Ethologists have proven that dogs are able to recognize the owner precisely by voice

(ORDO NEWS) — Hungarian scientists have obtained evidence that dogs are able to distinguish the voice of their own person from the voices of strangers, and also identified two acoustic markers needed for this.

Researchers from the Faculty of Ethology at the Eötvös Loran University in Hungary have shown that a dog can recognize its owner precisely by voice, while focusing on some (but not all) of the parameters that people use to identify speakers.

Speech carries acoustic markers or cues that can be used to identify who is speaking. In humans, these include formants, voice frequency, and the ratio of harmonics to noise.

The ability to recognize the speaker is also characteristic of representatives of species living near humans, such as companion animals. However, the acoustic parameters by which this occurs in them remain largely unknown.

The authors of the new work checked whether these dogs can distinguish the voice of the owner from the voices of strangers and what they are guided by. The experiments involved 28 animals (17 females and 11 males) and their owners.

The sample included representatives of different breeds: Hungarian Vizsla, Poodles, Beagles, Cocker Spaniels, American Staffordshire Terriers, Newfoundland, Point Griffon, Border Collie, Golden Retriever, Shetland Sheepdog, Malinois Sheepdog, Bobtail, Schnauzer, Airedale Terrier and nine mixed dogs breeds. Their average age was 4.7 years.

The study was carried out in a laboratory room (5.4 by 6.3 meters) at the university, it had two doors and two opaque blue screens located in the corners, as well as a plastic partition between them.

Columns were placed behind the screens, the owners and “outsiders” hid there. The role of strangers was played by 14 people (50% – men). Pets had to find the owner, relying solely on his voice, they had several attempts.

Ethologists have proven that dogs are able to recognize the owner precisely by voice 1

In each test, the dog stood at the starting point, at a distance of almost four meters from the screens, and the recorded voice of his person and the stranger were played to him in a different order. As previous studies have shown, these animals have difficulty finding owners by smell if they are hiding more than three meters from them.

The experiment consisted of three stages: pre-training, the test itself, and a control test for smell. At the first stage, training, the owner first called the animal with his voice (the phrase began with the subject’s nickname and ended with the usual commands like “Susie, come here!” in Hungarian), then live neutral speech of either the owner or a stranger was used as a stimulus.

Ethologists have proven that dogs are able to recognize the owner precisely by voice 2

During the test and control phases, the dogs listened to pre-recorded and identically loud phrases from recipes in Hungarian: for example, “wash the tomatoes and peppers in cold water.” During the actual experiment, when the stimuli sounded, the researcher, standing behind the dog, told her: “Come on!” The animal had to go to one of the screens where people were sitting.

At the control stage, in order to exclude that the animals are guided by the smell, the recorded records and the people hiding did not match.

If the dog did everything right, that is, went to the voice of the owner, but did not find him, the person sitting behind the screen acted as if it was the wrong choice: he got up and turned his back on the animal.

And vice versa: if the subject went to the voice of the “stranger”, the owner pretended that it should be so, and rewarded the dog. However, the task was considered a failure. After the second trial, the animals were given a treat regardless of their choice.

As the results of the experiments showed, pets more often – in 82% of cases – went to the voice of their person, rather than to the voice of strangers. By the way, they were more likely to identify the owner if his voice sounded from the left side.

“Successful selection and the time spent following the direction of the owner’s voice were linked. Therefore, the time required to search serves as an indicator of the ease of selection.

The “acoustic” distance between the speakers in terms of the average fundamental frequency and jitter (unwanted phase or frequency deviations of the transmitted signal. – Ed.) were associated with the search time: that is, the shorter the “acoustic” distance between the speakers in terms of such parameters, the more difficult it is to accept solution.

Dogs use these signals to distinguish the owner’s voice from unfamiliar ones. They need some, but probably not all, of the acoustic markers that humans use to identify speakers,” the authors write.

Thus, the time that the pets looked in the direction of the owner’s voice before making a choice showed how confident they were: the longer they waited, the more difficult it was to make a decision. If the voice of the owner and the “stranger” differed greatly in pitch and “noisiness”, it was easier for the animals to distinguish between them.

“The dogs’ high selection success rate, their ability to distinguish the owner’s voice from multiple other voices, and the fact that neither olfactory cues nor speaker order influenced selection confirmed that dogs can reliably use speech cues for identification,” the researchers concluded. .


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