Babies can actually speak dog they can interpret the meaning of dog barks — even if they have never been around dogs. Researchers from Brigham Young University found that babies as young as six months of age are able to match the sounds of an angry snarl and a friendly yap with photos of dogs that appear either threatening or friendly. Though the mix of dogs and babies sounds silly, experiments of this kind help us understand how babies learn so rapidly. Long before they master speech, babies recognize and respond to the tone of what’s going on around them.
Emotion is one of the first things babies pick up on in their social world. Dogs were chosen for this experiment because they are highly communicative animals in their body posture and in the nature of their barks. While there were no actual dogs used in these experiments with the babies it does shed some light on how the two interact in their homes. I would never advocate for allowing a dog to be alone with a baby it does tell us that a baby can pick up on the mood of a dog and act in accordance with what they have learned from the bark or body posture of the dog. However during the experiment non of the babies got upset and started crying when they heard the dog on the tape being aggressive. Whether that means they did not feel threatened by the sound or if if they somehow believe the dogs were trying to protect them the study had no way of gauging. Young babies are extremely aware of their environment and the things going on around them.
It seems that through another study that was recently published babies believe that something is bigger should be given more respect and allowed to do things that something smaller should have to wait in order to get to do. This might be why babies that come home from the hospital to a dog already in the house behave as if the dog is the older sibling as opposed to bringing a dog into the family later when the child is a toddler or school age. The relationship between the two seems to be different. The dog could still be the child’s best friend but the bond does not seem to be as strong. With the dog in the house from the time the baby comes home the baby sees the dog as bigger, more experienced, and the one they should show respect for.