Talking to Your Dog in a Baby Voice May Not Be As Silly As It Sounds, Scientists Say

Talking to your dog in a baby voice may be beneficial. Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Talking to dogs in a baby's voice is fairly common in many Western cultures, and the practice could actually help create a bond between pet and owner, according to a study published in the journal Animal Cognition on Friday. This process works in much the same way that parents bond with their child by communicating in so-called "baby talk"—characterized by a high-pitch voice and exaggerated emotion— the researchers from the University of York said.

The researchers wanted to understand more about why humans talk to dogs and if the manner of speaking is beneficial to the animals in some way. "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 Katie Slocombe from the University of York's department of psychology in a statement. "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."

In a series of experiments, the scientists gave dogs different phrases to listen to, such as "you're a good dog" and "shall we go for a walk," which were delivered by a person using dog-directed speech. Then a different person would communicate with the animal using non-dog related content, such as "I went to the cinema last night," which was delivered in normal speech.

The researchers measured the attention of the dog while listening to the different kinds of speech. The animals were then given the opportunity to choose which of the two speakers they wanted to physically interact with to gauge their preference.

To determine whether it was the high-pitched emotional tone of the speech that the dogs were attracted to, or the actual words themselves, the two speakers said the non-dog related phrases in the "baby voice" and the dog-related phrases using normal speech.

"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," Alex Benjamin, a PhD student from the university's department of psychology, said in a statement.

When the two types of speech and content were mixed, the dogs showed no preference for either speaker, suggesting that they needed to hear both the high-pitched emotional voice and the related words together to become engaged.

"We hope this research will be useful for pet owners interacting with their dogs, and also for veterinary professionals and rescue workers," Benjamin said.