Dog Whistle Secrets. The Frequency Dogs Can’t Resist

Introduction

Dog whistles are tools used to get a dog’s attention and to train them. They emit sounds at frequencies higher than humans can hear but well within the auditory range of dogs. Dog whistles work because different frequencies stimulate different responses in dogs based on their sensitive hearing capabilities. Certain frequencies have been found to be more effective at capturing a dog’s attention. This has to do with the range of hearing sensitivity in dogs as well as conditioning to certain whistle pitches. Understanding which frequencies have the strongest impact can help dog owners and trainers use whistles properly and effectively.

How Dog Hearing Works

Dogs have an impressive hearing range compared to humans. While the average human can hear sounds between 64-23,000 Hz, dogs can detect sounds between 67-45,000 Hz [1]. This means dogs can hear higher frequency sounds that humans are unable to detect.

A key reason for dogs’ expanded hearing range is due to their large movable outer ears (pinnae) and the shape of their ear canals. The pinnae help funnel high frequency sounds into the ear canal. In addition, dogs have more ear muscles than humans, allowing them to tilt, turn, raise, or lower their pinnae to better detect the source of a sound [2].

a dog with perked up ears

While humans hear best at around 3,000-4,000 Hz, a dog’s hearing is most sensitive between 8,000-9,000 Hz. This allows them to hear minute, high-pitched sounds that humans can’t detect. Interestingly, a dog’s hearing range also declines with age, similar to humans. However, even senior dogs retain the ability to hear sounds between 40-60,000 Hz [3].

Most Sensitive Frequencies

Research indicates that dogs can hear frequencies between approximately 40 Hz to 60,000 Hz, with peak sensitivity between 8,000 and 20,000 Hz (1). This range is vastly greater than human hearing, which is typically between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz. Specifically, dogs are most sensitive to sounds between 3,000 to 12,000 Hz in frequency (2).

Within their wider hearing range, studies have shown that dogs are particularly sensitive to frequencies around 4,000 to 8,000 Hz. For example, tests measuring the minimum audible sound pressure level show that at 4,000 Hz, dogs only need -8 to -2 dB SPL to detect a tone. This is over 20 dB lower than humans require at the same frequency (1).

Very high frequency sounds from 18,000 Hz to 20,000 Hz are also audible to dogs, though they require a higher intensity of around 60 dB SPL. Still, this allows dogs to hear faint noises like buzzing insects or jangling keys that humans can’t detect (1).

In summary, the peak hearing sensitivity for dogs tends to fall within the higher end of human hearing and extends upwards from there. Key sensitive frequencies are 4,000 to 8,000 Hz, where dogs can pick up exceptionally faint noises. So when producing sounds meant for dogs, targeting this range is likely to get their attention.

(1) https://www.lsu.edu/deafness/HearingRange.html

(2) https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/lifestyle/sounds-only-dogs-can-hear/

Common Dog Whistle Frequencies

According to sources, the most common frequencies used in commercially produced dog whistles are:

  • 21000Hz – 35000Hz – These adjustable whistles allow you to fine-tune the frequency for effectiveness, according to Understanding Dog Whistle Sound.
  • 6200Hz – Ideal for acute hearing up to 90m under perfect conditions, according to Choosing The Right Dog Whistle.
  • 23000Hz – A common frequency for an average adult dog’s peak hearing sensitivity.
  • 20000Hz – The most common frequency used for dog bark deterrents.
  • 25000Hz-28000Hz – Common frequencies for dog training whistles.

This focuses on listing the most common commercial dog whistle frequencies based on the provided sources. Let me know if you would like me to modify or expand this section further.

Testing Whistle Frequency Effectiveness

Studies have tested how different whistle frequencies affect dogs. Research conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that dogs are most sensitive to sounds between 23 and 54 kHz, with their peak sensitivity at 48 kHz (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/canine-corner/201511/are-silent-dog-whistles-useful). The traditional dog whistle produces sounds in this ultrasonic range that humans cannot hear but dogs can.

a dog responding to a whistle

A 2014 study published in Animal Cognition tested dogs’ responses to both audible and ultrasonic whistles (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/canine-corner/201511/are-silent-dog-whistles-useful). They found that the dogs reacted similarly to both types of whistles, suggesting that ultrasonic frequencies are not necessarily more effective at getting a dog’s attention than audible frequencies. The intensity and tone of the whistle had more impact on the dog’s response.

Additional studies have tested how breed differences affect hearing sensitivity. One study found that some breeds like terriers were able to hear higher frequencies above 40 kHz compared to other breeds. However, the average hearing range for most dogs is still concentrated in the ultrasonic 23 to 54 kHz range, regardless of breed (https://www.hillspet.com/dog-care/training/everything-about-dog-whistles).

Breed Differences

Certain dog breeds are known to have superior hearing compared to others. According to research, breeds with erect, large ears like the German Shepherd, Cocker Spaniel, and Miniature Pinscher tend to have better hearing overall. This is because their ear shape helps funnel sound into their ear canals. On the other hand, breeds with floppy ears like Labrador Retrievers may be slightly less sensitive to certain high frequency sounds.

In terms of frequency sensitivity, research shows that larger dogs like German Shepherds can detect sounds up to 45kHz, while smaller dogs like Chihuahuas can hear up to 60kHz. This means smaller breeds may be more sensitive to very high-pitched dog whistles. However, the majority of dogs should be able to hear standard dog whistle frequencies between 23-54kHz, regardless of breed.

Proper Use

When using a dog whistle for training, it’s important to follow some basic guidelines for effectiveness and humane treatment:

Start with verbal commands first before using the whistle. The whistle should be used as a secondary reinforcer after a behavior is learned through primary reinforcers like treats or praise. As the New York Times notes, “Old dogs can learn new tricks” so have patience and use the whistle sparingly.

Get the dog’s attention before blowing the whistle. Make eye contact and say their name first. Then give a short, crisp blow on the whistle. The whistle should be used as a “marker” for the precise moment the dog performs the desired behavior.

a person training a dog with a whistle

Reward with treats immediately after the whistle. This connects the whistle sound to positive reinforcement. Wean off treats over time by giving intermittent rewards.

Keep training sessions short, about 5-10 minutes. End on a positive note with lots of praise. Dogs have short attention spans so frequent, short sessions work best.

Be consistent with the whistle cue. Use the same number of blows and intensity each time for the same command. Consistency helps reinforce the meaning.

Avoid excessive use. Blowing the whistle too often dilutes its effectiveness. Use other training aids like hand signals or clicks as well.

Stay calm and patient. Don’t use the whistle in anger or frustration. The whistle should always signal something positive for the dog.

When to Avoid Use

While dog whistles can be an effective training tool when used properly, it’s important to exercise caution against overuse and misuse that could potentially harm dogs’ sensitive hearing (Hill’s Pet Nutrition, 2021). Dog whistles emit tones at high frequencies that are barely audible to humans but fall within dogs’ range of hearing. When blown forcefully at close range or for extended periods, the shrill noise can be painful and cause temporary or permanent hearing loss.

According to veterinary experts, dog whistles should never be used to intentionally startle, scare or punish dogs. The whistles should also be avoided around very young puppies or dogs with known hearing impairments. Additionally, pet owners should closely follow manufacturers’ instructions for proper use and duration. Misuse or overuse of whistles could lead dogs to become fearful or anxious. Instead, whistles should only be used as part of positive reinforcement training and paired with treats and praise (Hill’s Pet Nutrition, 2021).

In summary, while dog whistles can be effective training tools, they must be used judiciously and properly to avoid causing discomfort, pain or hearing damage. Pet owners should educate themselves on proper whistle techniques and frequencies, closely monitor their dog’s reactions, and avoid overblowing or misusing whistles in any way that could harm their dog’s hearing health and wellbeing.

Examples and Case Studies

There are many examples of dog owners successfully using whistles in the range of 15,000-22,000 Hz for effective training. On Reddit, one user shared their experience using a 16,800 Hz whistle for recall training their Labrador puppy (https://www.reddit.com/r/Dogtraining/comments/watdvm/whistle_training_for_emergency_recall). They started using the whistle for positive reinforcement by rewarding their puppy with treats every time they blew the whistle. After consistency, their puppy learned to immediately return to them when hearing the whistle, even from far distances.

Another case study comes from a professional dog trainer who recommends the Acme 210.5 whistle, which operates at 21,500 Hz (https://www.grafhamwatercanineadventures.co.uk/puppy-training-and-socialisation/why-i-recommend-a-whistle-for-puppy-recall-training). They’ve found this frequency to work very well for recall training across dozens of puppy clients. The high frequency allows the whistle to be clearly audible to dogs over long distances, cutting through ambient noise. Yet it’s nearly inaudible to humans, avoiding inadvertently triggering dogs nearby. Through proper positive reinforcement training, the whistle becomes a powerful and precise tool for obedience.

Overall, frequencies from 15,000-22,000 Hz have proven very effective for dog training whistles. When paired with proper training techniques, these frequencies allow dogs to hear a clear signal without disturbing nearby humans. This makes them a popular choice among professional dog trainers and engaged owners looking to reinforce behaviors.

a dog running towards its owner

Conclusion

In conclusion, the most effective dog whistle frequency depends on your specific needs and the breeds you are working with.

For most dogs, a whistle in the 23-54 kHz range will work well, with some evidence showing 25 kHz may be ideal for capturing attention. However, extremely high-frequency whistles above 50 kHz are likely beyond what most dogs can hear.

Testing different whistles yourself and observing your dog’s response is the best way to determine effectiveness. Start with a standard 25 kHz whistle, then experiment with variable-frequency whistles to fine-tune the pitch.

Smaller breeds like terriers can hear higher pitches than larger dogs like bloodhounds. But all dogs require proper training and acclimation to understand what the whistle signals mean.

Used humanely and correctly, the optimal dog whistle frequency can reinforce desired behaviors from a distance. But harsh overuse should be avoided.

Knowing the hearing range of your unique dog and finding the right pitch allows you to include whistles safely and positively in any training program.

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