The other day I heard my brother talking to his Alsatian in baby talk, saying hilarious and weird things like “come to daddy, Squinkybum. It’s yum-yum time”. I was in stitches and teased him for weeks afterwards.
Admittedly though, I am just as guilty of talking to my dog in a baby voice sometimes. It did make me wonder; why do we talk to dogs in high pitched voices, and do they respond and and prefer baby talk.
After researching and talking with other owners, I think I have the definitive answer, as you can see below.
Why do dogs like baby talk? Dogs like baby talk and respond to high-pitched voices which they associate with excitement. Using baby talk gets your dog’s attention and you talking weird in a silly voice will be associated with positive events.
There’s no doubting it, dogs do like it when you talk to them like a baby and seem to respond to high-pitched voices.
In fact, I notice they get quite excited or even coy when their owner uses a baby voice. I do wonder what natural instinct is kicking in, both on the human side and the dog side, to use and respond to baby talk?
Read on to find out more about why dogs like baby talk, when and how to use it and even when not to use it.
What is baby talk in the context of a dog?
If you’re not a parent of kids then you may not be too familiar with baby talk. But most of us recognize it when we hear it. Baby talk comes across as high-pitched and often, excited.
Baby talk works well for parents bonding with their human babies. Studies have shown that babies respond and bond better with their parents when they hear the tone of baby voice.
Research in 1990 showed that:
“Robin Cooper and Richard Aslin presented 2-day old infants with audio recordings of adult speech. In some trials, babies heard infant-directed speech. In other trials, they heard adult-directed speech. Cooper and Aslin found that the newborns turned their heads longer in response to infant-directed speech (Cooper and Aslin 1990).” (view source)
It’s also been shown to help human babies learning to talk (are we hoping our dogs will talk one day?). And, as babies grow up, they learn to engage socially whenever someone uses baby talk.
Do dogs prefer baby talk?
This is where we have science to thank. Studies have been conducted that founds that dogs like and possibly even prefer baby talk.
“The results of this study suggest that naturalistic dog-directed speech, comprising of both dog-directed prosody and dog-relevant content words, improves dogs’ attention and may strengthen the affiliative bond between humans and their pets.” (view source)
Younger puppies also respond well to hearing a high tone when been spoken to. The owner is able to get their pup’s attention and start developing a bond with them.
Evidence has also shown using a high-pitched “baby voice” with dogs and using baby words makes for good relationship building between the adult dog and their owner.
Handy Hint: Science also suggests that dogs think we are their parents, so using baby talk to them makes perfect sense.
When do you use baby talk with dogs?
What is baby talk when talking to your dog? We know now it entails using a high-pitched tone of voice. With some hints of emotion and excitement thrown into the tone.
But when do you use a high-pitched baby voice with your dog? I know I use it when I’m giving my dog a treat or taking him for a walk.
When you communicate with your dog, do you use the following “baby words”?
- It’s time for a walk: “Walkies’ time!” (have you notice how your dog goes wild when he hears you say those words?).
- Dinner time:“Come eat your yum-yum” (sorry brother, but just have to use your words).
- Praise:“What a good boy/girl you are” (most powerful when spoken in a high-pitched voice).
- Expressions of love:“You’re such a sweetie pie!” (cooing both human babies and dogs with words like these simply makes them feel so special and loved).
When else is a good time to use a baby voice with dogs
Most dogs are sensitive to baby talk. Even those who have grown up with owners who don’t use it often. Just like humans, dogs recognize baby talk as being high-pitched (possibly even silly and weird) and naturally respond to it.
Using baby talk when you meet a new dog for the first time is a good way of making the dog feel safe. You can also use baby talk when interacting with other people’s dogs on a walk or visiting someone’s home.
If you’re picking a puppy and don’t know which one to take, use baby talk. Sometimes, your tone may appeal to a particular puppy in the litter. And they’ll pick you as their new owner!
What do dogs associate with baby talk?
Because most times you and I use baby talk to reward our dogs or when taking them for a walk, dogs learn quickly to associate baby talk with good things.
When a dog hears baby talk, they may associate it with:
- Good behavior.
- A sign of love and affection.
- Fun activity time such as a walk or a game.
So, are puppies born to respond to baby talk? Or is it a learned process? Evidence does show puppies like high-toned voices. But it also shows they learn from as young as two months to associate baby talk with positive occasions.
What you really need to do to get your dog’s attention
I can safely say baby talk and a high-pitched voice is appreciated by dogs. Which means you can stop feeling hurt every time someone mocks you for talking in this way to your fur-baby.
But, in order for your high-pitched voice to make any difference to your dog you need to use dog-related content. If you want to get your dog’s attention, make sure what you’re saying is relevant to your dog.
What do I mean by this?
Talking to your dog with high intonation when you’re telling them about the movie you watched last night will only get them flopping down and snoring.
But, raising the pitch of your voice while telling them it’s “walkies time” is another story altogether. They’ll be leaping around their dog leash until you put it on and get out there walking.
Try this out…
Go to your dog now. In a normal tone of voice ask him if he wants to go for a walk. I bet he went on sleeping, right?
Now, raise the tone of your voice, add some excitement and ask them the same question. You better get ready for a walk!
Handy Hint: Scientists have looked at the evidence and come up with some theories about dogs being able to talk in the future.
When not to use baby talk with your dog
A friend gave me this advice and it makes perfect sense. They recently adopted a fairly traumatized rescue dog. This little soul was not eating well nor willing to cuddle in the first few weeks of being introduced to his new home.
My friend decided to call in an animal behaviorist to help them create a safe environment for her new dog. A piece of advice she was given was to tone down on her baby talk.
We know now baby talk with our dog is good most of the time. But it can also cause a dog to feel pressurized if they’re still getting used to a new environment. To alleviate stress, my friend used a quieter, soothing tone which helped her new dog feel safe and comfortable.
It’s nine months down the line since the adoption and she assures me her dog responds very well to baby talk now. Especially when it’s “walkies time”!
Managing your dog through tone and words
Most times using baby talk gets your dog happy and bouncy. And that’s the response you subconsciously expect which is why you’re talking in this manner in the first place.
But, sometimes, you want to calm your dog down. This is when you need to keep baby talk to a minimum. As described above, using a lower, gentler tone of voice will soothe your dog.
Of course, you can still call him “sweetie pie” but be aware of the tone level you use.
By using your voice, you can manage your dog’s behavior. By all means, use baby talk as it certainly would appear to work, even science things so.
Your dog loves it when you do.
But know that you can switch over to a different tone if you want to keep your dog calm.
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Image in header via https://pixabay.com/photos/mobile-phone-dog-smartphone-phone-5094846/