Listen up! Dogs have more to say than you think


Dog-owners will say they knew it all along, but new research suggests dogs really are trying to talk to us.

Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods, the authors of a book entitled The Genius of Dogs, write that, while barking is not always communicative (it can be just a release for some inner state of arousal), experiments have shown different barks and growls communicate different things. A "food growl" doesn't sound the same as "stranger growl", for instance.

More interesting, the bark a dog gives vent to when alone is treated very differently by other dogs than one that indicates a stranger is nearby. Pooches played a recording of the "stranger" growl jumped to attention, whereas they largely ignored the "alone" bark.

People too can recognise the difference between "along" and "stranger" barks; as well as "aggressive" and "playing" varieties.

The smartness levels of dogs also interest for DARPA, who've started a project to monitor the brains of canines and recruit the most intelligent. The project - of course called FIDOS ("Functional Imaging to Develop Outstanding Service-Dogs") - works through MRI scans and should optimise dog training.

Do you think we've underestimated the brain power of canis familiaris?