Two studies look at the language of dogs


Two studies have come to different conclusions about dogs and their ability to communicate. One determined that babies understand "dog speak" and another found that dogs really may not have that much to say.

A Brigham Young University study concluded that infants as young as six months can distinguish between an angry bark and friendly yap when shown pictures of dogs displaying both emotions. Researchers say the study can help understand how babies learn.

"Emotion is one of the first things babies pick up on in their social world," said BYU psychology professor Ross Flom, lead author of the study. "We chose dogs because they are highly communicative creatures both in their posture and the nature of their bark," Flom said. For more read San Francisco's Tails of City blog here.

Meanwhile, across the country, a recent study by a doctoral candidate at the University of Massachusetts found that dogs don't bark with specific messages in mind.

Doctoral candidate Kathryn Lord said that dogs do not bark differently in different circumstances, as many biologists believe. She said dogs only bark to ward off predators and deal with conflict.

"What we're saying is that the domestic dog does not have an intentional message in mind, such as, 'I want to play' or 'the house is on fire,'" Lord told Science Daily.

Instead, she said, barking is the auditory signal associated with an evolved behavior known as mobbing, a cooperative anti-predator response to an approaching intruder. A dog barks because she feels an internal conflict―an urge to run plus a strong urge to stand her ground and defend pups, for example, Lord said. When the group joins in, the barks intimidate the intruder, who often flees. Dogs simply bark more than other creatures who emit similar sounds because they have a 10,000 year history with humans.