Who's a good pup?
If you're talking to your favorite furry friend in a "baby voice"... you're not alone – it's our natural inclination to address both pets and babies differently than we would grown adults. This concept has been studied across dozens of cultures, and "infant-directed speech," also referred to as IDS, is thought to be our natural reaction to simplifying our phonetics for babies to help them understand what we're saying. A study done by the University of York says that this might be the same reason that humans tend to employ this "baby-talk" method of speaking when we address our pets; we assume that they're more likely to understand us when we speak slowly in a higher pitch. According to the studies' findings, dog-directed speech "improves dogs’ attention and may strengthen the affiliative bond between humans and their pets."
That seems a little too simple, right? Does talking to your pup in a baby voice actually make them a better pet? We turned to Southern psychologist and Mercer professor Dr. John C. Wright to dive a little deeper into how animals interpret our language.
When it comes to tone, dogs can indeed understand changes. According to Dr. John, "younger dogs especially are more likely to respond to an increase in vocal pitch (higher, not louder) than a continuous, or decreasing vocal pitch." But, while "baby voice" can be helpful in working on your dog's behavior, it's most effective when you address the pet directly – "en face," as Dr. John says. "Dogs are less likely to respond to baby talk if they don’t perceive that the 'signal' is directed toward them." If your dog doesn't feel like you're putting in the energy to address them directly, they're less likely to respond the way you want them to.
Although pups have different personalities, your dog will begin to pick up on your personal cues – thus, will start to respond more effectively to your commands. Dogs are incredibly intelligent, and learn alongside their owners to understand what we're asking them to do. Thankfully, as Dr. John says, "many of these communicative features come together naturally for us when we address our dog. And redundancy in a signal is a good thing. For example: If we are excited to see Sophie and want her to come to us, our emotional 'state of being' (happy) will affect our mouth and lips (mouth open, teeth showing, lips retracted – a smile face); we’re likely to raise our eyebrows, look into her eyes, and make large, loose-muscled gesticulations toward her, while we simultaneously call her name–'Sophie!' Our emotional state naturally elicits changes in our physical and behavioral presentation to Sophie. In general, the more different ways we can communicate our instruction to Sophie, the more likely Sophie will be to understand our message."
You can also end your interaction with your pup in a way that encourages them to come back to you in the future; a good ear scratch or petting can be incentive to your dog to listen and come to you – there's a "feel-good payoff," as Dr. John says. Just as displaying happy, positive emotions will encourage your dog to do what you'd like, pups can also read the negative or displeased emotions – a tone of anger. Sophie understands that her owner is unhappy with her if she hears low-pitched words or sees tense muscles.
You may also be interested in a Southern brand helping out stray dogs:
All of these factors are important in teaching your dog to better understand your language and communication, Dr. John reiterates. "Communicating with your dog clearly, and in a positive way, is the best plan for decreasing the likelihood that fear-based behavioral problems will rear their ugly heads. Building trust with your dog through the use of effective, pro-social communication will help you and Sophie achieve satisfying, behaviorally healthy lives together."
Sounds like a great reason to spend more time playing with our pets!