Do You Baby Talk to Your Dog?
I have to admit that I have always cooed affectionately to my dogs in that mushy, sappy way, (some would say nauseating, I suppose); a manner of speaking usually reserved for babies.
Thinking about it, I am probably even more inclined to baby talk to dogs I don’t know. I don’t believe I’m alone either, as I know plenty of dog owners who do the same. Delving into the subject a little further, I discovered there has been lots of research on why people baby talk to their dogs and how pets react to this. Holidays4Dogs finds out more.
When we baby talk to our dogs we tend to use a much higher pitch. We also often ask many more questions of our dogs, than we would our fellow human beings! A typical ‘conversation’ might go like this – “Who’s a good boy? You are, aren’t you? Yes, you are, you’re a very handsome boy”. Dog lovers everywhere will know exactly what I mean, I’m sure.
This melodious outpouring of verbal affection is very similar to the way we talk to babies and particularly in the case of women; this is based on a natural instinct to change the tone of voice when interacting with human babies.
We know that our language and style of address changes, depending on who we are speaking to and the circumstances we are in. When chatting to friends, or family informally, we speak in a much different way than we would if we were communicating with a company representative, or an employer. We are all aware of the term ‘telephone voice’ to describe the more deliberate and formal way in which we engage with authorities, or people we have not met before.
Infant directed speech.
When we talk to babies, we also use a particular tone of voice, pitched higher than our normal speaking voice. The style of baby talk flows along in a rather sing-song manner, with lots of repetition. This is technically described as infant-directed speech.
We use this same style of speech with our pets too. Although women typically tend to use this tone of voice with babies and animals, all adults tend to talk in this way to children, whether they are parents or not. Even older children will engage in this sort of language when talking to babies, or children younger than themselves. Scientists believe this helps us to learn language. In addition, it is a way of communicating with others that cannot speak by using light, repetitive tones.
Pet directed speech.
Pet directed speech is very similar. However, while infant-directed speech has a significant impact on human babies, (in that it teaches them language skills), what effect does this type of speech have on our pets?
In a study on the subject, adult participants were recorded speaking to photographs of puppies, adult dogs and old dogs. The type of speech used by the participants was then analysed. It was found that pet-directed speech was used with dog of all ages, except for puppies, where the tone of voice was somewhat higher.
The recordings were played back to dogs to assess their reactions. From this, researchers were able to see that only the puppies were highly reactive to the higher pitched baby talk. The adult dogs showed no difference in their reactions to normal speech, compared to pet-directed speech.
The findings were quite unexpected and strongly indicated that adult dogs don’t react to baby talk at all. However, researchers point out that puppies are much more receptive to high pitched noise of any kind. As they age, they tend to react less to higher pitched noises.
However, it should be pointed out, the recordings played back to the dogs were those of unfamiliar people. This suggests older dogs react only to familiar voices, perhaps.
I know with my own dogs, whether puppies or adults, tone of voice has an impact on their behaviour. Talking to a dog in a high pitched, jolly manner is much more likely to catch a dog’s attention than ‘normal’ monotone speech.
Many people might think that dog-directed speech is utterly nonsensical. This is pretty much evidenced in the research and there have been many occasions where I have curbed my instinct to baby talk the dogs and do so only in private. However, chatting and cooing to my dogs (and dogs I have trained for other people), does incite them to respond by behaving in a more excited manner, wagging their tails, lolling their tongues, or bringing toys. Some may argue this particular study says more about human behaviour than dogs and perhaps it does, but I have my own evidence of pet related baby talk; “don’t I Floss? Yes, I do and you are such a clever girl!”