Do people need to be trained to identify the emotional content of dog barks?
I had just finished delivering a lecture on the topic of how dogs communicate and afterwards several people came up to offer some observations or ask me some follow-up questions.
One woman commented in a slightly frustrated tone of voice, "I know that you scientists have analyzed the sound information in a dog's bark, but it doesn't do much good for us common dog owners who don't have the time to carefully study barking sounds so that we can figure out what our own dog is trying to tell us."
I have heard this comment before, so I was pleased to be able to reassure her that although a lot of analysis has gone into understanding canine communication (click here to read more about interpreting dog barks) no special course in canine linguistics was necessary for her to be able to extract the basic emotional information from her dog's barking. In fact, evidence shows that people with very little experience with dogs are just as accurate as more experienced dog owners when interpreting the emotional state of a barking dog.
A very nice demonstration of this comes from a study by Péter Pongrácz, Csaba Molnár and Ádám Miklósi of the Department of Ethology at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary. The report was published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science.
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