Therefore it is wrong to think or compare your dog with humans. Love him like you will love a human being, that is fine, but always keep in mind that he is a dog. Since I will be emphasizing this point several time in my future blogs as well I will not elaborate much here, but I will certainly say that it is advisable to imagine and keep your dog like a dog while loving him like a human being. Sounds confusing at this stage I know. But gradually as we will move in to the thick of dogdom your apprehensions should clear. Thanks for raising a very pertinent issue.

09-Jun-2010 11:27 AM

Comment My dog thinks I am a dog and I think my dog is human like me! How else could we be friends?

kumud biswas
09-Jun-2010 07:24 AM

Comment Yes Ankush-that is why I say why should we think our dog is a human! Let him remain a dog and love him as a dog...

08-Jun-2010 05:24 AM

Comment  well said - "a dog never thinks that we are humans, for him we are part of his clan only."

Ankush Boravke
07-Jun-2010 04:57 AM

Comment Yes Jhumkan one should not shout at them-its irritating to them.

05-Jun-2010 06:06 AM

Comment very interesting.......! Will definitely be more polite (decibel wise !) to dogs now!

04-Jun-2010 12:32 PM

Comment Thanks Ankush. Most of us always equate our dogs with us. We always say 'hes almost human'. But a dog never thinks that we are humans-for him we are part of his clan only. I am just trying to draw a line so that dog lovers understand what is a dog.

04-Jun-2010 12:06 PM

Comment Every word of it is true...its like you have described my dog !!!!!  

Ankush Boravke
04-Jun-2010 11:03 AM

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