Why can I not talk to my dog over Skype?

27th August 2009

Asked by: Jean Hamman, Brighouse

There are two possible explanations why dogs find it hard to hear or recognise your voice over Skype. Firstly, Skype (and voice telephone systems in general) are optimised to transmit frequencies between 500Hz and 4kHz. This provides an acceptable approximation of the frequency range of speech for human ears, but dogs have a much wider hearing range and so clipping the higher frequencies might be more significant to them than it is to us, to the point where Fido no longer recognises your voice.

The second and more fundamental problem is that dogs seem to have only a rudimentary ‘Theory of Mind’ (ToM). This is the cognitive ability to imagine the mental state of others. Without an adequate ToM, your dog might well be hearing your voice, but have no reason to suppose that the disembodied sound is related to you in any way.