If you sometimes feel like you and your dog are having actual conversations, you may not be so far off-track. A new study has shown that dogs have a way of making humans understand what they mean to say with their barks and growls, allowing them to communicate with their humans on a level much deeper than expected.
The study noted 40 participants describing growl samples from 18 dogs, and then identifying the situation that a particular growl was recorded in, Telegraph.co.uk reported. The growls were recorded as dogs were protecting their food, meeting a threatening stranger, and playing tug-of-war. The results showed that participants were able to correctly identify 63 percent of the growl samples — a rate much higher than the chance level. Participants were particularly good at knowing when dogs are simply playing, recognizing 81 percent of play growls. They were, however, not as good at recognizing growls that had to do with food or strangers.
The study noted that women and those who had experience with dogs were better at recognizing and identifying growls.
Growls during play are shorter and more continuous, compared to growls made out of aggression or fear, the study said. The pitch characteristics of each growl also changed depending on the situation, with a particular difference when the dog is playing and when he is guarding food.
Apart from identifying the context of the dog’s growl, participants were also tasked to rate growls based on what emotion they feel is conveyed: aggression, fear, despair, happiness, and playfulness. The playing growls ranked lowest in terms of aggression, while the food guarding growls ranked highest.
“Our results…indicate that dogs communicate honestly their size and inner state in serious contest situations, where confrontation would be costly, such as during guarding of their food from another dog,” the researchers were quoted as saying in the report. “At the same time, in contexts with assumedly more uncertain inner states, such as in play or when threatened by a stranger, they may manipulate certain key parameters in their growls for an exaggerated aggressive and playful expression.”
“According to our results, adult humans seem to understand and respond accordingly to this acoustic information during cross-species interactions with dogs,” the researchers added.
Parley with pooches
In the same way, dogs can also understand humans to a certain degree. In fact, a study has found that dogs respond to human communication as well as 6-month-old babies. Using eye-tracking technology, researchers analyzed how dogs responded to human communication cues such as eye contact and directed speech, an article on LiveScience.com reported.
The study focused on analyzing the eye movements of 16 adult dogs, all of which were untrained. The researchers examined how the dogs responded to a woman in two separate trials. For the first trial, dogs watched a woman who made eye contact with them and greeted them directly with a high-pitched, motherly voice, before turning her attention to one of two containers on her left and right sides. The second trial had a similar process, except that the woman did not make eye contact with dogs, and only greeted them indirectly, with a low tone of voice.
Results revealed that dogs paid a similar amount of attention to the woman in both trials, but were more responsive to the woman in the first trial. Specifically, they spent more time looking at the same container as the woman who had greeted them and made eye contact.
The study posits that dogs’ receptiveness to human communication is an evolutionary adaptation, one that has made them the animal most attuned to human cues. Man’s best friend, indeed.
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