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J Exp Biol. 1999 Oct;202(Pt 20):2859-67.

Vocal tract length and acoustics of vocalization in the domestic dog (Canis familiaris).

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  • 1Institut für Biologie, c/o Professor G. Tembrock, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Invalidenstrasse 43, Germany.


The physical nature of the vocal tract results in the production of formants during vocalisation. In some animals (including humans), receivers can derive information (such as body size) about sender characteristics on the basis of formant characteristics. Domestication and selective breeding have resulted in a high variability in head size and shape in the dog (Canis familiaris), suggesting that there might be large differences in the vocal tract length, which could cause formant behaviour to affect interbreed communication. Lateral radiographs were made of dogs from several breeds ranging in size from a Yorkshire terrier (2.5 kg) to a German shepherd (50 kg) and were used to measure vocal tract length. In addition, we recorded an acoustic signal (growling) from some dogs. Significant correlations were found between vocal tract length, body mass and formant dispersion, suggesting that formant dispersion can deliver information about the body size of the vocalizer. Because of the low correlation between vocal tract length and the first formant, we predict a non-uniform vocal tract shape.

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