Are you able to tell whether your dog is happy, sad, angry or afraid? Many dog owners claim they can tell exactly what kind of mood their dog is in based on the variances in the barks and noises they give off.

A recent experiment in Hungary set out to test the theory that humans are able to distinguish their dog’s emotional intentions conveyed in a variety of barks. Under the advisory of Dr. Ádám Miklósi of Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, a team of researchers at one of the world’s first facilities dedicated towards investigating the human-dog relationship conducted an intriguing field study.

“Scientists used to think that barking is a random noise without any specific information or content, however, we have a different idea. Dogs might tell us something about anger, fear, happiness, despair. So these are basic emotions which I think humans might be able to recognize in the barking sound,” explains Miklósi.

As the basis of the experiment, Miklósi and his team acted out a variety of situations, which caused dogs to bark and then recorded the canine reactions. A group of people was brought in to listen to the recordings and was instructed to match the bark to an emotion.

The results were pretty spot on. When presented with a recording of a dog that was provoked to bark in a specific situation, participants were able to identify the emotion that the dog was trying to convey through his bark.

Below are several excerpts from the study:

The alone bark-where a member of Miklósi’s team tied a dog to a tree and walked away.

Here’s what the participants said about the recording:

“That sounds like a dog asking for attention.”
“It’s anxious.”
“It’s sad; distressed.”
“Wants to be let off a chain or something like that.”

The excited bark- Where a team member is getting a dog excited by showing the dog a ball for a game of fetch.

Here’s what the participants said about the recording:

“I think that one’s playful.”
“It seems as though they’re actually asking their owner for something.”
“It sounds as if it may want a ball or a toy or something. She could be playing with it.”

The angry bark-where Miklósi walked up to a house with a guard dog and riles him up.

Here’s what the participants said about the recording:

“That is a sound that she would make if she [my dog] saw somebody behind the fence walking along”
“It’s a stranger. I think it’s a stranger encroaching on her territory.”

“Overall in the study, you could see that people can discriminate six barks, and most of them were quite successful in this,” explains Miklósi who has also been working on a system to determine criteria for analyzing barks. The researcher measures three elements of a dog’s bark which he says is probably also what the judgment of people is based on when asked to describe a bark in terms of it’s emotional content: the frequency of the bark, tonality, and interval between barking sounds.

Studies like this one are not only helping to strengthen the bond between owners and their dogs, but are also suggesting that throughout the process of domestication, dogs have evolved their elaborate vocal repertoire, especially to communicate with us. Not surprisingly, they use many of the same noises we do to communicate their emotions: dog sighs when it is bored, whimpers when it is sad, and unleashes a deep and throaty bark when it is alarmed.

Does your dog have different barks for different moods? Are you able to distinguish when he is sad, wants to be let outside, and feels threatened by an approaching stranger?


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