Dog-directed speech: why do we use it and do dogs pay attention to it?

Journal: Proceedings of the Royal Society B

Published: 2017-01-11

DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.2429

Affiliations: 3

Authors: 4

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Research Highlight

Older dogs don’t like baby-talk

© Fuse/Corbis/Getty

© Fuse/Corbis/Getty

When talking to babies, we often use what researchers call ‘infant-directed speech’ – or more commonly, ‘baby-talk’. This high-pitched, song-like expression engages babies and helps to convey information even though they can’t understand language.

Many people also talk like this to their pampered pooches. Nicolas Mathevon of the City University of New York assembled a group of animal behaviourists to discern the impact of ‘dog-directed speech’. In the study, 30 participants were matched with a puppy, an adult dog and an elderly dog, and asked to record a message to each canine, which was then relayed to the dog over a speaker.

The humans in the study opted for fawning tones regardless of the dog’s age, though only puppies reacted quicker and interacted with the speaker more than they did for normal speech. Older dogs showed no discernible preference.

The team believes the tendency to use baby-talk even with older dogs suggests a subconscious attempt to convey meaning to non-verbal listeners.

Supported content

  1. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 284, 20162429 (2017). doi: 10.1098/rspb.2016.2429
Institutions Share
Hunter College of City University of New York (CUNY Hunter College), United States of America (USA) 0.38
Paris-Saclay Institute of Neuroscience (Neuro-PSI), France 0.38
University of Sussex, United Kingdom (UK) 0.25