How to talk to your pet dog
When we talk to babies we often adopt a high-pitched voice with exaggerated emotions. Babies are highly responsive to this kind of “baby-talk” and this is important for bonding with babies. Not only do babies love this kind of talk but so do we.
We love it so much that we often use the same kind of baby talk when we talk to our pet dogs. Previous studies on communicating with dogs showed that this kind of high-pitched talk improved engagement with puppies but made no difference with adult dogs.
This kind of high-pitched rhythmic conversation is popular in human interaction with dogs in western cultures but it is unclear whether it benefits the dog in the same way as it does a baby.
The researchers found that dogs preferred to spend time with the person who used dog-related speech with dog related words compared to the person who used adult-directed speech with no dog-related content.
Infant-directed speech (IDS) is a special speech register thought to aid language acquisition and improve the way a human baby bonds with an adult. IDS shares some similarities with the way humans talk to their pet dogs known as dog-directed speech (DDS).
Researchers from the University of York conducted a series of new experiments to determine why humans talk to dogs this way, whether dogs benefit from it in some way or whether humans do this simply because they like to treat their pet dogs as they would treat babies.
The researchers positioned real humans in the same room as the dog, unlike previous experiments where human speech was broadcast over the loud speaker without any human present in the room.
This type of setting was more naturalistic and help the researchers determine if dogs responded to dog speak and if they preferred to spend time with the humans who spoke to them that way.
In a series of speech tests the dogs were given an opportunity to listens to an adult talk to them with dog-directed speech containing phrases such as ‘you’re a good dog’, and ‘shall we go for a walk?’ Then another person used adult-directed speech with no dog-related content, such as ‘I went to the cinema last night.’
Attention was measured after the speech and then the dogs were allowed to interact physically with any speaker.
The speakers then mixed dog-directed speech with non-dog-related words and adult-directed speech with dog-related words. This helped the researchers understand if the dogs were attracted to the high-pitched tone or the dog-related words.
The researchers found that dogs preferred to spend time with the person who used dog-related speech with dog-related words compared to the person who used adult-directed speech with no dog-related content.
When the two types of speech and content were mixed up the dogs did not show a preference for one person over another suggesting that adult dogs need to hear dog-related words spoken to then in a high-pitched emotional voice in order for them to find it relevant.
It seems that talking to your pet dogs is akin to talking to babies and helps in engaging with dogs – a useful piece of information for pet owners, veterinary professional and rescue workers.
Source: Animal Cognition