Playing tug-of-war with our best friends may mean some growling on the part of the pooch, but we're able to distinguish this playful growl from something more threatening, according to a new study. Hungarian researchers played three types of dog growls to human participants: guarding a food bowl, threatened by a stranger, and playing tug-of-war with its owner. The participants were able to correctly pick each growl about two-thirds of the time — better than chance alone — and were better at picking out the playful growl, but had a harder time distinguishing the food guarding and threatening growls. People who owned dogs were better at differentiating the growls compared to non-dog owners.
Journal/conference: Royal Society Open Science
Organisation/s: Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary
The Royal Society
Dog growls express various contextual and affective content for human listeners
We know more and more about how dogs perceive human emotional expressions. However, communication is a two-way road and there are still open questions about human perception of dog vocalizations. Although we use similar features to assess emotions in dog vocalizations, we seemed to have a hard time to distinguish single playful growls from threatening ones. Now, we found that when hearing natural growl sequences, humans recognize playful growls with ease, mainly based on rhythm, and even rate food guarding growls to be more aggressive than threatening ones. Interestingly, females and dog owners recognized better the context of the growls.