If we’re being completely honest, all of us at one time or another have used baby talk in communicating with a dog – some people do it every day! Now there’s a reason to feel less guilty about it and to even do it more…
A new study has shown that dogs actually take notice of baby talk and respond well to it.
Researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom recently published the results of speech tests on dogs in the journal Animal Cognition last month.
In this study, the researchers used two different types of speech on dogs in their testing.
To make sure that each type of speech being tested was consistent, they pre-recorded the speech and played it back to the dogs.
To test the dogs, a single dog was brought into the room and kept on a leash. A researcher would play the speech back to the dog by holding a speaker in their lap.
As the speech was being played, researchers measured how much time a dog spent looking at the person while the speech was being played.
Once the recording ended, the dog was let off the leash, and then researchers measured the time the dog spent with that person.
The first type that they tested was conversational tone. This was applied using the normal tone people generally use when speaking to another adult. When using this tone, they also focused on subject matter that pertained to human-oriented topics.
This test used what researchers called “dog-directed speech.” This speaking tone used exaggerated intonation, i.e., “baby talk,” while talking about dog-related subjects such as walks or treats.
In another test, researchers wanted to determine whether it was the dog-directed speech or the dog-related topics that were the factor in keeping the attention of the canines.
This time around, researchers used recordings where both the speaking intonation and the subject matter were inconsistent.
Reversing the previous approach, they used baby-talk, dog-directed speech, but on human-related topics.
Then they flipped it further by testing the dogs using a normal conversational tone with dog-related topics.
After the variations of normal vs. baby talk tones and human vs. dog-related subjects were all tried, what the researchers found was not all that surprising when it comes down to it. What captured the attention of all the dogs the most was the combination of dog-directed speech and subject matter that was relevant to the canines.
Dogs liked it when topics were about things that concern them and when they could tell that the type of speech being used was aimed at them.
One thing that researchers were unable to determine was whether this preference toward baby talk is natural to dogs or something they have learned from humans.
Researchers have considered the possibility that puppies are born with a preference toward high-pitched sounds, like those in baby talk. This isn’t the first time researchers have tackled this question and in previous studies, results showed that puppies as young as two-months-old preferred baby talk.
Conversely, dogs may simply learn from us that when we humans speak to them in baby talk, it’s often accompanied by attention and treats. Therefore, they associate baby talk with a reward.