'Who's a Good Boy??': Studies Show Dogs Like It When You Use Baby Talk

Posted by TF Oren
playful puppy running in the backyard

Anyone ever give you a hard time for talking to an adorable puppy like you would a baby?

Turns out your critics were all kinds of wrong and that you were on to something.

Research has yielded some interesting data about how dogs respond to different kinds of human speech. Among the findings was that puppies tend to respond very enthusiastically to baby talk, but are much less responsive to the type of speech adult humans use to communicate with each other.

In order to conduct the study, researchers gave people photos of puppies, adult dogs, and senior dogs. They recorded the participants reciting phrases as they viewed each picture. Phrases were things like: "Hi!" "Hello cutie!" "Who's a good boy?" "Come here!" "Good boy!" "Yes!" "Come here sweetie pie!" "What a good boy!"

little pug puppy on wood floor

As a control measure, researchers also had the participants speak these phrases to pictures of adult humans.

The researchers observed that the study participants spoke in a higher tone of voice when speaking to pictures of dogs than they did when speaking to pictures of other humans. They also found that study participants' tone of voice increased by an average of 21% when addressing puppies, 13% with senior dogs, and 11% with adult dogs.

For the next phase of the study, researchers played the recorded voices for the dogs in a New York City animal shelter and for a number of dogs that were family pets in France and Italy (the phrases were recorded in French and Italian for those dogs).

puppy in grassPuppies responded the most noticeably to the recordings of the people who spoke in puppy-voices and adult dog-voices. According to the researchers, the puppies were "reacting more quickly, looking more often at the loudspeaker and approaching it closer and for longer periods" when they heard puppy-voices or adult dog-voices. They were not nearly as excited about the recordings of adult human speech. The slight difference in tone between the puppy-voice and adult dog-voice did not seem to have an effect on the intensity of the puppies' reactions.

When the researchers played the recordings for adult dogs, they found that the dogs were not particularly responsive to one type of voice over the other, though it is not clear if the researchers tested puppy-voices on the adult dogs.

The researchers believe the implications of this study extend to human speech.

"By showing that human speakers employ dog-directed speech to communicate with dogs of all ages, this study suggests that this particular register of speech is used to engage interaction with a non-speaking, rather than just a juvenile listener," they wrote.

puppy on wood walkway

Although the researchers write that humans use baby talk to communicate with nonspeaking creatures, it seems reasonable to assume that baby talk is more likely to be directed at nonspeaking creatures that are considered cute. For example, unless you're an arachnophile, baby talking a tarantula seems a bit of a stretch.

So, from now on, don't be sheepish; baby talk all the puppies you see. Now you have the power of science behind you.

The study was published in the biology journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B and you can check it out here.

Do you talk to your pup like a baby? Tell us in the comments below!

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'Who's a Good Boy??': Studies Show Dogs Like It When You Use Baby Talk