Do dogs like when you baby talk?
Talk to Dogs Like Babies, Because Studies Show They Actually Like It
Talking to your precious fur baby, who doesn’t do it? I can’t honestly say I have met one pet parent who hasn’t carried on conversations with their dog, myself included. Dogs are like babies. They are members of the family – we feed them, take them potty and, of course, talk to them. Don’t get embarrassed if you talk to your dog using baby talk because you’re not alone. In fact, studies show they actually like it! (1)
Why Do We Talk To Dogs Like Babies?
Baby talk. It’s “infant-directed speech,” characterized by a higher pitch, tone changes that rise and fall, and greater effect. If you are a parent, you are very familiar with using this type of speech with your children. In actuality, the majority of pet parents use the same type of speech with their dogs. The reasoning behind using baby talk with their dogs is because they view their dogs as part of the family. This is a way for them to bond with their dogs the way they would bond with their child. (2)
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It’s Actually Dog-Directed Speech
When pet parents speak to their fur babies, while it may sound similar to baby talk, it is actually a bit different. The speech used with dogs is known as “dog-directed speech”. It’s similar to infant-directed speech, except pet parents don’t exaggerate the vowels as they would with a baby. A likely reason for this difference is the unfortunate reality that our dogs can’t talk back to us no matter how well we enunciate. (2)
In an older research study, they looked at how baby talk affected both puppies and older dogs. The baby talk used a higher pitch intonation in the voice than the dog-directed speech. The study found that that puppies responded quite favorably to the baby talk, however, the older dogs did not really have much of a response. It seems as though speaking to your puppy in the baby talk dialect seems to have some sort of positive effect on your puppy. (3)
Updates In Research on Dog-Directed Speech
The newest study by researchers Alex Benjamin and Katie Slocombe, at the University of York in the United Kingdom, gives new information regarding baby talk and our dogs. Researchers designed two experiments allowing humans to interact with dogs. In the first experiment, the researchers tested dog-directed speech versus adult-directed speech (speaking in a normal tone of voice without any type of dog commands).
The second experiment was tailored for dogs both in terms of verbal content and inflection. Dogs were praised and offered things like going for a walk. Between these studies, dogs were spoken to in various tones and with phrases that both did and did not include dog commands. Ultimately, the outcome of the study showed that dogs preferred to be spoken to with the higher-pitched dog-directed speech that included dog commands. (4)
Maybe pet parents intuitively know something about their fur babies. Sure we know they can’t talk back to us when we talk to them. However, we have integrated them into our families and love them just like we love our children. Possibly it’s a comfort thing for each of us to know that at the end of the day we will come home to our fur baby, they will be there – excited to see us and we will talk to them just like we always have. Now we can take some comfort in knowing that they prefer when we talk to them in the special little way we do because we love them so much!
About Jill Smart
Hello, my name is Jill. I am a proud pet parent of two very special lab mix fur babies. My Oliver is a chocolate lab/pit mix who is 6 years old and my princess, Ellie is a 4 year old deaf lab/pit mix. They both came to me as foster dogs and I became their forever mom. I am a huge advocate for pet adoptions, as all of my dogs have come to me through rescue circumstances. I have the privilege of showing my dogs that there is a warm, loving family just for them. I communicate with Ellie via sign language and her brother Oliver has picked it up as well. These two made the cross country move with me from Wisconsin to San Diego 4 years ago and love the warm winters here. I am a clinic manager for a restorative healthcare provider by day and an intuitive coach/white witch at InHeartFlow.com and writer in my off hours.
Talking «Baby Talk» to Dogs
That high-pitched «baby talk» humans use with babies can catch and hold the attention of your dog!
Barbie Klapp, Community Contributor
Posted Fri, Dec 17, 2021 at 10:02 am ET
A study shows that dogs really do like baby talk. That high-pitched, melodic, emotionally engaging voice humans distinctively use with babies, catches and holds the attention of your dog! The scientific term for this is “infant-directed speech”. In this study, scientists compared dogs’ reactions to baby talk and to regular adult speech.
The study compared phrases and words commonly used around dogs as well as random, non-dog related phrases and words. Unsurprisingly, dogs showed a clear preference for dog related terms.
What was surprising is that dogs like hearing their favorite words together with the baby talk voice. Especially the puppies!
What is Pet-Directed and Infant-Directed Speech?
Pet-directed speech is like infant-directed speech. It’s a speaking pattern with higher pitch and slow tempo known to engage baby’s attention and promote their language learning. When talking to their babies, humans use a special speech register characterized by higher and more variable pitch, slower tempo, and clear articulation of vowels than in their speech addressed to adults. This infant-directed speech has a positive effect in engaging and maintaining the attention of babies and facilitating their social interaction with their caregivers. Children as young as seven weeks old show preference for this speech over adult-directed speech. Accordingly, this means infants are more engaged in what is being said to them when they listen to this special speech.
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Infant-directed speech has also been theorized to facilitate language learning by supporting construction of vowel and phonetic categories, clear production of consonants and the learning of new words. This novel role in language learning is consistent with a decrease in the use and acoustic specificity of the infant-directed speech that follows a development of language skills during the first year of the human.
Reactions to Infant-Directed Speech
These dynamic changes can be explained by modifications of the infant’s reactions to the speech. As the infant grows up, they become more reactive to their caregivers’ facilitations and respond more specifically to meaningful sentences. A promotion of interaction becomes easier, which lessens the use of infant-directed speech. Another explanation of the use of the speech could be that the morphological features of the younger babies elicit infant-directed speech as part of caretaking behavior. As these features become less prominent, the elicitation of infant-directed speech decreases. The infant-directed speech functions as a communication signal and then evolves to accompany the cognitive development of babies, that depends on proximate mechanisms that are static and dynamic.
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The Pet Parent
Dogs have been in close relationships with humans for thousands of years and this intimate proximity is reflected in many aspects of empathy and mutual understanding. More than 80% of pet owners refer to themselves as a “pet parent”. And adult women show the same brain activation patterns when presented with a picture of their dog and their own children.
Dogs Response to Pet-Directed Speech
Many dogs do react to human gestural or vocal signals, and feelings. Dogs do not possess the language ability obviously, but humans do change their speech patterns when they talk to dogs using what is known as directed-speech. Pet-directed speech shares a similar structure of properties as infant-directed speech, being slower tempo and high pitch register.
Despite the widespread interest in understanding the nature of the human-dog relationship, the ultimate and proximate factors promoting the use of pet-directed speech by the human speaker remains unknown. The parallel between pet-directed speech and infant-directed speech might have different origins. Pet-directed speech might constitute a spontaneous response from human speakers to juvenile characteristics shared by vertebrate newborns, or it might represent the speaker’s attempt at engaging an interaction with nonverbal beings.
Should We Use Pet-Directed Speech?
Baby schema hypothesis suggests that the human needs to restrict the use of pet-directed speech to the young puppy. In contrast, the learning hypothesis suggests that the speaker needs to continue using dog-directed speech with adult dogs because they do not develop language. The functional value of pet-directed speech still remains unknown. The assumption that a dog responds more to pet-directed speech than to normal speech has not been completely tested.
So, the next time you feel silly talking to your dog like they’re a baby, be proud. It’s science, after all! It’s fun to talk to your dog like that. It feels good. It is somehow natural and just rolls off the tongue. It almost seems like they bask in it. So, let them!
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Do Dogs LIKE Baby Talk? (We all do it…)
It seems like it’s a natural instinct we have to baby talk anything and anyone we feel some kind of affection towards. It’s not only babies who find themselves on the receiving end of baby talk but they’re not alone, family, friends, and our pets also have to endure it. Due to how persistent baby talk is among dog owners, there have been studies conducted to try and figure out if they actually enjoy it or if we just enjoy doing it.
Most people who baby talk their dogs will insist that they love it, it’s one of the few ways to get my dog to do his windmill tail where he wags in circles but even I can’t be sure if he enjoys it or just loves the attention from it. Some dogs will get excited and wiggle their butts or even tilt their head and look super cute when you do it which just starts an endless cycle of baby talk because the cuter they are, the more we do it!
Table of Contents
Why Do We Use Baby Talk?
Baby talk is mostly associated with the way we talk to babies, hence the name. Lots of studies have been conducted as it was initially thought that the elongated annunciations of words actually help babies to start to learn speech. When baby talking, we tend to make some pretty strange noises while cooing at the cute baby but mixed in there are highly defined words that keep the baby’s attention and help them pick up on new terms and phrases.
Some studies have suggested that there may be a link between baby talk and babies learning however other studies have pointed out that in cultures where baby talk is not the norm, the developmental rate remains the same.
Whether baby talk helps out toddlers learn how to speak or not doesn’t really explain why we then also baby talk our dogs. It’s not like we can teach dogs how to speak so it doesn’t serve the same purpose. We know our dogs aren’t learning to talk, we also know they’re not babies so why do we do it?
It’s also worth noting that a dog’s age does not determine if we baby talk them or not, puppies and senior dogs are all recipients of the treatment.
It’s thought we persist in baby talking our dogs, not because they’re cute or baby like but because we perceive them as having a difficult time understanding us. Baby talk tends to be exaggerated and repetitive, so it’s likely we’ve learned that we get a much higher response rate from our dogs when we speak in a silly voice. As puppies, dogs are stimulated by exciting things and then learn that responding gives them a positive experience so the baby talk becomes rewarding in itself.
Can Dogs Recognize Words?
Baby talk is one element of the way we talk to dogs, our tone tends to be entirely different but there’s another thing we need to consider when trying to figure out if our dogs enjoy baby talk. Dog-directed speech is also an important part of communicating with our dogs and is part of why they enjoy us talking to them so much. Dog-directed speech simply means the phrases and words we say that our dogs seem to have some recognition of like walkies, treat, or bed.
That isn’t to say that puppies are born knowing treat means treat and walkies means they get to go out and explore, it’s in fact taught through conditioning.
Have you ever seen videos of highly trained dogs who know their toys by name? The owner will say something like “go fetch your yellow duck” and the dog will comb over a pile of different toys to find that specific toy? It is usually breeds like Border Collies, Golden Retrievers or Poodles that we see doing this and it’s not because they can think about what each toy is and pick the correct one based on their knowledge of the language.
It’s actually similar to basic training, these dogs are just able to learn more cues than sit, stay or heel.
To teach a dog to sit, we first teach the behavior by rewarding every time their bum touches the ground so they learn that this behavior pays well and they repeat it. Once you add the cue, they understand that you say that particular work, their bum hits the floor and they get a reward. You could train the behavior to any word you like for all they care, if you associate the sit behavior to the word Sunday then that’s what it means to them, they have no concept of actual language.
We may not be training our dogs to understand some other words but dogs will passively learn that when we say treat and then give them a treat after then they associate the two things together and become alert and excited when we say the word.
The Science Behind It
A study published in Animal Cognition focussed on trying to distinguish if animals liked baby talk and what part dog-directed speech plays in it.
During this study, scientists played recordings of people speaking to dogs. Some people spoke normally, some spoke in baby talk, some spoke regularly but used dog-directed speech like treat and walkies while others did not. Using recordings allowed the reactions to be measured consistently to exactly the same thing as everyone does baby talk a little differently so it allowed for more accurate results.
A dog’s reaction to the recording was measured by the time each dog spent looking for the person who spoke.
The research conducted found that dogs spent longer engaged in looking for the source of the voice when the recordings of baby talk were played. Similarly, they also paid more attention and spent longer searching when dog-directed speech was used however the baby talk seemed to play a more important role in engaging the dogs. Overall the best method for communication with your dog would be using a mix of both baby talk and words or phrases that your dog will recognize.
Other research carried out has found that dogs can have a preference for baby talk as young as 2 months old.
How To Baby Talk Your Dog?
So now we know that yes, dogs do have a preference for baby talk you might find yourself over-aware of how you talk to your own dogs. There’s no right or wrong way to talk to your dogs, if you don’t baby talk it doesn’t mean your dog doesn’t enjoy you talking to them. It could be fun to do your own little experiment and see if your dog might respond to baby talk, even when they’re not subject to it often.
The way we baby talk dogs and actual babies is a little different. We don’t put as much effort into annunciating individual words with our dogs because obviously, they aren’t going to start repeating them back. Instead, it’s mostly about the tone you use.
Whilst running puppy training classes, I noticed that the puppies consistently responded to their female owners faster or seemed to learn skills quicker. It is likely linked to having higher voices and generally being more excitable. One of the common issues owners had during classes was that their puppies seemed to be picking individual members of the family to take out most of their mouthing on and usually, this wasn’t the adult men with low voices.
They got a better reaction out of the children or wives so they kept mouthing them.
Dogs like excitable noises, if you talk to your dog in a higher pitched tone it will be more engaging to your dog but also used words they might recognize.
Bond Building with Your Dog
Baby talk can help build a bond with your dog through encouraging communication. The more interesting you are to your dog, the more responsive they will be to you. If you consider when you train your dog, you will likely use something like food or toys as a reward but eventually, you want that behavior to become self-rewarding and the bond you have with your dog is vital in this.
To demonstrate this I would play a game with owners teaching their puppies to recall. I would ask them to recall their puppy with their most rewarding treat as a reward but in a boring, monotone voice. Then, I could get them to be as exciting as they possibly could, and even when the food reward was not as high value, that extra excitement in their voice got their puppies returning quicker than ever.
Having strong, positive interactions with our dogs helps build a good and rewarding relationship with them. Scientific studies back up the theory that dogs do actually enjoy when we baby talk them so if you’re feeling a little self-conscious about doing it in public, at least you have the backing of up-to-date science to comfort you. So what are you waiting for?
Now you know you can get out there and start shamelessly baby talking your beloved dogs!
My name is Chris and I am the co-creator of Oodle Life. My wife and I love playing with our active miniature Labradoodle Max. We want all Oodle puppies to be healthy and happy, have lots of fun and be part of the family.