People Are Surprisingly Good At Understanding Dog Language

Brilliance | Dec. 10, 2017

When Scout lets out a growl while chewing on her bone, does it mean she wants to play or that she's warning you to back off? You probably can tell the difference—as it turns out, dogs are pretty effective in communicating with their humans. Research shows that people (especially women) are able to correctly identify what dogs mean by the noises they make.

You DO Get Your Dog

It's easy to talk to your dog, isn't it? It feels like they just get you. Well, as it turns out, they kinda do. For a May 2017 study, researchers with Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary wanted to see how well humans understand the context of canine communication. To find out, they had 40 volunteers listen to growls recorded from 18 dogs.

As The Telegraph reports, the participants listened to dogs growling in three situations: guarding their food, facing a threatening stranger, and playing tug-of-war. Then they were asked to guess what situation the dog was in and what emotion was being conveyed. And guess what? When it comes to understanding dog language, we're not too shabby. 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 45 percent. However, experience helped a lot too: on average, those who owned a dog scored 60 percent to non-dog-owners' 40 percent. 

Good Growl, Bad Growl?

Unsurprisingly, people are best at recognizing playful growls and less familiar with more serious snarls (like when a pooch is guarding a food bowl or encountering other dogs). This makes some sense: we're most familiar with the way our dogs growl while they're playing, and since we're not other dogs, we can't really tell the difference between a "get away from my food" growl and a "get away from me, dog" growl. But when it comes to the dog-speak we hear every day, we're pretty good at telling what's what. Way to go, humans! You're all such good boys and girls!

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