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Dogs match what they see with what they hear – University of Sussex research shows

Can your pet dog associate the pitch of a sound – high or low - with the position of an object, like a bouncing ball?

The answer is yes, according to a new research study published in Biology Letters.

Anna Korzeniowska, the University of Sussex doctoral researcher who conducted the study explains: “It has been known for many years that humans intuitively pair high-pitched noises with objects elevated in space and low-pitched noises with objects found on the ground. A phenomenon referred to as a crossmodal correspondence. However, it has not been known if other mammals can do the same.”

To conduct the research study, Anna Korzeniowska used her experience as a dog trainer to devise a simple test using images of a ball bouncing up and down matched with a soundtrack that rose and fell in pitch.

In the first test, high and low pitched sounds matched when the ball was high in the air or low to the ground. The sound rose and fell as the ball moved up and down. In this congruent test, the dogs were observed to move their eyes and bodies in harmony with the ball and the sound.

In the second test, the soundtrack did not match the movement of the ball – the pitch got higher as the ball fell for example. Although the dogs did look at the film of the bouncing ball for some of the time in the incongruent test, they did not track its movement as closely as they had during the congruent test.

“What’s exciting about our research is that, for the first time, we have observed that dogs also associate high and low pitch sounds with the position of an object, just like we do. This behaviour has previously only been associated with humans. Our future studies will investigate whether these associations are present from birth in domestic dogs or learned, perhaps also due to living with humans, by studying their occurrence in puppies,” said Anna Korzeniowska.

Last updated: Monday, 24 February 2020