Dogs Respond More Readily to Our Silly Infant Voice!
8 March, 2018

A new study, at the University of York, say found that the way we speak to our dogs is a key relationship building element between dogs and owner. Speaking in a high-pitched voice and exaggerated emotion when interacting with a dog will reap better results. The effect is similar to how ‘baby-talk’ helps adults bond with babies.

Previous research suggested that puppies like high pitched voices – now adult dogs do too.

Previous research suggests that talking to a puppy in a high-pitched voice, with the customary exaggerated amount of emotion, helps improve engagement. The study tested whether this effect holds true for adult dogs as well. Their results suggest that using this “dog-speak” can also help improve attention and strengthen the bond between owner and pet.

Infant speak, according to the study, is very similar and helpful to how we speak to dogs

“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,” said first author Dr. Katie Slocombe from the University of York’s Department of Psychology. “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.”

The team set out to find whether the type and content of the conversation helped social bonding between dogs and their human owners.

Unlike previous research efforts, the team placed real human participants in the same room as the dogs (not on speaker). This setting created a much more natural environment for the dogs, and helped the team better control the variables involved so if the dog not only paid more attention, but would also want to interact more with a person that speaks to them in such a way.

The tests were performed with adult dogs. Each dog first listened to one person who used dog-directed speech (the high-pitched voice) using phrases such as ‘you’re a good dog’ or ‘want to go for a walk?’, then to another person using adult-directed speech with no specific, dog-related content — phrases such as ‘I went to the cinema last night’. The attentiveness of each dog during these ‘talks’ was measured.

Dogs reacted more readily to those who used ‘infant speak’ and dog-related content

Dogs were much more likely to want to interact and spend time with those who used dog-directed speech that contained dog-related content, compared to the counterparts. During the next phase, the speakers were asked to mix dog-directed speech with non-dog-related words, and adult-directed speech with dog-related words.

“When we mixed-up the two types of speech and content, the dogs showed no preference for one speaker over the other,” says Alex Benjamin, PhD student at the department of psychology, paper co-author. “This suggests that adult dogs need to hear dog-relevant words spoken in a high-pitched emotional voice in order to find it relevant.”

So, the next time you speak in that silly voice to your dog, don’t be embarrassed! It’s actually an excellent training tool.

You can find the full study here that was published in the journal Animal Cognition.

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