By: Sam Medina
There is no doubt that we treat puppies like we treat babies. We give them the best dog toys and foods, we go to dog training, dog daycare, dog grooming, fashionable accessories, and yes – while nobody is watching (and even when they are)- we baby talk to them!
There’s no denying it – You’re guilty! You’ve caught yourself in the act of ‘Puppy Talk’ before.
Well good news, you’re not insane, or even in the minority, many people puppy talk to their puppies!
Animal behaviourists have found that puppy talking to your four legged friend is essential to building a strong bond between you and your pooch.The characteristic high pitched voices and exaggerated tones we use around puppies and infants (called Dog Directed Speech or Infant Directed Speech, respectively) is a global phenomenon: transcending language & culture!
But why do we do it? Well, it so happens that there is a purpose: speaking to a baby in a high pitched voice strengthens their comprehension of language and builds their trust and relationships with caregiver. We are human, we see cute small things, and of course react accordingly – but wait… it turns out that a very similar thing is happening to your pup when you puppy speak with them!
The brain of a dog is very similar to human babies- they have the same areas to process language and learning, and their neurons (brain cells) respond and strengthen in the exact same way!
Puppy Talk or Dog Directed Speech, is found to be the best way to grab a puppy’s attention. We do it because it works! The origin of why a puppy’s behaviour is attuned to high pitched speech is a little less clear. Some ethologists have hypothesized that perhaps the reaction to high pitched speech is a byproduct of domestication, a now innate method of communicating with human caregivers. Or perhaps it is rooted in an evolutionary trait to favour other high pitched sounds as a form of safety, being attuned to sibling’s proximity, their feelings and reactions. Perhaps, it is merely a byproduct of early learning, rooted deeply in the mammalian brain…
Everyone who comes across a puppy has used puppy talk. But what about our adult dogs- our big fluffy fuzzy babies? Well… since they have had a few extra years to figure out life, it turns out that they don’t very much care about the tone we use. There’s no real difference in behaviour when using puppy talk or regular speech for an adult dog- however they are very much aware of the content, facial movements and subtle inflections in the content of human speech.
So where does this leave us? Should we stop baby talking to our adult pets?
Well… if you’re anything like most of the dog owners I know.. the answer is NO! Baby talking to your pet is usually paired with a positive event, and tells your dog they’ve sat, fetched, rolled over or have been the best boy or girl ever! Attach that to a dog cookie, the warm fuzzy feeling you get from puppy talk, and you have crossed a species barrier: you have created a language that only you and your dog can understand. That’s very special. Keep Puppy Talking to your pup, even when every one is watching!