Talk to Dogs Like Babies, Because Studies Show They Like It

Studies have shown that puppies respond positively to "baby talk."

Those same studies also found that this type of communication has little to no effect on adult dogs, but a new study suggests otherwise.

Recently, researchers from the University of York carried out a series of experiments designed to shed light on why we speak to our dogs (of all ages) in such a manner, and whether or not the dogs somehow benefit from it, or if we do so simply because we've grown accustomed to treating our dogs as we do babies.

According to University of York psychologist Dr. Katie Slocombe, "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."

People living in Western cultures commonly speak to their dogs in this high-pitched, rhythmic manner, adds Dr. Slocombe, but little is known if "baby talk," or, when used with dogs, "dog speak," has the same benefits for dogs as it does for human babies. Answering that question was the primary driver behind this series of experiments.

man with dog

In previous experiments, human voices were broadcast via a loudspeaker into a room with dogs. In this case, however, the researchers physically placed humans in the room with the dogs. Doing so, they hoped, would simulate a more realistic encounter and would also allow them to observe the dogs' reactions - if any - to the humans who spoke to them using "dog speak."

In the series of experiments, researchers exposed adult dogs to humans using dog-directed speech to say dog-related phrases such as "You're a good dog," and "Shall we go for a walk?" and regular speech to say phrases unrelated to dogs, such as "I went to the cinema last night."

Then, the human speakers used dog-directed speech to say non-dog-related words and regular speech to say dog-related words. This was important, as it allowed researchers to determine whether the dogs were responding to the manner of speech or to the words themselves, or both.

As the humans were speaking, researchers measured the dogs' attention, and noted which speaker they chose to interact with physically.

girl petting dog

"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...We hope this research will be useful for pet owners interacting with their dogs, and also for veterinary professionals and rescue workers," says PhD student Alex Benjamin, with the University's Department of Psychology.

The study was published in Animal Cognition and you can check it out here.

Now go home and tell your dog he's the best in the whole wide world! In baby talk, of course.

This post was originally published on March 15, 2018.

Do you use dog-directed speech with your dog? Do you think it makes a difference? Tell us in the comments section!

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