Can Babies Understand Dogs?

Here’s a story I thought was kinda cute…

Babies Can Understand Dogs, Study Finds

Dogs may be man’s best friend, but babies might also really understand Fido.A new study found that 6-month-olds can match the sounds of an angry snarl or friendly yap with photos of dogs showing the corresponding body language.

The results, published in the July issue of the journal Developmental Psychology, suggest that babies can decipher emotions even before they learn how to talk.

“Emotion is one of the first things babies pick up on in their social world,” said lead researcher Ross Flom, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University in Utah.

Barking dogs

The study involved 128 infants, with 32 from each of four age groups (6, 12, 18 and 24 months), who had little or no exposure to dogs.

The babies first looked at two images of the same fluffy canine, one showing the dog in an aggressive posture and facial expression while the other showed the dog in a friendly stance.

The researchers wanted to figure out whether infants had a preference for one expression over the other before including the dog barks. They didn’t.

Then, the researchers played a 2-second sound clip of either a friendly or threatening dog bark while the child viewed the two images. In the next trial, the other sound clip (aggressive or friendly) was played.

The 6-month-old babies spent most of their time staring at the matching photograph, so a mean bark would garner a stare at the dog with the vicious facial expression.

“The six-month-olds would look in that direction and kept looking in that direction,” Flom told LiveScience. “The older kids would glance at it and then kind of look away as if to say, ‘Oh yeah, I get it, it goes with that face. The task is ridiculous. I’m going to move on and look somewhere else around the room.'”

Baby smarts

The results suggest both 6-month-olds and babies up to 2 years old could distinguish a rowdy bark from a benign one. But the older babies just showed their correct responses differently than the 6-month-olds.

Interesting study, but I feel like this article might be sensationalizing the findings of the study a little bit…I wouldn’t be surprised.

The headline makes it seem like babies have some kind of intuition that puts them in tune with the dogs’ emotions. However I read it more as providing evidence that babies are able to perceive threats, which makes evolutionary sense to me!

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1 Response to “Can Babies Understand Dogs?”


  1. 1 Tevin Pierce January 9, 2012 at 9:02 pm

    this would seem like a perfect essay to write about for school… A+ for me! but it’s weird to think that babies understand dogs, can they even understand them better than us?


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