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The Ears Have It: How Different Sounds Affect our Dogs

It's adorable when pets perk up their ears. Whether floppy like a Field Spaniel's or pointy like a Pomeranian's, canine ears move independently, with over 18 muscles to raise, tilt and rotate. Not only can dogs pick up sounds too subtle for humans, they feel and react to a lot more than you might think. Sound sensitivity can be a pooch's superpower, but it's also a vulnerability.

Nature or Nurture?

Breed, gender, age and experience are all factors in how dogs process sound. A bleating herd alerts a Sheepdog that it's time to work, but thunder may send him into a panic. In general, females tend to be more fearful of loud noises than males, and dogs who've been traumatized or not socialized early enough can be even more sensitive. The German Shepherd and Labrador Retriever are among the most sound-sensitive breeds.

Watch your language

Studies show that dogs are capable of understanding hundreds of words and phrases, combined with tone of voice. If what you say doesn't match how you say it—for instance, if you're laughing while trying to reprimand—your dog will be confused.

Music for mutts

Does your dog share your taste in music? Heavy metal has been shown to make dogs anxious or even aggressive. Whereas shelters and veterinary hospitals have learned that playing classical music relaxes, soothes and speeds dogs' healing. Primal instincts may cause a dog to howl at voices or instruments that remind him of other dogs howling. And some show us their preferences by lying down right beside the piano, speakers or other source of the song.

If your pup is freaking out over routine and unavoidable sounds (like passing cars or the washing machine), check with your veterinarian for possible health issues. For mild anxieties, like separation or thunder, try popping in a CD of music your dog has responded to favorably or live-stream Dog TV!