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Most people know that a dog’s sense of smell is superior and from a scentmark they can detect all sorts of information. However, did you know that dogs also have the ability to determine another’s size just from the sound it makes?
A study conducted by Péter Pongrácz of the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, demonstrated that dogs are able to tell how big another is just be listening to its growl.
The study saw 96 dogs of various breeds and ages split into three groups. The first group of 24 test dogs were shown two images projected onto a screen – one large dog and one small dog. The dogs were then played a recording of a ‘food guarding’ growl which was directed from between the images of the small and large dog. The dogs were filmed to monitor which of the images they would look at first and for the longest. The results showed 20 dogs of the 24 test dogs looked at the image of the appropiate-sized dog first and looked at it the longest.
A control group of 24 dogs were then played the dog growls, however, they were shown silhouettes of large and small cats or geometric shapes. All of the dogs in the experiement knew what a cat was before the study began. Interestingly, most of the dogs in the control group looked at the image situated on the left of the projector screen first, which supports other research indicating dogs tend to look to the left when presented with something unexpected.
A final control group of 24 dogs was then shown large and small dog images while abstract sounds similar to white noise was played. The control dogs presented with images of geometric shapes showed little interest in these images, while those shown images of the cats spent more time looking at these. To avoid the dog owners unconsiously giving their pets cues during the experiment, they had to listen to music on headphones to ensure they were unable to hear the growls.
Péter Pongrácz said that dogs’ ability to match the growl to the appropiate-sized dog in the projected image is a “complex cognitive talent previously seen only in primates.”
The research conducted by Pongrácz’s team was ground-breaking; it was the first time research demonstrated that animals can determine another’s size by the sound it makes, and that dogs do not lie about their size
For more information about Pongrácz’s research, check out the online journal Plos One at www.plosone.org/home.action