Can humans discriminate between dogs on the base of the acoustic parameters of barks?Molnár Cs, Pongrácz P, Dóka A & Miklósi Á
Behavioural Processes, 2006, 73, 76-83
In this study we tested the often suggested claim that people are able to recognize their dogs by their barks. Earlier studies in other species indicated that reliable discrimination between individuals cannot be made by listening to chaotically noisy vocalizations. As barking is typically such a chaotic noisy vocalization, we have hypothesized that reliable discrimination between individuals is not possible by listening to barks. In this study, playback experiments were conducted to explore (1) how accurately humans discriminate between dogs by hearing only their barks, (2) the impact of the eliciting context of calls on these discrimination performances, and (3) how much such discrimination depends on acoustic parameters (tonality and frequency of barks, and the intervals between the individual barks). Our findings were consistent with the previous studies: human performances did not pass the empirical threshold of reliable discrimination in most cases. But a significant effect of tonality was found: discrimination between individuals was more successful when listeners were listening to low harmonic-to-noise ratio (HNR) barks. The contexts in which barks were recorded affected significantly the listeners' performances: if the dog barked at a stranger, listeners were able to discriminate the vocalizations better than if they were listening to sounds recorded when the dog was separated from its owner. It is rendered probable that the bark might be a more efficient communication system between humans and dogs for communicating the motivational state of an animal than for discrimination among strange individuals.
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