Just like with babies, humans automatically adopt a different voice when speaking to a dog. Personally, I like to lovingly stress mine out by asking him, “Who’s a good boy?,” roughly ten times in a row, and watch him freak out like, “WHO’S THE GOOD BOY I NEED TO KNOW,” before shouting “It’s you! You’re the good boy!” He totally loses his mind, and his spastic bouncing around screams, “OH MY GOD PLOT TWIST IT WAS ME ALL ALONG.”
Well, turns out, the googly-boogly-boo voice we use to speak our canine friends is not a form of insanity. According to a new study by the University of York, it turns out “dog-speak” helps us bond with pets in much the same way that “baby-talk” helps us bond with babies.
The researchers wanted to see whether the high-pitched, exaggerated way in which humans speak to dogs actually serves a purpose, or if it’s just something we do because we view dogs in the same way as babies.
“This high-pitched rhythmic speech is common in human interactions with dogs in western cultures, but there isn’t a great deal known about whether it benefits a dog in the same way that it does a baby,” Dr Katie Slocombe, one of the researchers of the study, said in the University of York newsletter. “We wanted to look at this question and see whether social bonding between animals and humans was influenced by the type and content of the communication.”
Previous studies have found that “dog-speak” improved engagement with puppies, but didn’t seem to matter to adult dogs. Previous studies also broadcasted a human’s voice over a loudspeaker, however, so, in this trial, researchers asked humans to be in the same room as the dog in order to make the setting more natural.
The researchers then ran a series of tests in which they asked a human to say things like “You’re a good dog,” and “Shall we go for a walk,” in the exaggerated, high-pitched tone of “dog-speak.”
They then asked another human to say something to the dog that was not dog-related, such as “I went to the movies last night,” in a normal adult voice.
They also mixed dog-directed speech with non-dog-related content, and vice versa, to figure out if it was the tone of their voice or the content of what they were saying that mattered.
Afterwards, the dogs were allowed to choose which of the humans they wanted to hang out with. The results found that both tone and content were important in engaging the dog.
“We found that adult dogs were more likely to want to interact and spend time with the speaker that used dog-directed speech with dog-related content, than they did those that used adult-directed speech with no dog-related content,” said Alex Benjamin, Ph.D., a student from the University’s Department of Psychology. “When we mixed-up the two types of speech and content, the dogs showed no preference for one speaker over the other. This suggests that adult dogs need to hear dog-relevant words spoken in a high-pitched emotional voice in order to find it relevant.”
It’s a fascinating finding as it indicates that dogs don’t simply respond to tone, they understand, to a point, what we’re actually saying, since announcing “I went to a wittle libertarian conference this week” does not elicit the same excitement as “Let’s go for a wittle walk!”
For more mind-blowing insight into man’s best friend, check out 20 Amazing Facts You Never Knew About Your Dog.
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