(ANIMAL CONNECTION) A new study has taken the old saying, “man’s best friend,” a step further – not only do we depend on each other and share similar emotions, but dogs and humans might even ‘speak’ the same language. More specifically, researchers have found that starting from about 10-years old, people can naturally understand the meaning behind most dog barks. The results from this study also further the argument that there might be a universal animal language. Read on for more on the study’s findings and what it could mean for animal communication. — Global Animal
Could our understanding of dog communication suggest a bigger, universal animal language? Photo credit: charmaineswart

Discovery News, Jennifer Viegas

Our ability to understand dogs may peak at around 10 years of age, with preadolescents possessing a natural talent to decipher dog barks, according to new research.

The study, published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science, could help to strengthen the theory that there’s a universal animal “language.” The connections allow us to understand rudimentary meanings of many animal calls, and especially those made by mammals.

But there’s also no question that humans and dogs enjoy a special bond. Recently, for example, I reported on a 26,000-year-old dog found with a mammoth bone in its mouth. Our species has likely been closely connected to wolves and dogs since the Stone Age. We’ve therefore had plenty of time to develop, and probably even evolve, a deep understanding of dogs.

Co-author Csaba Molnár told Discovery News that the new research proves “that basic understanding of barks is an inherited trait in humans, and learning can only slightly improve this ability.”

For the study, led by Péter Pongrácz of Eötvös Loránd University, children (aged 6, 8, and 10 years) and adults listened to different types of dog barks. Some of the barks were recorded when dogs were alone. Others were recorded when dogs were playing or were encountering strangers. The listeners had to correctly categorize the barks by matching them to human facial expressions: fearful/lonely, angry, playful.

All of the listeners could easily tell when dogs were angry. Only the older kids, however, correctly understood the other types of barks. They scored about the same as adults.

The authors conclude, “This shows that the ability of understanding basic inner states of dogs on the basis of acoustic signals is present in humans from a very young age. These results are in sharp contrast with other reports in the literature which showed that young children tend to misinterpret canine visual signals.”

Molnár and colleagues also, not too long ago, studied how well blind-at-birth people understand dog barks. Blind people were targeted because their “understanding of barks is not affected by visual memory.”

The blind also have a basic understanding of the inner states of dogs, based on hearing barks. This further strengthens the theory that we are all born with an ability to figure out canine vocalizations, at least to some extent.

Aside from our bond with dogs, the findings make sense because animals in the wild often eavesdrop on each other, benefitting their survival. To some extent, birds understand squirrel speak, for example, and vice versa. Our ancestors surely kept an ear out for such sounds too.

More Discovery News: http://news.discovery.com/animals/10-year-old-kids-dogs-111012.html#mkcpgn=rssnws1