Have you ever been enjoying a perfectly “normal” conversation with your dog only to look up and discover you have an audience? Has snickering and stifled laughter caused you turn your head to find your family looking at you in perplexed wonder? More than once you’ve been asked if you fell and hit your head…or if you’ve recently taken up drinking as a recreational sport. Either way, haters can keep on hating because Fido loves your baby talk, and you do too!
Why do we talk baby talk to our dogs?
You might be wondering how it’s possible to know Fido enjoys baby talk. But when you trot out your finest, “FIIIIIIIDDDOOOOOOOO! Fido want a treat? Who’s Dad’s best boy? Is Fido Dad’s best boy? Yes, you are! YESSSSS, YOUUUUUUUU AAAAARRREEE!”, Fido likes it. He wags his tail so hard you’d swear he’s going to take flight at any moment. But tail wags aren’t the only indication that Fido is having a good time during baby talk. Helicopter tail wags are accompanied by lots of licking. Some people don’t appreciate having their face licked by a dog given that he gives his butt the same careful attention he is now giving to your face, but you personally love it. Potential for residual butt smell aside, doggy kisses are the best!
But baby talk is highly effective with children, and recent research shows it works well with our dogs too. Why is that?
Baby talk is a language
Baby talk allows us to bond with our dogs in a unique way. The spoken language is a very complicated means of expression. It is an extremely flexible vehicle from which to communicate with other people and animals. When we speak to our dogs, it is the inflection and pitch of our voices that is recognizable to our furry companions. History shows that people use higher pitches and more melodious tones to communicate with babies and animals. This specific tone and style of speech is easily interpreted by other people as being reserved for a dog or a child. In this same way, our dogs quickly pick up that this manner of speaking is intended for them.
Each person’s voice is quite distinctive, and our dogs quickly come to know our voices. When we speak to our dogs in baby talk, we use an inflection and specific words that are intended just for them. Our dogs soon learn that this language is a means of communicating affection for them, and each time, we engage in baby talk, they become excited at this expression of love.
Yet the tone of our voices is not the only thing which separates our baby talk from our speech reserved for the people in our lives. Research shows that when we speak to our dogs, we use much shorter sentences.
Why is that?
Since dogs don’t understand words, we naturally abbreviate the things we are trying to say into the least number of words possible. But not only do we choose shorter sentences, we also repeat ourselves frequently. This sense of repetition is likely intended to drive thoughts home. Since our dogs do not have the ability to talk to us, we are reliant on inflection and a limited dog vocabulary in order to express what can be a set of complex emotions and/or instructions. We take a less is more approach when it comes to baby talk, for sure!
To keep a dog engaged, brief verbal interactions are key. This is also likely why we use shorter sentences that are repeated often. Many a man has attempted this same practice with his wife only to find the results aren’t quite the same! Instead of getting some baby talk in return, he was more likely handed a pillow and blanket along with directions to his new sleeping quarters also known as the couch. Yes, there is a significant difference between how we communicate love to our dogs and how we express love for our wives!
Research shows that baby talk catches the attention of dogs more readily. Katie Slocombe of the University of York’s department of psychology has noted the following:
“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. 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 study putting this theory to the test, dogs were given the choice of spending time with two different people. One of the people spoke to the dog in baby talk while the other communicated using the regular speech patterns and tone of someone speaking to an adult human being. Dr. Alex Benjamin of University of York’s psychology department reported that the dogs tested were consistently drawn to the person engaging in baby talk. This seems to indicate that it is a style of speaking that dogs understand and are drawn to thus dramatically increasing the human-pet bond.
Does baby talking to your dog mean you are crazy?
Are you crazy if you baby talk to your dog? Well, likely only if you are expecting an answer back! Baby talking to a beloved dog is quite common and is actually a normal and healthy practice amongst owners and their pets.
The truth is that though our dogs may not understand the precise words that we are saying, they do understand that all of that flowery talk IS for them, and they do comprehend tone. Since your approval is the most important thing in the world to your dog, time spent baby talking to your fave canine pal is time well spent and will increase your bond.
If you looooooovvveeeee to baby talk to your best puppy wuppy in the whole wiiiiiidddeee world, you’re not alone! Recent research shows that it is good for you and your dog! So if you’re one of the many that loves a little baby talk, go ahead and whisper sweet nothings in your doggo’s ear. But you might want to do it behind closed doors…people will talk!