Lhasa Apso walking along

Do dogs have intelligent or selective hearing?

It’s well known that dogs have excellent hearing abilities but why do some breeds seem to be better at it than others? First of all, what do we mean by ‘intelligent hearing’? Imagine you are travelling home on a crowded train. The carriage you are seated in is full and other passengers are in conversation with each other. Outside you can hear the noise of the train as is it speeds along the tracks. In other words, there is a good deal of distraction around you. Yet you are able to read the paper or immerse yourself in a book with little disruption.

This sums up intelligent hearing or selective hearing which is another way of saying the same thing. Our brain allows us to focus on what is important and just lets the rest go. Another way to describe this activity is bottlenecking. Your brain cannot process everything at the same time and so what you hear goes into a bottleneck with only the important bits getting through. Of course some of us are better at this than others, but we can all do it when required.

Superiority of hearing

Dogs have superior hearing when compared with humans. They can detect a much wider range of frequencies than we can. This means dogs are capable of hearing more than a human can, especially higher frequency sounds. You may have also noticed the ears twitching upwards when you speak directly to your dog. This narrows the focus towards the direction that the sound came from. It’s a very special skill and one that dogs have developed throughout their evolution.

Lhasa Apso the watchdog

In this instance, we are focusing on the Lhasa Apso because they are renowned for being effective watchdogs. However, the same applies to many other watch dogs or long eared dogs. Lhasa Apsos originated in Tibet and have an acute sense of hearing and a loud, high pitched bark. The Lhasa Apso is well known for being a breed with excellent hearing. This made them ideal sentinel dogs used by Tibetan monks to warn of any approaching threat to monasteries.

Although this is historically significant for the breed, this has resulted in these dogs being naturally suspicious of strangers. When confronted by something unfamiliar, they use their high pitched and piercing bark as an early warning. Our own experience of owning Lhasa dogs tells a similar story. They take their watchdog duty extremely seriously and they will always alert us to situations that deviate from the norm.

Filtering the noise

What makes a dog breed have a more intelligent sense of hearing than another, depends largely on how they interpret sounds around them. All dogs have advanced hearing. What makes a watchdog’s hearing so different? It’s all to do with sensitivity. Watchdogs in particular are able to very quickly distinguish, and essentially filter the sounds around them. This means that only the most unusual or threatening noises will trigger a response.

In other words, we would call this ‘intelligent hearing’. I have noticed that some noises, however loud, can pass unnoticed by our little dog whilst other, more unfamiliar noises cannot. Other dogs will simply bark at every other noise indiscriminately.

Benefits of having a watchdog

When a Lhasa Apso, or other watchdog, is using their high pitched bark, it’s because they mean business! For this, it can be very reassuring having a watchdog in the house as they will almost certainly hear an intruder before you ever could. They also tend to be very independent dogs who consider it their duty to be loyal to you come what may. They’ll always be using their excellent intelligent hearing to keep you as safe as possible (in their eyes at least!), and that’s definitely one of the reasons why we would choose a Lhasa Apso!

Eric Armstrong

Eric is an author, content writer and dog owner from the UK.

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