In rather fun and fluffy news, researchers found that humans are fairly decent at deciphering a dog’s mood based on the sound of their growl. Women, in particular, were skilled at the task, scoring the highest of all the participants.
As previous studies have shown, dogs are adept at deciphering the emotion of their owners. But what about humans understanding the emotions of their fluffy friends? With a long-shared history between dogs and humans, one would hope we’ve gained some ability to interpret our canine companions.
For the study, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, the team used dog growls from three different social situations – guarding food against other dogs, the threat of a stranger approaching, and playing tug-of-war with their owner. The team noted the length, pitch, and frequency of each growl.
The 40 participants then had to rate the emotion of the growls, choosing between fear, despair, aggressive, playful, and happiness. They next had to choose the context of the emotion based on the three social situations.
The participants identified 81 percent of the play growls correctly, but only 60 percent of the food guarding and 50 percent of the threatening growls. The results reveal that human listeners have a difficult time distinguishing between growls due to a threatening stranger and that of food guarding, often confusing one for the other.
"In the case of dog barks, rhythm based on inter-bark intervals was found as an important cue for humans to assess the dogs' inner state: longer pauses between individual barks resulted in lower scores of aggression," first author Tamás Faragó of Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary and colleagues write in their paper.
The team also found that women and dog owners are the best at growl recognition, taking to task the name man’s best friend.
"It is known that women have a higher emotional sensitivity and probably this higher sensitivity can help to differentiate better the context of the growls," the authors write.
Of course, the sample size of the study is quite small and participants did not have to extrapolate outside of the given parameters, with the batch of emotions and contexts given to the listeners. The team only explored auditory cues, ignoring for the sake of the study the impact that visual cues play in the communication between humans and their pet pooches.
However limited, the study does take a small step toward understanding the interaction between humans and dogs. The takeaway: Don’t mess with a hungry pooch and his bowl of kibble.