A new study suggests that using high-pitched “dog speak” to communicate with a dog improves its attention and may help humans socially bond with their pets.
Researchers at York University in the U.K. wanted to test whether using “dog-directed,” high-pitched speech facilitates understanding for dogs like baby talk does for babies.
“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,” lead author Alex Benjamin told HuffPost, before noting ― as any proud dog mom would ― that you can follow her fur-baby Cooper on Instagram.
Previous research on dog communication suggested that the high-pitched voice worked wonders with puppies, but made little difference with grown dogs.
But Benjamin and her team found that it’s a little more complicated than that.
The researchers did a series of speech tests with 69 adult dogs in which the doggos 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.
“If you use this type of speech with your dog already, you can use our study to justify that you aren’t being a 'crazy dog mom!' They do seem to prefer it!”- Alex Benjamin, lead author of the study
In the end, the scientists found that dogs were more likely to engage with the speaker who had used both dog-directed speech and dog-related content. In other words, you have to employ both of these things at the same time to really grab a pup’s attention.
“We’ve shown that dogs are sensitive to this type of speech and it might be useful to use when you meet a dog for the first time, or if you are interacting with a friends’ dog, for example,” Benjamin said. “And if you already use baby talk with your own dog, you can use this study to justify that you aren’t being a ‘crazy dog mom!’”
Benjamin added that the research also speaks to dogs’ overall intelligence.
“I was a little surprised that in the second experiment, neither content, nor prosody ― which [is] intonation of the voice ― was driving the dogs’ preference,” she said. “I think it is really interesting that our dogs are able to use both acoustic and content information to determine what speech might be meant for them.”
So who’s a good and smart boy? Your dog, that’s who! (Now please go relay this information to them using a baby voice.)