It's well known that dogs have incredible senses of smell and hearing — so much so that they're almost superpowers. They can hear high-frequency sounds that we'd never register and smell things that even advanced man-made instruments can't pick up on. As fascinating as these abilities are, there is now another amazing faculty that scientists have discovered: Dogs are able to distinguish their owner's voice from strangers.
In a recent study conducted at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, researchers found that dogs are able to correctly distinguish their owner's voice from those of strangers 82% of the time. Researchers paired each participating dog owner with a stranger and had them hide from the dog in separate places. A recording of the owner's voice was played from where the owner hid while the stranger's voice was played from their hiding place. The recordings were simply each person reading a cooking recipe in a neutral way. The dog would then go to the place they believed their owner was.
To ensure that dogs were not utilizing their keen sense of smell to sniff out their owner, researchers swapped the owner and stranger's positions and played the owner's voice from the stranger's location and vice versa. The result was the same as before, establishing that the dogs were only relying on their hearing.
The researchers wrote in their article, now published in the journal Animal Cognition, that "Dogs’ high choosing success rate, their ability to discriminate their owner’s voice from a variety of control voices, and the fact that dogs’ choices were not confounded by either olfactory cues or speaker order indicate that dogs can reliably use identity cues carried by speech.”
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The researchers now believe that dogs utilize similar voice properties as humans to identify speakers. Some of these properties are pitch (higher or lower), noisiness (cleaner or harsher), and timbre (brighter or darker). Tamás Faragó, one of the researchers, believes that this study might indicate that dogs can recognize their owner's voice over the phone, which could help dogs who have separation anxiety.
It's amazing to know how exceptionally gifted dogs are, and that this research could help our furry friends with some of their woes!