It doesn’t matter who you are, the moment you start talking to a puppy, your normal tone of voice likely changes. For some people, this impulse is nearly uncontrollable. Something about those little wagging tails and big, wide eyes makes people default to a higher pitched, baby-talk voice. Even as the puppy grows into an adult dog, that impulse usually doesn’t change. The question people have is does this “baby talk” actually do anything for the dog, or is it just silly all around?
According to some recent research at the University of York, the way you talk to your dog actually does have a profound influence on the relationship you have with your canine friend. (1)
Baby Talk To Dogs
When people talk to their babies, it helps support a sense of bonding between the parent and child. Researchers found that this similar concept can be true between dogs and their owners.
In the words of Dr. Katie Slocombe, a member of the University’s Department of Psychology, “a special speech register, known as infant-directed speech, is thought to aid language acquisition and improve the way a human baby bonds with an adult. This form of speech is known to share some similarities with the way in which humans talk to their pet dogs, known as dog-directed speech.
“This high-pitched rhythmic speech is common in human interactions with dogs in western cultures, but there isn’t a great deal known about whether it benefits a dog in the same way that it does a baby.
“We wanted to look at this question and see whether social bonding between animals and humans was influenced by the type and content of the communication.” (1)
To test the effects our speech has on dogs, the researchers conducted speech tests between people and dogs. They did the tests with people placed in the same room with the dogs to create a more natural, authentic experience as opposed to projecting speech over a speaker like previous experiments. They had the people say a variety of phrases. Some were directly related to things the dogs would understand (like “good boy” and “want to go on a walk?”) along with phrases not directed towards dogs (such as “I went to the cinema last night”). They would speak these phrases using different tones, varying between “baby talk” tones and regular speaking tones.
Turns Out, They Like It!
They observed the dogs to see which people they became most inclined to approach and interact with based on the varying approaches. According to Alex Benjamin, a Ph.D. student at the University, “we found that adult dogs were more likely to want to interact and spend time with the speaker that used dog-directed speech with dog-related content than they did those that used adult-directed speech with no dog-related content.
“When we mixed-up the two types of speech and content, the dogs showed no preference for one speaker over the other. This suggests that adult dogs need to hear dog-relevant words spoken in a high-pitched emotional voice in order to find it relevant.” (1)
In accordance with these findings, it seems that dogs like to not only be spoken to in higher pitched, emotionally based tones but also love engaging with people that are using words they know and understand. It may come to no surprise to those of us who already anecdotally know this to be true, but isn’t it always nice to get science on our side backing up our over-the-top behavior? This knowledge further helps us in our understanding of dogs and how they like to communicate with us, or rather, have us communicate with them. We hope this can help you continue to grow and bond with your favorite canine companion!