The Reason Dog Whistles Are Silent Says More About Your Hearing Than Your Dog’s

Written by: Dr. Katy Nelson

March 8, 2016

When you think of a dog whistle, chances are you’re picturing the seemingly silent device that you can blow on and drive dogs crazy. The truth is—dog whistles produce all sorts of sounds, and the “silent” ones aren’t really silent at all.


The very first dog whistle surprisingly came about as a result of experiments with humans. Sir Francis Galton, a relative of Charles Darwin, developed a small brass whistle in 1876 to test the range and limitations of human hearing.


The whistle, later named the Galton whistle, was equipped with a slide that enabled one to change its frequency. Galton originally used the whistle to demonstrate how exactly humans process sound, but his curiosity eventually led his sonic sound research to other animals like canines.


Galton’s findings were that dogs are able to hear high-pitched sounds well out of the human ear’s range. The dog’s ability to hear a certain frequency, however, varies depending on their size, and there is no single pitch that will generate the same response among all canines. The latter is perhaps the most important conclusion of his study.


Many people mistakenly believe that blowing on a silent dog whistle will trigger some kind of response in a dog. But don’t go and buy a whistle thinking that it’s going to stop your neighbor’s dog from his incessant barking. Spoiler alert: it won’t.


While the sound it creates is indeed unique, a silent whistle functions just like any other whistle to a dog. According to Dogster, “Dogs will only respond to a whistle as a result of familiarity and training… there is no innate quality to a dog whistle sound that can impel a dog to sit, stop barking, or return to you from a distance. Your dog’s response to a dog whistle depends entirely on what your training goal is.” Once a dog has experience with and has been trained on a dog whistle, silent or otherwise, it can be used to deliver these types of commands.


These curious tools work by emitting a very high frequency that is inaudible (or at least very faint) to humans but can still be picked up by a dog’s ear. While the sound frequency range for humans is generally between 2,000 and 20,000 Hz, dog whistles are optimized to produce sounds that exceed 20,000 Hz with maximum frequencies of up to 48,000 Hz, easily driving them out of human range.


Due to their ultrasonic frequency, silent dog whistles in particular are commonly used with working dogs, such as herding or hunting dogs. A silent whistle can be useful in recalling these dogs over considerable distances, as the pitch emitted can travel much farther than the human voice or a whistle created by your own lips. They also benefit hunters by being capable of signaling the dogs without simultaneously alerting other wildlife in the area. For the more suburban dog owner, you might just find them considerably less annoying.


The most common whistles with a fixed frequency today tend to produce a tone of around 35,000 Hz. But, as Galton found that high frequencies tend to get the attention of small dogs over large ones, many dog whistles remain adjustable and require you to find the optimal frequency for your specific dog. You can accomplish this by starting at the lowest pitch and gradually increasing it until you notice your dog’s ears perk up or you get some kind of other physical acknowledgment.


When used in a positive and responsible manner, a whistle of any kind can prove very helpful in dog training. Whether or not the silent whistle is better suited to you and your pet is entirely up to you!

Sources: Psychology Today, Canidae, Buzzle, Dogster

Featured image via @DantesTheDog/Instagram

Written by: Dr. Katy Nelson

March 8, 2016

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A themed collection of BARK-designed toys, treats, and chews.


A themed collection of BARK-designed toys, treats, and chews.