Body size is an important feature that affects fighting ability; however, size-related parameters of agonistic vocalizations are difficult to manipulate because of anatomical constraints within the vocal production system. Rare examples of acoustic size modulation are due to specific features that enable the sender to steadily communicate exaggerated body size. However, one could argue that it would be more adaptive if senders could adjust their signaling behavior to the fighting potential of their actual opponent. So far there has been no experimental evidence for this possibility. We tested this hypothesis by exposing family dogs (Canis familiaris) to humans with potentially different fighting ability. In a within-subject experiment, 64 dogs of various breeds consecutively faced two threateningly approaching humans, either two men or two women of different stature, or a man and a woman of similar or different stature. We found that the dogs’ vocal responses were affected by the gender of the threatening stranger and the dog owner’s gender. Dogs with a female owner, or those dogs which came from a household where both genders were present, reacted with growls of lower values of the Pitch–Formant component (including deeper fundamental frequency and lower formant dispersion) to threatening men. Our results are the first to show that non-human animals react with dynamic alteration of acoustic parameters related to their individual indexical features (body size), depending on the level of threat in an agonistic encounter.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology