For the study, led by Péter Pongrácz of Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, children (aged 6, 8 and 10 years) and adults listened to different types of dog barks. Some of the barks were recorded when dogs were alone. Others were recorded when dogs were playing or encountering strangers. The listeners had to categorize the barks correctly by matching them to human facial expressions: fearful/lonely, angry, playful.
All of the listeners could easily tell when dogs were angry. Only the older kids, however, correctly understood the other types of barks. They scored about the same as adults.
The authors conclude, "This shows that the ability of understanding basic inner states of dogs on the basis of acoustic signals is present in humans from a very young age. These results are in sharp contrast with other reports in the literature which showed that young children tend to misinterpret canine visual signals."
Molnár and colleagues also, not too long ago, studied how well blind-at-birth people understand dog barks. Blind people were targeted because their "understanding of barks is not affected by visual memory."