Scientists decode dog language
Dr. Doolittles can understand dog barks as well or better than humans
findings suggest computers might significantly help people comprehend
Scientists tested artificially intelligent software on more than
6,000 barks from 14 Hungarian sheepdogs. Six different kinds of barks
* Barks for strangers were recorded when a researcher approached a
dog's owner's home when the owner was away.
* Barks during fights were recorded at dog training schools, when a
trainer encouraged dogs to bite the glove on the trainer's arms and bark
* Barks for walks were recorded when owners behaved as if they were
preparing to go for a walk with their dogs.
* Barks for balls were recorded when owners held balls in front of
* Barks during playtime were recorded when owners played tug-of-war
or similar games with dogs.
* Barks made when alone were recorded when owners tied dogs to trees
in a park and then walked out of sight.
After analysing digital versions of the barks, overall the computer
programme correctly identified the kinds of barks the dogs made 43 per
cent of the time - about the same as humans' 40 per cent, said
researcher Csaba Molnar, an ethologist at Eotvos Lorand University in
The software identified 'walk' and 'ball' barks better than people,
although people identified 'play' and 'alone' barks better than the
software. The programme could also identify which dog made each bark 52
per cent of the time. Molnar and his colleagues had previously found
that people cannot reliably distinguish between individual Hungarian
sheepdogs by their barks at all.
"I'm pretty sure this could work with any animal vocal signals,"
Molnar told LiveScience.
Molnar thinks dogs are ideal for study because humans and canines
have spent thousands of years living together. "At least you know what
the humans intend in any communication between them and dogs," he
explained. "When you have communication just between animals, it's much
harder to study what they mean."
In future experiments, the researchers will compare barks from
different breeds. Since these dogs were bred for different jobs, this
could result in differences in their barks, Molnar said.
Molnar and his colleagues detailed their findings on January 15 in
the journal Animal Cognition.