Why ‘Dog-Speak’ Is Important in Communicating With Your Pet

Do you speak “baby-talk” with your pet?   It’s that high-pitched voice with exaggerated emotion you might also have done with a human baby. Well, now researchers at York University have found that such speech interaction with your dogs improves attention and may actually help with the bonding process.

I had heard about this idea before and always believed there was some truth to it, based on my own personal experiences.

We use “baby voice” in the shelter. When speaking to a frightened dog especially in the shelter, it is very effective to talk in a soothing light voice.

This is why women are sometimes better at coaxing a scared dog out of a crate, or working with a new dog. We find some dogs respond much better to women than men. Some of the male volunteers also use a baby voice, but some dogs prefer women, whose voices are naturally higher.

I always talk to my dogs in baby voice! (I get lots of tail wags.) Most people I know do the same. One should never feel silly when talking in a baby voice to a dog. It works.

WHAT IS DOG-DIRECTED SPEECH?
Dog-directed speech (or pet-directed speech) is a peculiar speaking pattern with higher pitch and slower tempo known to engage infants’ attention and promote language learning.

Previous studies by researchers Tobey Ben-Aderet, Mario Gallego-Abenza, David Reby, and Nicolas Mathevon on communicating with dogs had suggested that talking in a high-pitch voice with exaggerated emotion, just as adults do with babies, improved engagement with puppies but made little difference with adult dogs.

Animal Cognition - ‘Who’s a good boy?!’ Dogs prefer naturalistic dog-directed speechDr Katie Slocombe from the University of York’s Department of Psychology said: “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.

Unlike previous experiments, the research team positioned real humans in the same room as the dog, rather than broadcasting speech over a loud speaker without a human present. This made the set up much more naturalistic for the dogs and helped the team test whether dogs not only paid more attention more to ‘dog speak’, but were motivated to spend more time with the person who had spoken to them in that way.

Researchers did a series of speech tests with adult dogs, where they were given the chance to listen to one person using dog-directed speech containing phrases such as ‘you’re a good dog’, and ‘shall we go for a walk?’, and then another person using adult-directed speech with no dog-related content, such as ‘I went to the cinema last night.’.

Attention during the speech was measured, and following the speech, the dogs were allowed to choose which speaker they wanted to physically interact with.

The speakers then mixed dog-directed speech with non-dog-related words and adult-directed speech with dog-related words, to allow the researchers to understand whether it was the high-pitched emotional tone of the speech that dogs were attracted to or the words themselves.


From the study

“The researchers did a series of speech tests with 69 adult dogs in which the dogs listened to one person using high-pitched, dog-directed speech containing phrases such as “You’re a good dog” and “Shall we go for a walk?” Another person used adult-directed speech with no dog-related content (instead, they said boring human things like “I went to the movies last night”).

Researchers observed the dogs’ levels of attention during the speeches, and then prompted them to choose which speaker they wanted to play and engage with.

The speakers then mixed dog-directed speech with non-dog-related words and adult-directed speech with dog-related words, so the researchers could determine if it was the high-pitched emotional tone of the speech that dogs were attracted to, or the words themselves.”

 

According to Alex Benjamin, PhD student from the University’s Department of Psychology, “Obviously we know that dogs can’t learn to talk, so we wanted to know whether dog-speak also has a function for dogs, or whether it is simply something we tend to use with our pets in a culture where we think of dogs as part of the family, like fur-babies.”

“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.” [source]

 

ADDITIONAL SOURCES:

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