The new study, published Wednesday in the journal Royal Society Open Science, has made a number of interesting findings. Researchers enlisted a group of 40 volunteers to listen to a variety of dog growls during numerous tasks.
A total of 18 different dogs were recorded guarding their food, playing a game of tug of war, and facing a threatening stranger. Participants were able to match the growl to the action 63 percent of the time, in what scientists say amounts to much more than just guesswork.
Scientists said that each growl was recognized above the level of chance, with listeners able to understand 81 percent of playful growls, but less adept at recognizing the others.
“Participants associated the correct contexts with the growls above chance,” wrote Dr. Tamas Farago, who, along with colleagues from Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary, conducted the research.
Further to identifying various growl contexts, the group also had to rate them on a sliding scale according to five different emotional states – aggression, fear, despair, happiness, and playfulness.
The scientists found that context had a “significant effect” on reading the dog’s emotions, with playful growls being rated lowest for aggression and food guarding the highest.
When it came to recognizing whether the dog was fearful, playful, or being threatening, “women and participants experienced with dogs scored higher,” Farago said.
In research published in January, scientists from the University of Lyon in Saint Étienne, France found that puppies responded better to women’s exaggerated, high-pitched, dog-directed speech, which may help them learn words, much like such talk does with human babies.
Perhaps dogs aren’t man’s best friend after all.