Dogs Can Recognise Their Owners By Voice Alone

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While it has been known through previous studies that dogs have the capability of telling their owners apart from other humans, it has been unclear until now which sensory organ they use during the recognition process.
Dogs are capable of recognising their owners by voice alone, without the need of any visual or olfactory cues to tell them apart from other humans, a new study has shown.
The research has demonstrated that in identifying their owners through voice, the canines make use of the same properties which are used by people in differentiating between voices.
The first-of-its-kind study was conducted by researchers from Hungary’s Eotvos Lorand University, and the findings were published in peer-reviewed scientific journal Animal Cognition on 10 February.

“This is the first demonstration that dogs can tell apart their owner’s voice from many others. The study also shows that dogs make use of some, but only some of the same voice properties as humans do to recognize who is talking”, remarks Andics Attila, a co-author and leader of Eotvos Lorand’s Neuroethology of Communication Lab, where the study was conducted.

During the research, 28 owner-dog pairs were invited to the lab and made to play the game of hide-and-seek, as per a press release by the Hungarian university.
The dogs had to find their owners, who positioned themselves in one of two hiding places, while a stranger hid behind the other. Both the owner and the stranger then read out a recipe in a neutral tone from their respective spots, with the dog tasked with identifying the owner.
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The experiment involved multiple rounds and the owner’s voice was paired with those of 14 different strangers. In order to be sure that the dogs couldn’t make use of any smell whatsoever during the experiment, in the last two rounds recordings of the owners were played from the spot where the strangers had been hiding.

The results showed that dogs were correctly able to identify their owners in 82 percent of the cases. When the recorded voices of owners were played during the final rounds, the dogs marched towards the voice.

Further, the dogs identified their owners’ more readily when the stranger’s voice differed from that of the owner’s in pitch and tone.
The study’s researchers say that the duration of time the dogs looked in the direction of their owner’s voice before they walked towards the voice indicated how confident they were in the recognition process.

“People mostly make use of three properties: pitch (higher or lower), noisiness (cleaner or harsher), and timbre (brighter or darker) to differentiate others”, explains the study’s lead author Anna Gábor.

“Dogs may make use of the same voice properties or different ones. If two voices differ in a property that matters for dogs, decisions should be easier”, she said.
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