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How well do you know your dog?

A recent paper published in Animal Cognition journal this week implies that you really don't know your dog as well as you've been used to thinking. A new piece of software is able to classify dog barks according to different situations as well as identify barks from individual dogs.A recent paper published in Animal Cognition journal this week implies that you really don't know your dog as well as you've been used to thinking. Csaba Molnár from Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary and his research team published a paper in Springer’s journal Animal Cognition, which shows that a new piece of software is able to classify dog barks according to different situations. The software can even identify barks from individual dogs, which is something, well, we can't do. According to ScienceBlog: The aim of Molnár and colleagues’ experiments was to test a computer algorithm’s ability to identify and differentiate the acoustic features of dog barks, and classify them according to different contexts and individual dogs. The software analyzed more than 6000 barks from 14 Hungarian sheepdogs (Mudi breed) in six different situations: ‘stranger’, ‘fight’, ‘walk’, ‘alone’, ‘ball’ and ‘play’. The barks were recorded with a tape recorder before being transferred to the computer, where they were digitalized and individual bark sounds were coded, classified and evaluated. In the first experiment looking at classification of barks into different situations, the software correctly classified the barks in 43 percent of cases. The best recognition rates were achieved for ‘fight’ and ‘stranger’ contexts, and the poorest rate was achieved when categorizing ‘play’ barks. These findings suggest that the different motivational states of dogs in aggressive, friendly or submissive contexts may result in acoustically different barks. Allow me to break in at this point: so this means my dog has different 'happy' barks? In the second experiment looking at the recognition of individual dogs, the algorithm correctly classified the barks in 52 percent of cases. The software could reliably discriminate among individual dogs while humans can not, which suggests that there are individual differences in barks of dogs even though humans are not able to recognise them. Okay, that confirms it. The authors conclude by highlighting the value of their new methodology: “The use of advanced machine learning algorithms to classify and analyze animal sounds opens new perspectives for the understanding of animal communication… The promising results obtained strongly suggest that advanced machine learning approaches deserve to be considered as a new relevant tool for ethology.” which is the study of animal behavior, with a focus on behavioral patterns in natural environments. That does it: now they're telling me my computer, if it has the software installed, could 'understand' my dog better than I do? While this is promising tech news (seems like all those animal speech translation machines from science fiction could possibly be built within our lifetime), I can hardly be enthusiastic. After all these years of devoted friendship I get beat by a machine. What, Timmy, now you want to go online?

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