Social Question

longgone's avatar

Do you think animals understand emphasis?

Asked by longgone (14953points) April 16th, 2015

I catch myself repeating my dogs’ names on occasion, when they are not listening. Humans would recognize my different tone of voice as urgent, and often getting annoyed, too.

I’m wondering whether there is anything similar in the animal world – a signal that is repeated in a slightly different manner, because there is an added message.

Most notably, I heard a guy whistling for his dog last week. His whistle consisted of two short notes at first, similar to the “ding-dong” of a doorbell. When the dog didn’t respond, the whistle turned into something entirely different: Both notes longer, more pronounced. When you’re battling with a language that is not your own, these things must be confusing.

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13 Answers

rojo's avatar

I have never caught one using “air quotes“yet.

I think they do at least as far as tone; the deeper and gruffer the more they are prone to pay attention. Possibly because the read threat into it I guess.

marinelife's avatar

They recognize tone of voice.

canidmajor's avatar

There are so many cues for them as the urgency level of humans ratchets up. Your tone likely gets a bit more clipped, staccato. Your body demeanor changes slightly. You may add a little adrenalin to the scent mix. The body manufactures hormones for fear, anger, etc that are detectable by scent as well.
All of these cues that may be too subtle for most people to be consciously aware of do not go unnoticed by the dogs.

talljasperman's avatar

Yes… in a cheery tone ask if they want to be put to sleep. They will think you are offering to play with them.

wildpotato's avatar

Absolutely. I have called my dog a handful of times when she was running into danger, and her recall in those few instances was immediate. She’s pretty good at listening to “Come” anyway, but I could tell a definite difference in her reaction when there was real fear in my voice.

Go to a sheepdog trial sometime if you want to hear some amazing whistle communication with dogs.

ibstubro's avatar

How do tone of voice and whistling equate?

If you said my name in a normal tone of voice, I might finish a complicated task before I responded. If you yelled, I’d respond immediately because you were emphatic. I believe dogs get the same message.

A whistle can only change in loudness and length. It doesn’t have the nuance of tone and timber that the human voice does.

Coloma's avatar

Absolutely. When you “whoa” a horse you don’t whisper “whoa” you say ”WHOA!” haha

gondwanalon's avatar

Dogs are very smart and accommodating. They may not understand the words but they can interpret loudness and reflections of voice and try to react accordingly.

longgone's avatar

@all Thank you!

@ibstubro I was having trouble wording the question. Maybe this “experiment” will help:

Say the word “Billy” in a friendly tone, as if you’re calling your toddler. Now echo the word with a whistle. It sounds just as friendly as the word, in my opinion.

Next, imagine you are angry at “Billy”. Say his name in a threatening tone, and echo that with a whistle. See how it changes completely? That’s what the guy did, and it’s the reason I was asking. It was a completely different signal, and, as @wildpotato mentioned, dogs are amazing at distinguishing between subtly different signals.

thorninmud's avatar

I once heard a trainer make a good point: To a dog, humans are sources of lots of meaningless noise. Of all the chatter they hear coming out of our mouths, probably way less than 1% has any actual significance to the dog. They’re not always attentively filtering that stream of noise for the occasional couple of syllables that might be a command. If the dog assumes you’re in “Blah blah blah” mode, a change of tone will signal to him that this isn’t just more “Blah blah”.

Coloma's avatar

Haha…reminds me of the old Gary Larsen cartoon, “What we say to dogs and what they hear.”

“Okay Ginger, I’ve had it, you stay out of the trash, you hear me? Stay out of the trash Ginger!”

What they hear.
Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, Ginger, blah, blah, blah, Ginger.” lol

Coloma's avatar

@rojo Haha..I couldn’t find that, cool! I love that cartoon, and the one where the dog is trying to lure the cat into the dryer with the cat fud signs pointing all over. lol

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