Dogs hear in a range of about four times better than people. Depending on the shape of the ear it can vary. Erect ears transmit sound better than floppy ears. Gun dogs can have their hearing damaged by shotgun blasts and the bells and beeps used on training collars. Damage to hearing can affect your dog’s performance, so it is important to learn about your dog’s hearing.
The ear has three different areas that can pick up sound. The outer ear called the Pinnae acts like a satellite dish to focus sound waves to the middle and inner ear. Here they are translated from waves into nerve impulses that are sent to the brain. These waves have different characteristics that determine how they affect the mechanical and neurological structures that cause perception of sound. The frequency of a sound determines its pitch. Frequencies for a dog can range from zero up to 50,000 Hz. A dog hears best in their middle zone which is around 8,000 Hz. Humans hear best around 2,000 Hz. Honks, Quacks, and whistles are higher pitched and easier for your dog to hear. At upper extremes more volume is necessary to be heard.
We know that chronic exposure to high-volume noises can damage the inner ear. Whether you perceive sound as “loud” is due to its intensity or decibel (db). Volume rises as a result of increased intensity of the sound. Too much intensity can damage the ear. Firearm discharge decibels are way above the limit that can cause instantaneous and permanent damage to the ear.
The ear has a protective mechanism called the acoustic reflex that occurs within 50 milliseconds following the onset of a loud sound. Gun blasts rise much faster that the acoustic reflex can operate.
An unpublished study was done to see the danger posed by shotgun blasts with Labrador Retrievers. They tested dogs used for duck hunting versus dogs never hunted. The results showed that the hearing of the hunting Labradors was significantly diminished compared to non-hunting Labradors. The reduction was so great that sounds with three times the volume were necessary for the hunting dogs to hear. These dogs could not hear the whisper of a human voice.
Sound diminishes in volume and intensity as it moves away from the source. Therefore, shotgun blasts may not be as damaging for pointing dogs or other gundogs that stand a distance from the gunner.
Hearing loss in older dogs (12-15 years) is common. Simply due to the effects of age. The physical structures in the inner ear do degrade over time. Also, chronic exposure to some drugs used to treat external ear infections can damage hearing if used long-term. They also cause damage if the medications enter the middle or inner ear through a damaged eardrum. When ear medication is used inappropriately, these drugs may cause low-grade hearing problems or complete deafness. Be diligent in caring for your dog’s ears. It is best to always check with your veterinarian before putting anything in your dog’s ears.
At present there is not a good hearing protection for your hunting dog. It is just an occupational hazard. Be aware that when your gun dog does not seem to follow your verbal commands it could be that they have hearing damage.
If you have questions about your pet’s ears or hearing please contact Dr. Norette L. Underwood of Trumann Animal Clinic at email@example.com.