London: Dogs can make humans understand what their barks and growls mean, according to a new study which also found that women are better than men at recognising what their canine friends are trying to convey.
For the study, 40 volunteers listened to different growls recorded from 18 dogs that were guarding their food, facing a threatening stranger, or playing a tug-of-war game. Overall, participants correctly classified 63 per cent of the growl samples - significantly more than would be expected by guesswork alone, they said. The human listeners identified 81 per cent of the "play" growls but were less good at recognising food guarding and threatening growls.
According to the research by Tamas Farago and his team from Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary, during play, dogs produced a larger number of shorter, less separated, growls than when they were aggressive or fearful. Women were better than men at recognising when a dog was being playful or threatening, or feeling fear, researchers said. Play growls and food guarding growls also had distinctively different pitch characteristics.
"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 wrote in the journal Royal Society Open Science. "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," they said.
"According to our results, adult humans seem to understand and respond accordingly to this acoustic information during cross-species interactions with dogs," the researchers concluded.