When you speak to dogs, do you use a dog voice?
You know, a dog voice — higher pitched, slower, maybe a little sing-song-y? The kind of voice you’d use when speaking with a baby, except . . . directed at a dog?
New research shows that puppies might actually react to that voice, though that’s not the case with all dogs.
Researchers have found that puppies reacted to “dog-directed speech,” which is a speaking pattern similar to “infant-directed speech,” according to a paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Here’s how the this research worked: Researchers recorded voices of women speaking to photos of dogs — one puppy, one adult dog, and one older dog. (They also recorded a control situation, in which there wasn’t a dog picture and the speaker was asked to speak to the researcher. That was considered to be human-directed speech.) The adults repeated the same phrase: “Hi! Hello cutie! Who’s a good boy? Come here! Good boy! Yes! Come here sweetie pie! What a good boy!” Then, that recording was played back to puppies and adult dogs.
Researchers found that puppies responded to dog-directed speech, looking at the loudspeaker, approaching it closer, or just reacting more quickly, according to the paper. Adult dogs, however, didn’t respond in the same way to the playbacks.
“Adult dogs seem to ignore dog-directed speech at least when the voice is from an unfamiliar person,” Nicolas Mathevon, who led the research, told Wired.
Mathevon told Wired that the research demonstrated that puppies are “sensitive to dog-directed speech more than to normal speech.”
Additionally, Science magazine wrote that researchers also found that the human speakers involved in the study, who were all women, used higher voices with dogs of all ages.
“It didn’t matter if it was a puppy or an adult dog,” Mathevon told Science.
Science noted that when the female speakers looked at pictures of puppies in particular, the pitch of their voice was even higher.
Gizmodo, which also took a look at the research, wrote that Mathevon, an acoustic communication specialist, didn’t let the humans involved in the study actually interact with the dogs, because that would have introduced a lot of variables into the work. More than 40 dogs were a part of the research, according to the website.
In speaking to Gizmodo, Mathevon noted that while the research was focused on dogs and their reactions, it really says a lot about people. The site reported:
Mathevon says there’s a reason humans shift their speech patterns when talking to dogs, and it’s not just because we find dogs adorable. “I think that we are directing a human behavior at dogs,” he told Gizmodo. “Our study suggests that we use this kind of speech pattern to engage interaction with a non-speaking listener.” In other words, we employ this type of speech when talking to listeners who can’t talk back (and not just babies), or listeners who have difficulty reciprocating conversation (infant-directed speech sometimes happens when we talk to the elderly). “This study does not tell much about dogs, but more about our human behavior,” he added.
“It underlines that we try to adapt the way we speak to our listener — or to what we think our listener is able to understand,” Mathevon continued. “In the case of human babies, the use of ‘infant-directed speech’ is efficient in engaging the attention of the baby, and may promote language learning. Pet-directed speech is thus probably used to engage interaction with a non-speaking listener.”
So, maybe you can ditch that high voice, at least if your dog is fully grown. Still, though, try saying “Who’s a good boy?” to a dog without it.