Can a Deaf Dog Hear a Dog Whistle?

deaf dog trying to hear a whistle

Dogs who are entirely deaf will not be able to hear a dog whistle. However, most deaf dogs can still hear a specific frequency. Dog whistles come in more than 30 different frequencies. You can download an app to test each frequency to see which one your dog best responds to. 

Dog whistles have always boggled my mind. For something that I can’t hear at all to evoke such a tremendous response out of a dog seemed crazy… that is, until I dug into it a little deeper. 

Dogs hear a much wider range of frequencies than humans. Dog whistles emit a very high-frequency wave that dog ears are attuned to. While this frequency is way out of our range, most dogs are capable of hearing the sound. 

Yes, I said most dogs. Some dogs cannot hear a dog whistle. Dogs who are entirely deaf will not be able to hear a dog whistle. But that doesn’t mean that all deaf dogs can’t hear a dog whistle. In fact, it is common for some dogs who are deaf to be able to hear and respond to a dog whistle. 

The Reason For Deafness Matters

As I mentioned, some deaf dogs can hear dog whistles. A dog whistle’s extremely high-frequency sound waves may be just the tool you’re looking for to train your deaf dog. Then again, it doesn’t work for all deaf dogs. To determine if it’s the right tool for you, there are a few things you should know. 

Age-Related Hearing Degeneration 

Hearing loss is part of the normal aging process. As dogs get older, the cells in the inner ear that produce sound-sensing hairs die off. Your dog may subtly communicate this to you by becoming less responsive to specific sounds or by rubbing one or both ears. 

If you notice that this is happening, you can test your dog’s response to different stimuli, like clapping, jingling keys, or talking in different tones. Be sure to do these things while your pup isn’t looking because they’re likely to respond to other cues, making you think they can hear you.

If you think your dog may have this type of hearing loss, it is definitely worth exploring a dog whistle. Since dogs often lose the ability to hear certain frequencies and not all frequencies, many dogs with age-related hearing loss will still be able to hear a dog whistle. 

Congenital Hearing Loss–Partial Deafness

Congenital deafness–that is, hearing loss caused by a genetic condition–occurs frequently in several breeds of dogs. Dalmatians, Australian shepherds, and Jack Russell terriers are a few of the most commonly afflicted breeds. In some cases, these pups will be born deaf or become deaf early in life.

Congenital defects can cause partial and total deafness. Partial deafness is more common than total deafness. If your pup is partially deaf, you may notice that she only responds to certain sounds. 

You can test her hearing at home by making distinct tones, pitches, and frequencies and seeing if you get a response. 

With partial deafness, there is likely a dog whistle your pup will be able to hear. You have a few options when it comes to finding the right whistle for your dog: 

  • You can get your dog’s hearing tested by your vet to identify the exact frequencies she can hear;
  • You can try a variety of different dog whistles (they come in over 30 frequencies!); or
  • You can get an adjustable frequency dog whistle.

Multiple whistles and adjustable whistles are a great option, even if you have already pinpointed the frequencies your pooch can hear. 

If she can hear more than one whistle frequency, you can use different frequencies to train (or untrain) several behaviors, just as you would use various verbal commands. 

Congenital Hearing Loss–Total Deafness

The group of dogs that are least likely to hear a dog whistle are those who are born deaf. Although total deafness isn’t very common, some genetic conditions can cause this rare condition to occur. 

The only way to know for sure if your dog will be able to hear a dog whistle is to get a BAER test at your veterinarian. 

This could be an important step for you because dog whistles come in various frequencies: just because your dog can’t hear one of the dog whistles doesn’t mean they can’t hear any of them. 

The BAER Test

The Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response test is the best way to know the type and extent of hearing loss your dog is experiencing. This 5-15-minute test can be used to assess brainstem function. It can also help diagnose: 

  • Dysfunction in the middle and external ear that causes conductive hearing loss;
  • Dysfunction in the cochlea, cochlear nerve, or central auditory pathway; and
  • Hearing loss caused by cochlear degeneration.

The test uses electrodes and acoustic waves to determine what frequencies your pup responds to. The response level will give you and your vet a good idea of what–if anything–your dog will be likely to hear. Armed with this knowledge, you can then evaluate whether a dog whistle will be a good choice for your pet. 

The Specifics of Dog Whistles

We already explained that there are different types of dog whistles, but it’s worth exploring a little deeper. 

Broadly, there are two categories of dog whistles: ones that humans can hear and ones that humans can’t hear. 

If your dog can’t hear and doesn’t respond to things you can hear, the former category isn’t beneficial. The latter category–whistles that emit a frequency above your hearing range–are the ones worth looking into. 

Single-Frequency Dog Whistles

A single frequency dog whistle is just what its name implies: it is a whistle that emits only one frequency. These whistles come in a range of frequencies from 23 to 54 kilohertz (kHz). 

With more than 30 frequencies to choose from, your dog with partial deafness–both age-related and congenital–is sure to hear one of these whistles. 

If you spring for the BAER test, your vet will be able to tell you exactly which frequencies to choose or avoid. 

Keep in mind that different manufacturers and manufacturing techniques may yield slightly different results. If one brand doesn’t work for you, another one might. 

Adjustable Frequency Dog Whistles

If you’re just starting to explore your dog’s hearing range, an adjustable frequency dog whistle may be the right choice for you. This training tool allows you a great deal of flexibility for finding the right frequency or frequencies for your dog to hear and respond to. 

As with all things in life, you have options for adjustable frequency dog whistles. The low-tech option is a lot less flexible than the high-tech option, but it will save you a lot of money. Here are the pros and cons of each:

The Low-Tech Option 

Pros: This option is very inexpensive: you can get one of these for under $10 and know that it’s of reasonable quality with at least 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon. 

Cons: Adjusting the frequency usually involves partial disassembly and manual adjustment of mechanical components to adjust the frequency. That means this isn’t a great tool for addressing multiple behaviors.

The High-Tech Option 

Pros: This option gives you a ton of flexibility. You can pinpoint frequencies that your dog can hear and use each of those frequencies for a different training goal. Best of all, you can get an app on your phone to put the world of electronic dog whistles at your fingertips–for free!

Cons: If you want a separate device specifically for training without pulling out your phone, it’ll cost you. Good quality devices start around $30 and don’t offer the same flexibility as the app-based option.

Definitely – Maybe?

Now you know that your deaf dog can definitely, maybe, hear a dog whistle. All kidding aside, if you’re unsure about the extent of your dog’s hearing loss and want to quickly identify the right frequency test for your dog, a trip to the vet to get a BAER test is your best bet. With an app-based testing option at your fingertips, you may want to do some home-testing first.

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