A reader is worried about his dog's hearing and how it will be affected by the noise of shotguns

Q: I’ve been thinking about training my first gundog, but I’m concerned about the effect on a dog’s hearing of spending time in close proximity to a shotgun being repeatedly fired. Most Guns wouldn’t dream of standing on the peg without suitable ear protection and for good reason. Is hearing damage a significant problem for gundogs generally?

A: Though not often reported as clinically affecting the average working gundog in this country, noises above 120dB to 140dB, such as gunshots, which average about 150dB, can indeed cause either temporary or permanent hearing loss in dogs. Dogs’ ears have mechanisms that protect the sensitive inner ear when very loud noises occur. However, the noise of gunfire occurs too rapidly for the ear to react.

Deafness can be difficult to evaluate in dogs. You can try to determine your dog’s level of hearing by making increasingly louder noises and seeing if the animal shows an involuntary twitching of the ears in response. Ideally, we use an objective evaluation of hearing with an electro-diagnostic procedure which measures neuro-electrical activity in the auditory 
part of the brain via electrodes.

The likelihood of noise-induced hearing loss affecting your dog will depend on how near the dog is to the gun, whether or not the sound is attenuated by wind, trees and so on, and how frequently it might be exposed to the sound. Best estimates indicate that the distance from the sound (the gun) to the dog should be at least 30m and so, on large organised shoot days, the dogs are better protected behind the line. 

  1. 1. Introduction
  2. 2. Hearing is precious
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