You've heard of puppy love. But what about puppy talk? Researchers have studied just that.
When you speak to a dog, you might find yourself talking slowly, with a high pitch, just like you might to an infant. Researchers call this “dog-directed speech.”
In the first of several experiments, scientists had 30 women look at three images of dogs— a puppy, an adult, or an old dog— and read the following cheerful, dog-friendly sentence: “Hi! Hello cutie! Who's a good boy? Come here! Good boy! Yes! Come here sweetie pie! What a good boy!”
They also recorded the participants saying the same thing towards a person as a "human-directed” control.
Not surprisingly, the researchers found that humans used dog-directed speech with all the pooch pictures they saw, though they changed their voice to an even higher pitch, on average, for the puppies. In other words, people still used dog-directed speech even if the dog was an adult, or old.
Next, the researchers tested 20 dogs in a Manhattan animal shelter. They used the recordings from the first experiment, and played to the dogs (through a speaker) the same happy “Hi! Hello cutie!” sentences. The dogs— half puppies, half grown-ups— heard those phrases played to them from people using both “dog-directed” and “human-directed” speech.
To be thorough and avoid any human-disliking variable the animal-shelter dogs might bring to the table, the scientists even carried out the same experiment in France, changing the phrasing of the sentences to be in French, and this time they used family pet chiens.
What they found was simple: the puppies were the most responsive to the doggy speech.
“[N]ine out of the 10 tested puppies responded more to puppy-directed speech than to human-directed speech, by reacting more quickly, looking more often at the loudspeaker and approaching it closer and for longer periods,” the researchers wrote in their study, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
As for the older dogs, the dog-directed speech didn’t seem to have any more of an effect than the human-directed speech. The adult dogs they studied didn’t respond as strongly as the puppies did, “with 11 out of 20 individuals responding more to the dog-directed speech and the nine others responding more to the human-directed speech,” the researchers reported.
In other words: consider using dog-directed speech with a puppy if you want the best response, who seem to be the most sensitive to it.
Otherwise, you might be barking up the wrong tree.
Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger