Humans Understand Different Dog Growls

According to a new study, published in Royal Society Open Science, humans can decipher a dog’s emotional state by the sound of its growl.

In the study, researchers from Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary, played recordings of growls from 18 different dogs. The growls came from dogs who were guarding food, dogs being threatened by an approaching stranger and dogs playing tug of war.

The researchers asked 40 adults to listen to two sets of the recordings and record their feelings about the first set on a sliding scale. The participants were asked to rate the growls by emotions: aggression, fear, despair, happiness and playfulness.

For the second set of recordings, the researchers asked the participants to choose one of the three possible contexts, which were; food guarding, threatening, play. 

63 per cent of the growl samples were correctly classified by the participants, which was significantly more than chance level the researchers said.


The participants correctly classified 81 per cent of the play growls, but found it harder to recognise food guarding and threatening growls.

The study also found that women and dog owners performed better in the recognition task, while dog bite history of the participants had no effect.

“It is known that women have a higher emotional sensitivity, and probably this higher sensitivity can help to differentiate better context of the growls,” the authors write.

“Additionally we found that, in contrast with the case of dog barks, the individual dog-related experience had a positive effect on the performance of the participants. 

“Dog owners recognised better the context of the growls compared with participants who did not own a dog, which is probably due to their extended experiences with dog growls.”