High Tide

The CapeMay.com blog

Good Sense and Good Senses


Part Two

This month we are changing the “Good Read” section to the “Good Quote” of the month, so here goes with our first Good Quote of the Month:

No matter how little money and how few possessions you own, having a dog makes you rich.” Louis Sabin

Last month we talked about a dog’s sense of sight and a dog’s sense of taste. This month we’re going to touch on the sense of touch…. and, now listen up….the sense of hearing! We’ll get to the sense of smell next month!

A dog’s sense of touch is among the first of the senses to really develop. Even before a dog’s eyes open, a pup is using its sense of touch. Immediately after birth, the mom dog licks her pups, and very quickly, a pup learns to find mommy dog and litter mates by using touch. On the dog’s face are sensory receptors called “vibrissae,” which are what we call the “whiskers.” They are located on the muzzle close to the nose, above the eyes, and below the mouth on the dog’s jaw. Dog’s also have sensitive nerve endings close to the skin all over their body. The “whiskers” or “vibrissae” sense an object through the movement of air as the dog moves, letting the dog know about any object close or nearing. Dogs that are handled and socialized early and often are generally more likely to accept and welcome petting. Dogs that are not handled early may be more reticent to petting since the object approaching (your hand) is unfamiliar – both in the action and thus the movement of air toward the dog, as well as your scent. But from day one, and throughout the dog’s life, the “vibrissae” – the “whiskers” – are a very important tool for the dog.

In spite of the general facts about a dog’s senses, we need to remember that not only are a dog’s senses different from our own, but each breed is different, and in fact, each dog within a breed is different. In other words, just as each person is an individual, each dog is an individual.

When it comes to hearing, a dog hears very differently than we do. First of all, dogs can hear different pitches than we can, some of which we cannot hear at all. Dogs also hear a wider range of frequencies than we can hear, and they can hear all of those sounds at a greater distance. This explains the science behind the dog whistle which is pitched so humans cannot hear the sound, yet dogs can. Another example is like when my dogs are asleep on their beds and all of a sudden they jump up and go to the door barking. I have not heard a thing, yet they know that someone has entered our walkway or parking area. They precede the doorbell and I call them my “early warning system.”

Dogs also have a wider range of hearing since they not only have a wider range of movement of their ears, but dogs can also move each ear independently. If sounds are coming from the sides, since a dog’s ears are on the sides of their head, they don’t have to move their ears much. When sound comes from behind, a dog will rotate one or both ears to improve the reception of the sound. When a dog is facing the sound, the dog may cock an ear or two, or they may tilt their head – both visible signs that the dog is listening, even if the words we say are more noise to them than actual words. It appears they “understand” what we are saying, because they are good at recognizing sounds when heard frequently enough. Guinness and Jameson a very attuned to the sounds of “treat” or “walk” or “ride” even more than “wait” or “come” – especially if there is a squirrel around! And I love watching them come to attention, tilt their heads, and cock their ears when they “hear” that something good is in store! Even dogs with ears that hang over and cover the ear canal are still usually better at hearing than we are for all of the reasons above. And dogs are very good at using tone of voice as an indicator of what is meant. If you tell your dog s/he is goofy or in trouble with a sweet tone, your dog will be pleased and happy, but if you tell your dog about how great and well behaved s/he is with a nasty tone, your dog will be upset and unhappy.

So be careful how you speak to your dog, since they are great interpreters, and be careful what you say since they can hear much more than you think! Show the love in your voice and your dog will “hear” you! Feel the warm ocean breezes with your alert whiskers and hear the sounds of the ocean waves on the shore, and hurry to make your reservations for a visit to Cape May with your favorite “pup/s.” Then tell the dog/s that it’s almost time for vacation! They will understand!