Are dogs able to recognize their handler's voice? A preliminary study

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Abstract:

A number of studies have dealt with the ability of dogs to rely on olfactory cues to recognize their owner or handler. However, in the absence of these cues (e.g., when working at a distance from their owner) dogs have to use other senses to interact with their owner. Considering the high sensitivity of their auditory system, we can hypothesize that dogs are able to use vocal cues for this purpose. Certainly, it is commonly assumed that dogs can discriminate between people on the basis of their voice, and yet there is a clear lack of empirical data on this subject. The present study assesses the importance of the handler's olfactory and visual cues versus the importance of his/her vocal cues to the working behavior of dogs. I compare the ability of working dogs to obey different vocal commands issued either by their handler (HV) or by a stranger (SV) via loudspeakers in different olfactory contexts: presence of their handler (H) or of a stranger (S). The dogs' performance (percentage of correct responses) decreased when the acoustic cues were modified (H+HV tended to differ from the H+SV—p = 0.09—and differed from the S+SV conditions—p = 0.05) but not when only the olfactory cues were changed (no difference between H+HV and S+HV conditions—p > 0.1). Consequently, we can assume that dogs rely, at least in part, on acoustic parameters of voices to recognize and cooperate with their handler.

Keywords: HUMAN–DOG BOND; OLFACTORY CUES; VOCAL CUES; WORKING DOGS

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/089279306785415529

Publication date: September 1, 2006

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