HomePLANTS & ANIMALSECOLOGYWolves Demonstrate Ability to Recognize Human Voices, Study Shows

Wolves Demonstrate Ability to Recognize Human Voices, Study Shows

In a fascinating study shedding light on the relationship between humans and canines, researchers have discovered that wolves possess the ability to recognize and respond to the voices of familiar humans.

This finding challenges the long-held belief that dogs’ aptitude for distinguishing human voices is solely a result of selective breeding.

The study, conducted by Holly Root-Gutteridge and her team at the University of Lincoln, provides valuable insights into the process of canine domestication and expands our understanding of interspecies communication in the natural world.

To investigate this phenomenon, the researchers conducted experiments involving 24 gray wolves across five zoos and wildlife parks in Spain.

Both male and female wolves, ranging from one to 13 years of age, were included in the study.

The team employed speakers to play recordings of various strangers’ voices, which the wolves would gradually become bored of, suggesting a lack of interest or relevance to them.

However, when the wolves heard the voices of their keepers uttering familiar phrases in Spanish, such as “Hey, what’s up wolves?” or “Hello little ones, good morning, how’s it going?”, they exhibited unmistakable signs of recognition.

Similar to the responses observed in dogs, the wolves raised their heads, perked up their ears, and turned towards the speaker, indicating their attentiveness to the familiar voices.

To ensure the findings were not a result of chance, the researchers once again played recordings of strangers’ voices to the wolves, and the animals demonstrated a diminished interest, reaffirming their preference for the voices of their keepers.

Moreover, to confirm that the wolves recognized the specific voices rather than merely the words spoken, the team introduced unfamiliar phrases spoken by the keepers.

Once again, the wolves responded consistently, highlighting their ability to discern their keepers’ voices regardless of the specific content.

Implications for Canine Domestication and Interspecies Communication
Implications for Canine Domestication and Interspecies Communication

Implications for Canine Domestication and Interspecies Communication

The wolves’ engagement with disembodied voices projected through speakers mirrors the behavior observed in dogs throughout history, from the era of gramophones to modern-day video doorbells.

Although it remains uncertain whether dogs find this auditory interaction enjoyable or frustrating, the findings emphasize the shared capabilities between wolves and their domesticated counterparts.

This research holds significance beyond the realm of canine-human relationships.

It underscores the remarkable ability of wolves, despite having diverged from humans millions of years ago, to differentiate between human voices.

Prior to this study, little research had been conducted on how animals distinguish vocalizations from other species.

While it was expected that gorillas, our close relatives, listen to people, the study also revealed that elephants possess the capacity to distinguish the gender, age, and ethnicity of humans through their voices.

Elephants demonstrate varying threat responses, assigning less danger to women and children, and displaying heightened fear towards the elephant-spearing Maasai in contrast to the agrarian Kamba.

Animals’ Cross-Species Interactions Revealed

According to Root-Gutteridge, the lead researcher, the discovery that wolves can recognize human voices suggests that numerous species may be perceptive to our vocalizations and may even familiarize themselves with us as individuals.

This implies that animals engage in more extensive cross-species interactions than previously contemplated.

Root-Gutteridge also proposes that dogs, for instance, might be listening to and discerning differences between the meows of neighboring cats.

The implications of this research extend beyond our understanding of the bond between humans and canines.

They prompt us to consider the richness and complexity of interspecies communication, potentially reshaping our perceptions of the animal kingdom’s interconnectedness.

As scientists delve further into these fascinating discoveries, our appreciation for the intricacies of the natural world continues to deepen.


Through a series of experiments involving gray wolves, researchers have confirmed their ability to recognize and respond to familiar human voices.

This finding challenges the notion that dogs’ aptitude for distinguishing human voices solely results from selective breeding.

The study not only sheds light on the process of canine domestication but also uncovers the potential for cross-species interactions and communication.

As we uncover the extent of animals’ perceptiveness to human vocalizations, we gain a deeper understanding of our place within the interconnected tapestry of the natural world.


Q1: How did the researchers determine that the wolves recognized human voices?

The researchers conducted experiments in which they played recordings of both strangers and the wolves’ keepers speaking. When the wolves heard the voices of their keepers, they exhibited distinct signs of recognition, such as raising their heads, perking up their ears, and turning towards the speaker. This consistent response indicated that the wolves could distinguish and respond to the voices of familiar humans.

Q2: Did the wolves respond differently to the voices of different keepers?

The study did not specifically address whether the wolves differentiated between the voices of different keepers. The focus of the research was primarily on the wolves’ ability to recognize and respond to the voices of their specific keepers, rather than distinguishing between different individuals. Further studies could explore this aspect in more detail.

Q3: How does this research contribute to our understanding of canine domestication?

The study challenges the belief that dogs’ capacity to recognize human voices is solely a result of selective breeding. By demonstrating that wolves, who have not undergone domestication, can also recognize human voices, the research suggests that this ability may have existed in their common ancestor. This implies that the ability to differentiate human voices predates the domestication of dogs and may have been a trait inherited from their wild counterparts.

Q4: Could this ability to recognize human voices be present in other animal species?

The study’s lead researcher suggests that the ability to recognize and differentiate human voices might extend to other animal species as well. The findings imply that various species may be attuned to human vocalizations and potentially develop an understanding of individuals within our species. Further research in this area could help unravel the extent of interspecies communication and the recognition of human vocal cues among different animals.

Q5: How might this research impact our interactions with animals in the future?

Understanding that animals can recognize and respond to human voices can have implications for how we communicate and interact with them. It emphasizes the importance of considering animals’ perceptiveness and their ability to understand and differentiate human vocal cues. This knowledge could potentially enhance our ability to communicate with and train animals, promoting more effective and empathetic interactions. Additionally, it encourages us to recognize the richness and complexity of interspecies relationships, fostering a deeper appreciation for the interconnectedness of all living beings.

More information: Animal Cognition (2023). DOI: 10.1007/s10071-023-01796-9


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