New research says that 10-year-olds have an outstanding "inherent' ability to decipher dog barks.
The study could help to strengthen the theory that there's a universal animal "language."
Study co-author Csaba Molnar told Discovery News that the new research proves "that basic understanding of barks is an inherited trait in humans, and learning can only slightly improve this ability."
For the study, led by Pe'ter Pongra'cz of Eo"tvo"s Lora'nd University in Budapest, children (aged 6, 8 and 10 years) and adults listened to different types of dog barks. Some of the barks were recorded when dogs were alone.
Others were recorded when dogs were playing or encountering strangers. The listeners had to categorize the barks correctly by matching them to human facial expressions: fearful/lonely, angry, playful.
All of the listeners could easily tell when dogs were angry. Only the older kids, however, correctly understood the other types of barks. They scored about the same as adults.
"This shows that the ability of understanding basic inner states of dogs on the basis of acoustic signals is present in humans from a very young age," the authors said.
These results are in sharp contrast with other reports in the literature which showed that young children tend to misinterpret canine visual signals," they added.
The study has been published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science.