One dog growl may sound like another to human ears, but a new study shows for the first time that dogs receive specific information in growls that conveys meanings like “get away from my bone” or “back off.”
The study, accepted for publication in the journal Animal Behavior, presents the first experimental indication that domestic dogs rely on context-dependent signals when they growl at each other.
The findings add to the growing body of evidence that animal calls are far more complex than previously thought. For example, prior research suggests chimpanzees communicate information about food quality, while birds, prairie dogs, chickens, squirrels, primates and other animals likely share information about predator types.
Of all of these sounds, dog growls are particularly intense.
“A growl is a short-distance warning, not like a bark or howl, which you can hear over a large distance,” co-author Peter Pongracz told Discovery News. “When a dog growls, the opponent is near, so he/she can hear clearly that the next few steps forward will not be greeted with a warm welcome.”