According to a new study, women are more likely to correctly interpret the growls and barks emitted by dogs than other participants — aka men — when exposed to sound alone. This will probably come as little to no surprise to most women, as women are traditionally considered more compassionate and better listeners than men. What the overall study does tell us, though, is that dogs really can effectively communicate and make themselves understood by humans on a rudimentary level.
As more and more studies involving canines take place, scientists are learning things about humankind’s oldest companion that up until recently had been largely a matter of conjecture. The result of all this is a better understanding of their physical health, emotional range and levels of intellect. This particular study, conducted by Dr. Tamas Farago and his team at Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary, delved into how well we process the differences between barks and growls.
Men vs. Women
For Farago’s study, 40 volunteers of both sexes were played audiotapes of 18 dogs barking and growling to see if they could discern between happy or playful noises, threatening sounds, sounds of fear and food guarding warnings. All in all, “Participants associated the correct contexts with the growls above chance,” Farago wrote in the journal Royal Society Open Science. “Moreover,” he continued, “women and participants experienced with dogs scored higher in this task.”
When listening to dogs at play, 81 percent of the volunteers correctly identified the emotion. The animals recorded during play produced a significant number of shorter growls with less separation than when they were exhibiting aggression or fear, the study noted. Play growls are understandably easier to decipher than growls connected to tension, and listeners proved that point by being less successful at distinguishing between food guarding noises and out and out threatening growls.
The research team noted that the volunteers as a whole were correctly able to classify 63 percent of the “growl samples” provided them, which is significantly more than would be expected through the use of guesswork alone. “According to our results, adult humans seem to understand and respond accordingly to this acoustic information during cross-species interactions with dogs.” It would appear, then, that we understand dogs about as well as they understand us, which will just have to suffice until they perfect that No More Woof headset.