Man’s best friend has been with us through thick and thin, and apparently humans and canines have grown so close over the ages that we can actually understand them far better than some think we can. “If dogs could talk” is an old saying — and, more recently, comedic fodder for YouTube videos — but according to a study lead by researchers at Hungary’s Eötvös Loránd University, humans have become pretty adept at understanding dog language.
The scientists set out to determine how well humans can interpret a very specific type of canine vocalization — specifically, growling. A dog growl can mean many things, and they don’t only growl when trying to be intimidating or aggressive. Using recordings of 18 different dogs and a group of 40 volunteers, the research team asked the participants to decide whether each specific growl was an aggressive display related to protecting their food, a threat display, or simply playful grumbling.
When the guesses were tallied, the researchers discovered that, while nowhere near perfect, the volunteers were able to correctly identify the growl as being playful or aggressive an impressive 63 percent of the time. Women in the study were better at classifying the sounds overall, with a 65 percent success rate, and (unsurprisingly) people who actually own or work with dogs on a regular basis were much better at identifying the sounds.
Sure, it’s nowhere near the kind of intimate understanding that products like No More Woof promised — which, by the way, its creators admit never actually worked — but it’s reassuring to know that we’re not totally oblivious when it comes to dog-speak.