Researchers Think AI Can Help Us Understand Dogs Better!

Jun 23, 2024

We’ve all wondered what the heck our dog was trying to tell us at some point or another. Those purposed whines, whimpers and barks definitely mean something to them; we just need some help knowing what. Now researchers at the University of Michigan are working on some pretty cool AI tools that could help decode the meaning behind your dog’s barks! The tools they’re researching may even be able to figure out your dog’s age, breed, sex and more just from vocalizations!  Imagine knowing whether your pup is feeling playful or aggressive just by analyzing their barks! These tools can even figure out your dog’s age, breed, and sex.

How AI is Learning Dog Language

Wouldn’t it be wild to know for sure whether your dog was making that noise because they were playing or feeling nervous or even aggressive? Researchers at the University of Michigan think so too! In collaboration with Mexico’s National Institute of Astrophysics, Optics and Electronics (INAOE), the research team used AI models that were originally trained to understand human speech to look into how AI can help us determine what dogs are trying to say to us. The team, led by Professor Rada Mihalcea, has been able to repurpose those models to interpret dog barks. “By using speech processing models initially trained on human speech, our research opens a new window into understanding the nuances of dog barks,” said Dr. Mihalcea in a press release.​ 

Tackling the Challenges Of Using AI For Dog Sounds

One of the biggest challenges for the research, though, is that there simply isn’t much data on animal sounds. It’s much easier to record human voices than it is to capture the many different sounds animals make. To gather enough data, the researchers recorded barks from 74 dogs of differing breeds, ages, and sexes in a variety of situations, such as playing, feeling anxious, or meeting strangers. Humberto Pérez-Espinosa and his team at INAOE helped collect these recordings.​ 

(How pet parents keep their cool)​.

The AI Magic For Dog VocalizationsPhoto: A Golden Retriever is on a sofa while a little girl whispers to it and her parents look on.

The AI model they used is called Wav2Vec2, and it was originally designed to recognize human speech patterns. This model is excellent at identifying tones, pitches, and accents in human voices, and the researchers adapted it to analyze dog barks. Surprisingly, this model could identify different types of barks with up to 70% accuracy! It was even better than models specifically designed for dog barks, which researchers found totally fascinating.​ 

Why This Matters To Dogs And Humans

This research is not just about satisfying our curiosity. Understanding dog barks can greatly improve how we take care of our furry friends, and improve our bonds. For instance, knowing when a bark means your dog is stressed or anxious can help prevent dangerous situations and make sure our dogs get the attention and care they need. Mihalcea emphasized that knowing what our dogs are trying to tell us can make the bond we have with them even stronger. Of this, he said, “Understanding the nuances of dog vocalizations could greatly improve how humans interpret and respond to the emotional and physical needs of dogs.”​ 

What’s Next For Dog AI

The hope is that this research will pave the way for even more advanced tools to help us understand our pets better. Seriously, how cool would having a device that could translate your dog’s barks into clear messages be? Or that helped you meet their needs more effectively? It could come at the hands of AI.

“There is so much we don’t yet know about the animals that share this world with us. Advances in AI can be used to revolutionize our understanding of animal communication,” said Mihalcea​. 

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