Study Suggests Dogs Can Follow the Direction of Human Voice

Study Suggests Dogs Can Follow the Direction of Human Voice

Study Suggests Dogs Can Follow the Direction of Human VoiceThis may not shock you, but a study suggests that dogs in fact may follow the direction of a human voice, whereas chimpanzees and wolves cannot. Even though isn’t news to most dog owners, similar studies are imperative in further, more important research of canine behavior.

At the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, a team of researchers came up with an experiment to test the theory that canines can follow the sound of a human voice [1]. Their paper was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences and it describes their findings, which suggest that the hypothesis may be true. More research will need to be done to fully understand the subject, but this study gives some great insight on the relationship between canines and the human voice.

For thousands of years humans and dogs have been building amazing relationships. Some scientists believe that over that course of time, dogs have found a way to communicate with humans and vice versa; however, the ways of communication are not fully understood.

A previous study reports through calculated research that canines are able to follow a person’s gaze and can also follow a pointed finger most of the time. Additionally, research has also been completed to test whether or not dogs can make inferences based on the direction in which human communication is traveling.

In more detail

The experiment done at the Max Planck Institute involved participants of different species – let’s refer to them as dogs and humans (or persons) – but only one pair was observed at a time.

There was a wooden plank set up in the middle of the room and a person stood on one side facing the plank while the dog was kept on the other side. The dog also faced the plank, but there was a red curtain between them so that the dog could not see the movement of the person. To begin the experiment, the person stood up and showed the dog a food treat that they held above the plank. They instructed the dog to pay attention. Then the person crouched behind the plank and the curtain was drawn. The person put the food in one of two black smell-proof boxes.

Boxes were set on either side of the plank, but couldn’t be seen by the dog unless the curtain was open. As the person faced directly toward the box with the food in it, he or she was speaking encouragingly to the dog. The dog was then released and allowed to go wherever they chose to.

On average, adult dogs went directly to the correct box 7.6 out of 12 times. The experiment was also performed on puppies, and the average was even better with puppies that had been socialized well with people. They went directly to the correct box 8.1 out of 12 times. Puppies that were not accustomed to being around people were a toss-up and performed no better than chance had predicted.

The results of this study do suggest that dogs could tell which direction the human voice was coming from and that they understood the link between the voice and the reward. This same study has also been performed on chimpanzees and wolves, but neither of those species was able to follow the voice.

More research on this subject will surely be taking place in the near future to help scientists understand further the way dogs hear us and how well they connect what they hear with the environment that surrounds them.



  1. Rossano F et al. Domestic dogs and puppies can use human voice direction referentially. Proc Biol Sci. 2014 May 7;281(1785):20133201. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2013.3201

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