If you have spent any time around dogs, you know that they communicate with their owners or handlers in many different ways. Barking, whining, whimpering, growling, a wagging tail, their tail tucked between their legs—all of these convey different emotions and comfort levels. However, do dogs have accents when they bark?
A study by the Canine Behavior Center in England found that dogs may have different accents or nuances to their bark depending on their owner’s speaking habits.
This article will explain the details of the study mentioned above, as well as visit some related topics on the subject of how dogs communicate with and understand their humans.
Dogs Do Have Accents?
The Canine Behavior Center conducted a study in the early 2000s that sought to discover whether dogs could have accents. The owners of the dogs tested, recorded the sounds of their barking and growling. The sound samples were then compared and analyzed to produce the final result.
Once all the data was processed, researchers then concluded that dogs mimic the tone and pitch of their owner’s voice, thereby developing their “accent” over time.
For example, canines that live with an owner that uses a harsh tone will have that sound to their bark, and a dog that lives with a haughty and upscale owner will adopt a similar style of bark.
Do Dogs from Different Countries Communicate Differently?
Many people worldwide like to believe that dogs have different languages or sound different depending on where they come from. However, dog language and behaviors are universal, and dogs can perfectly understand each other regardless of nationality.
The belief in the idea of unique dog languages comes from the fact that humans from different countries use various onomatopoeia sounds and words to imitate the sound of a dog barking. For example, barking sounds in the US are represented as “woof-woof,” “ruff-ruff,” and “bow-wow.”
However, these same expressions are written and spoken as “guau-guau” and “jau-jau” in Spanish or “wouaff-wouaff” and “whou-whou” in French. Other versions of barking onomatopoeia include:
- German: “wuff-wuff” and “vow-vow”
- Finnish: “hau-hau” and “vuh-vuh”
- Japanese: “wan-wan” and “kian-kian”
So, in the mind of humans, at least, dogs can speak different languages, even though they really don’t.
Can Dogs Process and Understand Human Accents?
A study by Ratcliffe and Reby published in the journal Current Biology discovered that dogs use the same methods as humans to process and respond to their own species’ vocalizations and human speech.
In both dogs and humans, the left hemisphere processes verbal content that is heard, and the right hemisphere interprets the tone and pitch of voice used. It has been found that sound information that is processed by the left hemisphere is better heard through the right ear and vice versa.
For the study, dogs were placed between two speakers that played both a human voice and another non-human voice simultaneously. The human sounds were varied to include high or low and fast or slow pitches or familiar commands versus foreign languages.
When dogs heard a clip with a command in a familiar language, they turned their head to the speaker with their right ear, indicating that the left hemisphere was the one processing speech. When a command’s meaningfulness was left out, and only the tone was played, the dogs would turn to use the left ear and right hemisphere.
This study shows that what we say to dogs has to be meaningful for them to process and respond to it because when the dogs were presented with tones (or accents), only the right side of their brain is more active. When dogs are presented with complete information of command and tone, both sides of the brain and both ears work in unison.
It is unclear how much language dogs actually understand, but researchers do know that they can listen and respond to human speech, though not necessarily specific accents.
How Well Can Dogs Recognize the Sound of Human Words?
The English language is notoriously difficult, but dogs are extremely talented at distinguishing between subtle changes in similar words. To test this in dogs, researchers at The University of Sussex had dogs sit next to a speaker and listen to a random string of words from a master list that started with “h” and ended with “d.”
The dogs’ responses were videotaped and recorded for analysis. The experiment was based on the principle of habituation, whereby the more a person or animal hears the same word or phrase, the less they will pay attention to it. This occurred in the study.
Whenever the dog heard a word for the first time, their ears would perk up, and they would listen intently. However, when the word was said with a different accent or repeated, the dog would lose interest and ignore it. When a new word was said, they would get excited again.
The researchers concluded that although the dogs could perceive the sounds of the words and recognize the difference between sounds, it was difficult to tell if the dogs could understand the words.
It’s important to realize that when communicating with your dog you should be more concerned with your own body language. Things like facial expressions and posture will determine to your dog the context of what you’re saying. Dogs use body language to understand your emotions, I explored this further in an article called “Do Dogs Know When You Are Sad”.
Do Other Animals Have Accents
Although the evidence on whether dogs develop accents is limited there is more substantial evidence that other animals develop accents. Most of the main evidence lies within the communication of whales, in particular sperm whales. Research conducted by psychologist Bob Seyfarth and biologist Dorothy Cheney highlights that most animals are born knowing how to speak the language of their species and fundamental communication does not depend on where they are born. However sperm whales, for example, communicate using different clicking patterns, these patterns are determined by the region they are from, the example used in the research was whales from the Caribbean compared with whales from the pacific.
Another example regarding animals with different accents is ducks, no not some sort of special duck found deep in the Amazon rainforest, we are talking about your basic English duck. Research conducted by Middlesex University discovered that cockney ducks from London have a rougher tone to their quacks than Cornish ducks.
It’s interesting to compare other animals and the possibility of them having accents. If these animals develop accents based on where they live, there is a good chance your pooch will develop an accent too. Although by looking at this evidence it seems that if an owner has a distinctly strong accent such as cockney or Glaswegian, then the likelihood that their pooch will develop a rougher tone to their bark is higher.
How to Communicate Better with Dogs
So after learning a little bit about whether dogs have accents and how they process speech from their own species and humans, you may be wondering how to communicate more effectively with the dogs in your life. Some tips for doing just that include:
- Say cue words once: repeating yourself causes the dog to think listening is optional
- Use hand signals or body gestures: dogs love these because they communicate with other dogs using body language
- Show your dog the proper behavior: use treats or other positive reinforcement when they do something good
- Speak less: the more you communicate with your dog or try to push them to listen, the more they will ignore you
By understanding how dogs think and how you can impart information to them more efficiently, you can develop a better relationship with your furry friend. As a result, they will be more loyal to you and more willing to perform the tasks you ask of them. Dogs have different ways of talking than humans, so you have to bridge the gap.
Dogs can also use their nose to determine what you are saying. they do this by smelling the chemicals being produced by your body, this includes serotonin, which causes your feeling of happiness. Dogs can also sense aggression and negativity, this allows them to suss out bad people. Take a look at an article I wrote called “Can Dogs sense bad people – Understanding Someone’s Intentions”.
In summary, dogs do have accents; they adapt their bark to their owner’s speaking habits over time. Every dog has their own pitch to its bark, to begin with. The idea that dogs can speak different languages originated because humans worldwide use various onomatopoeia sounds to imitate dogs barking.
Dogs can process the speech of both humans and their own species, but it is unclear how much they actually understand. In both species, the brain’s left hemisphere is used to process the sound information heard, while the right hemisphere recognizes voice tone and pitch. What we say to dogs has to be meaningful for them to process and understand it.
This is why it is best to train dogs with single-word commands. A single word or tone of a word is easier for dogs to remember and is meaningful. Saying a word only once in a distinct tone piques the dog’s interest, and they are more likely to process it. If a word is repeated in the same tone, a dog will tune it out.
Dog owners should do their part to learn how dogs communicate to get the most out of their relationship with their best friend. Dogs always want to do their best for us, so we should do the same for them.