London: Believe it or not, 10-year-olds can "read" dog barks better than adults.
A new study by the University in Budapest has found that humans understand a dog`s bark from an early age but after 10, they are not able to decipher meanings so easily, a newspaper reported.
In tests, volunteers found it easiest to distinguish when a dog was angry -- but 10-year-olds excelled at interpreting more subtle noises.
The study`s results came from playing recordings of various bark "modes", such as warning off a stranger, playing and feeling lonely, to children aged six, eight and 10, and adults, and asking them to pair the noises with corresponding human facial expressions.
Lead author Csaba Molnar said: "This shows that the ability of understanding basic inner states of dogs on the basis of acoustic signals is present in humans from a very young age.
"These results are in sharp contrast with other reports in the literature which showed that young children tend to misinterpret canine visual signals."
The researchers went on to further understand how humans "listen" to dog barks. They tested a computer algorithm`s ability to identify and differentiate the acoustic features of dog barks, and classify them according to different contexts and individual dogs.
The software analysed more than 6,000 barks from 14 Hungarian sheepdogs in six different situations -- "stranger", "fight", "walk", "alone", "ball" and "play". The barks were recorded with a tape recorder before being transferred to the computer, where they were digitised and evaluated.
In the first experiment looking at classification of barks into different situations, the software correctly classified the barks in 43 per cent of cases. The best recognition rates were achieved for "fight" and "stranger" contexts, and the poorest rate for "play" barks.
In the second experiment looking at the recognition of individual dogs, the algorithm correctly classified the barks in 52 per cent of cases.
The software could reliably discriminate among individual dogs while humans cannot, which suggests that there are individual differences in barks of dogs even though humans are not able to recognise them.
Molnar said: "The use of advanced machine learning algorithms to classify and analyse animal sounds opens new perspectives for the understanding of animal communication."