A PSYCHOLOGY student is appealing for 300 canine volunteers – and their owners - to take part in a study of how dogs communicate.
Anna Taylor, a 23-year-old University of Sussex Phd student, plans to record the barks and growls of the dogs in an attempt to cast light on how and why dogs use sound to communicate.
To achieve her aim, she is looking for around 300 canine volunteers. "To get a good sample, I'll need dogs of all shapes and sizes," says Ms Taylor. "I'd also like the dogs to be friendly and not adverse to being handled. And above all, they need to be noisy."
She will isolate and analyse growls and other noises made by the dogs in each recording, and will also film, weigh and take head measurements of each dog, to provide valuable data for her investigation. The project is supervised by mammal communication specialists Dr David Reby and Dr Karen McComb.
Ms Taylor said: "For my undergraduate study I completed a final year project in cat purring. After that I went off to study applied animal behaviour which gave me a good understanding of dogs."
She added: "We use all type of techniques to get the dogs to bark and growl including banging on doors and windows, playing with them and isolating them in a room. It's an unusual study but it has been met with quite a lot of interest."
She hopes her project, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, will ultimately lead to a better understanding of vocal communication in dogs.
To begin with, Ms Taylor plans to isolate and analyse growls emitted in each recording. Dog growls are made up of sound components called ‘formats’ - which form the basis of vowel sounds in human speech).
These formats are believed to convey a lot of information about the dog making them, including body size, sexual aggressiveness or weight - important information for animals competing for territory, food or a mate.
Ms Taylor will then investigate whether the formats are related to the length of each dogs vocal tract - the space that runs from the nasal cavities to the larynx in the throat and which produces the formats.
In the longer term, Ms Taylor hopes her research will feed into a better understanding of the vocal communication in dogs. She says: "There are evolutionary implications in all of this, to do with the domestication of the dog."
"Co-evolutionary theory suggests that the evolutionary history of humans and dogs is inextricably linked, and it may be that domestic dogs vocalise primarily for their human companions."
"It would be interesting to test this theory, for example, by modifying the recordings then playing them back to humans and other dogs to see how they respond, hopefully showing which acoustic notes are important for which species."
"Owners like to think they know what their dog is saying when it barks. Hopefully, this research will help to reveal scientifically what man's best friend is really communicating."
• Dog owners are invited to sign up for the experiment by registering their contact details plus information about the dog's breed, age and sex. Anna Taylor will then advise when a recording session is due.
• Email firstname.lastname@example.org or register online at http://www.vocaldog.com/ where Ms Taylor’s progress as her research gets underway can also be viewed.