If you have a dog, you’re likely in the habit of asking them, “Who’s a good boy?” in a really high-pitched and affectionate tone of voice — sometimes to the amusement of those around you.
Pet owners do this instinctively because they feel just as attached to their pets as they may to their infant. But does this sort of “baby talk” do anything for the dog?
Researchers Alex Benjamin and Katie Slocombe, at the University of York in the United Kingdom, set out to investigate if so-called dog-speak improves bonding between pets and humans, and specifically, whether it is useful for the dogs.
Slocombe explains the motivation behind the research, saying, “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,” she adds, “is known to share some similarities with the way in which humans talk to their pet dogs, known as dog-directed speech.”
“This high-pitched rhythmic speech is common in human interactions with dogs in Western cultures, but there isn’t a great deal known about whether it benefits a dog in the same way that it does a baby.”
“We wanted to look at this question and see whether social bonding between animals and humans was influenced by the type and content of the communication,” Slocombe says.
Their findings were published in the journal Animal Cognition.
Proof that dogs prefer dog-speak
For the study, the researchers designed two experiments in which humans interacted with dogs. In the first, the researchers tested adult-directed speech versus dog-directed speech.
The latter was tailored for dogs both in terms of content (that is, the dogs were told things such as “You’re a good dog” and “Shall we go for a walk?”) and in prosody (that is, in stress patterns and intonation).