What would a dog say if it could talk? "Stranger", "fight", "walk", "alone", "ball" and "play", according to scientists who have developed a computer programme to translate dog barks.
The special programme analysed more than 6,000 barks from 14 Hungarian sheepdogs in six different situations.
In a series of tests the team of scientists, from Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary led by Csaba Molnár, discovered that a computer could recognise whether a dog was in a stranger, fight, walk, alone, ball or play scenario.
The barks were tape recorded and then digitized on a computer, which used software to study their differences.
The computer correctly identified the different situations 43 per cent of the time. Although it was not a high success rate it was far better than human recognition, the researchers said.
The computer was most accurate in identifying the "fight" and "stranger" contexts, and was least effective at matching the "play" bark.
The results appear in the journal Animal Cognition, and suggest that dogs have acoustically different barks depending on their emotional state.
The researchers also performed a second test, in which the computer identified individual dogs by their bark.
The software correctly identified the dogs 52 per cent of the time, again much better than the human result, suggesting there are individual differences in barks even though humans are not able to recognize them.
The team also plans to compare the barks of different breeds to discover what they have in common.