As well as differences in their senses of smell and vision, dogs have very different powers of hearing and taste to humans. Their small height, relative to us, also gives them a very different outlook on the world.
The sense of hearing is much better developed in dogs than in humans, and they can hear noises at a much greater distance from the source than we can. Sounds that we can only just hear can be detected by dogs from four times as far away. In addition, they can hear higher frequencies of sound, such as the ultrasonic squeaks made by small prey animals. The frequency range of a dog’s hearing is 40-60,000 Hz, whereas we can only hear sounds in the range of 20-20,000 Hz. This is why dogs respond to supposedly “silent” dog whistles, which are only silent to us because they are beyond the frequency range of our hearing. It was advantageous for dogs that were bred to herd livestock to be able to hear well, so that they could respond to instructions shouted or whistled from some distance away.
Sound of silence
A “silent” dog whistle sounds like any other whistle to a dog, but we do not hear it because our ears cannot detect noise at such a high frequency.
For this reason, many of the modern descendants of these dogs have extremely sensitive hearing, and it is not uncommon for herding dogs to develop noise phobias when exposed to loud noises, such as fireworks.
Humans have nearly 9,000 taste buds in the mouth, whereas dogs have less than 2,000, so their sense of taste is less sophisticated than ours. Scent is more important than taste to dogs. The taste buds of these carnivores are designed to favor meat and fat, rather than the sweet and salty foods that humans prefer.
A dog’s perspective
Being smaller than us, dogs see the world from a different perspective. To find out how life in our homes appears to them, get down on your hands and knees and you will see that it seems a very different place. This is equally true when we take them out in busy towns and cities.
In a land of giants
For puppies and small dogs, humans are as tall as a double-decker bus. Sometimes this “land of giants” will seem an intimidating place to them.
To dogs, cars seem huge and lorries are like roaring monsters, emitting exhaust gases at nose-height. We often overlook dogs as we hurry through crowded streets, but it is easy to imagine how hard it must be for them to weave their way through a forest of moving legs. For puppies and small dogs, humans must seem like giants. Hands coming down from above may seem threatening to a small dog, especially if he is not sure of our intentions.
Not paws but jaws
Dogs lack delicate fingers and opposable thumbs. Because they need to stand on their paws, manipulating objects has to be done with the mouth. This helps to explain why puppies pick things up with their mouths during exploration, and bite and chew to find out about their world. Unlike human jaws, dog jaws can only move up and down, and they lack the ability to move from side to side.
Always bear in mind how a dog sees you. From a dog’s perspective, a huge hand coming down to give a pat on the head can seem very scary.
Some of the unusual abilities of dogs cause people to wonder if they have a “sixth” sense. For example, there are many recorded incidences of dogs finding their way home over thousands of miles. Dogs have also been known to locate their owners even though they have moved to a place the dog has never visited. Even more surprising is the ability of some dogs to predict when their owners are coming home: they will go and wait by the door from the moment the owner sets off for home. It may be that dogs have sensory abilities of which we are not yet aware.