Animals | Dogs

Use “Baby Talk” to Build A Better Relationship With Your Dog

A university study researches “dog speak” to find out if dogs like it.

By Catalina Barrios

Who pulls the strings of your heart? I am certain there is more than one reader who immediately thought of their most loyal and constant companion, the dog.  If you are thinking about adopting a dog, I can proudly tell you it will be one of the best decisions of your life. There is nothing like coming home and being greeted by a friend who is so very delighted to have you back. You’ll even find yourself talking to them.

Admit it. It’s hard to not use baby talk with our pets and other people’s.

“Who’s happy to see me? Who’s a good doggy? Who wants to play outside?” are some of the expressions we commonly repeat to our furry friends. We want to spoil them, connect to them, praise, and build a positive relationship.

We tend to talk to our dogs as if they were babies, speaking slowly in a high-pitched tone. According to a study from the University of York in the United Kingdom, “baby talking” to a puppy is a great way of establishing a good relationship. Researchers, Alex Benjamin and Katie Slocombe, tested whether “dog-speak” was responded to by animals or if humans simply baby talked because they considered their pets to be cute.

“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. We wanted to see whether social bonding between animals and humans was the reason,” said Slocombe.

Thirty-seven dogs took part in the study that had humans speak to them in different voice tones.

First, dogs heard someone asking, “Who’s a good boy” in a high-pitched tone, which can be classified as dog-directed speech. In another room, people spoke to dogs in a subdued tone, saying phrases such as “Last night I went to the movies.”  The latter is known as adult-directed speech. Researchers then had people mix dog-directed speech with non-dog related words and a normal adult-directed speech with dog-related words.

The dogs’ attention spans was compared over the different scenarios. Which type of speech do you think dogs preferred? The result was determined by recording which person the dog chose to interact with at the end of the experiment.

The study determined that dogs were more eager to spend time with a speaker who used dog-directed speech (high-pitched) and content. When tone was mixed up with content there was no preference. For example, saying “I love to clip my nails” in a dog-directed tone, was not preferred over dog-related content.

“This suggests that adult dogs need to hear dog-relevant words spoken in a high-pitched emotional voice in order to find it relevant,” said Benjamin who hopes the research can be used by rescue workers, veterinarians, and pet owners when interacting with and training dogs.

Do you “baby talk” with your dog? What are their favorite words?

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