Do Humans Really Understand Dog Growls? Image Source: Purina

Do Humans Really Understand Dog Growls?

Dogs are awesome. Whether they’re begging for your food, barking at their leash to convince you to take them on a walk, or simply greeting you when you get home, dogs do all of the little things that put smiles on faces around the world.

Through the ages, dogs have been called the closest companions of humans. Dogs are also called our protector, helper, lifesaver, and provider. Dogs are an incredible friend to man because they have been there through the years, through any task and any challenge, but the relationship between dog and man goes a bit deeper and older.

Dogs are pretty effective in communicating with their humans. There has been a lot of research how well dogs can interpret human speech and communication. It’s easy to talk to your dog, isn’t it? It feels like they just get you. Well, as it turns out, they kind of do.

Running Dog. Image Credit: Dogward Bound

Image Credit: Dogward Bound

Since communication is a two-way street it is strange to note that research on how well humans can understand the sounds that dogs make has been much less common, and that research has tended to focus more on the interpretation of barking patterns. Research shows that people are able to correctly identify what dogs mean by the noises they make. For a May 2017 study, researchers at Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary wanted to see how well humans understand the context of canine communication.

To test this, they had a group of 40 volunteers listen to dog growls. While canine growls may seem menacing to some, dogs use them for many different forms of communication.

Not all dog growls are created equal. Most commonly growls are aggressive signals, however, even here there are different meanings. For this study, volunteers heard three different types of growls: aggressive growls (used while protecting food), growls used in threat displays or fear and playful growls.

Recordings from 18 different dogs making these three types of growls were played for volunteers without labels. After hearing a growl, the volunteers had to decide what category the noise fell under.

The participants were able to correctly identify the dogs’ emotions, and even named the situation the growling dog was in above chance at 63 percent. Interestingly, when it came to naming the situation, women outperformed men: they matched the correct growls with the context 65 percent of the time, while the men weighed in at only 45 percent.

While the numbers weren’t perfect, this study shows that people, even those who don’t work or live with dogs, have the ability to understand what our animal brethren is trying to communicate in their own way. The accuracy of judging dog growls is affected by who the listener is. Dog owners were much better than other people at correctly identifying a dogs’ growl’s meaning. This suggests that experience listening to dogs improves our recognition ability and also suggests that we can train people to better understand these communication signals from our canine companions.

So the results of this study seem to say that humans interpret long, low sounding, loud growls as being the most aggressive. Any trace of a higher pitch entering into the growl will be interpreted as traces of fear. Shorter growls, especially if they occur in a sequence, and do not have a sustained low pitch are more likely to be interpreted as non-threatening and even playful.

Unsurprisingly, people are best at recognizing playful growls and less familiar with more serious snarls. When it comes to the dog –language we hear every day, we’re pretty good at telling what they are trying to tell us.

Can you understand different types of growls that your dog makes? Let us know through the comments below.