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What’s That Your Dog is Saying? Human Can Interpret Meaning Behind Growls

When a dog speaks, do you listen? Do you understand what you’re hearing?  According to a new study, if the dog in question is your dog, the chances are high that you correctly are interpreting what’s being vocalized. Also, if you’re a woman, you might be more capable than your male counterpart in figuring out the meaning behind a dog’s growl.

Smile or growl? If you could hear you’d most likely know!

A team of Hungarian researchers studied how well we humans read dogs’ growls.  They chose to examine growling because “[w]e know relatively little about the vocal communication system of dogs, and the most studied vocalization (not surprisingly) are the different barks,” the study’s lead author Tamas Farago, an ethologist (ethology is the study of animal behavior with emphasis on the behavioral patterns that occur in natural environments) at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, explained.

They set up the scenarios so that humans could hear dogs growl during a play session of tug with their owners, guarding food from another dog, and feeling threatened by a stranger.  Overall, we as a species are doing pretty well – 63% of the time we get why a dog growls.  This is well above what pure chance guessing (33%) would do.  Furthermore, we understand the play growl better than the other two at a whopping 81%. Food guarding was 60% and feeling threatened was 50%. Not as high but still, not bad!

The possible reason behind the lower scores for these two situations is that the growl to warn off another dog versus a person might not be terribly different, whereas a play growl has a much different emotional quality.  The researchers believe it is the emotional meaning behind the dog’s communication that makes women (who they argued more empathic than men) and the dog’s owners of either gender (who would be emotionally bonded and, therefore, more in tune with one another) more able to correctly identify the growl.

When asked to describe the tonal quality of the growls, the team got an unexpected spate of responses regarding the two more aggressive growls.  “What [was] surprising is that the listeners rated the threatening growls to be more fearful and less aggressive than the food guarding ones, as these growls were acoustically very similar,” Farago said.

They posit that this could be due to the dogs’ ability to honestly assess and communicate their chances in a confrontation.  A dog may see having to fight another dog as being painful and damaging but ultimately worthwhile, where he wouldn’t be as secure in his chances when going up against a human.

The researchers hope that their findings will help improve and deepen our relationships with our dogs and dogs in general.  I have to agree.  As a woman and a dog owner (of either gender), I find that my greatest joy in spending time with these amazing creatures that share our homes and lives is listening to what they have to say – whether it’s to let me know that there is a very dangerous squirrel in the front yard or that no one is particularly willing to make room for me on the couch (and believe me, those are two very distinct growls!!), my dogs are fascinating conversationalists.


Summer is here and it wouldn’t be the same without the tasty, off-the-grill goodness that is a burger!  To make your dog a part of the carefree happiness of the season we brought back the customer favorite Flavor of the Month Bacon Cheeseburger Just-a-Bite Biscotti!  Give your dog what he craves without the guilt – all-natural, human-grade ingredients go into making a treat that is as healthy as it is delicious!  

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