Scientists say your dog likes it when you use baby talk with them

My Girl and I have been spending a lot more time with my mother (her nana) in the wake of my father’s passing (her pop-pop). One outcome of this has been my mother having more exposure to just how much I baby talk My Girl, an 11 year-old chihuahua dachshund rescue. She was a bit alarmed (my mother, not My Girl). Water becomes wa-wa, and somehow most words end up being made plural: “It’s times to goeses to bedsies!” Sure, My Girl occasionally gives me a dirty look that says “You are really debasing yourself, Lady,” but the tail never lies!! That thing starts going a mile a minute when I lay on the sugar. So my mother may raise an eyebrow, but gushy gooey talk works for us. And apparently it works for most canine children. A veterinarian in South Carolina, Dr. Julie Buzby, says that Pet-directed speech (PDS) is positively received by dogs, likely due to the higher pitch and volume:

“Surprisingly, science seems to support the value of this higher-pitched speech when communicating with our pets and even our horses,” Dr. Buzby explains.

Science backs up that yes, dogs actually enjoy baby talk and are more likely to respond to it.

“We don’t fully understand why dogs seem to be more sensitive to this way of speaking,” Dr. Buzby says. “Maybe it’s because dogs communicate amongst themselves with high-pitched barks and yips. These sounds might be prioritized by dogs’ sensitive ears and processed faster in the brain.”

So even though the reasons why pets respond so well to pet-directed speech remain unclear, the research is certainly in favor of humans using baby voices with dogs.

“Studies have shown that dogs are sensitive to both the pitch and timbre of the human voice and respond more favorably to PDS than standard adult speech patterns,” Dr. Buzby says.

However, experts aren’t sure if this is a behavior that dogs have learned, or if they truly prefer it. Still, Dr. Buzby says it’s a great way to further communicate with your dog, and if it gets your dog to listen to you, then go for it.

After all, Dr. Buzby adds, “It is believed that baby talk can improve how well your dog listens to you, and it might even improve the bond that you have with your dog.”

[From Parade via Yahoo]

I really hope that as a vet Dr. Buzby has been able to work with some bee patients, because otherwise that’s a tragic missed opportunity, punnily speaking. As for this “research” on dogs and baby talk, it did seem to boil down to “Do they like it? Yes. Why? No idea yet!” Clearly more research is required, and My Girl and I would be happy to contribute. The decibel that little girl can reach is nothing short of astounding. There really is no other word to describe it but shrill. She deploys this yipping when a human shows up at home to relieve her of her solitude. So then I have to kick into high gear to calm her down, with “You’re a very good girl and Mama loves you. I told you I would come back, my love.” Once she’s recovered from nervous breakdown territory she becomes very demanding: “Walk me. Feed me. Sit down so I can sit on top of you and prevent you from EVER leaving me again.” We really are quite happy together.

A note from My Girl: Everything that Lady said is a lie. I am not SHRILL! And I do not need this so-called “baby talk.” If anything it’s the Lady who needs it. I’m just moving my tail for exercise. I’m not a baby. I’m a very serious person who spends all day thinking about very serious things, in a seriously serious way. I’m hungry.

photos credit: Lauren Whitaker, Samson Katt, Alana Sousa and Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels

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38 Responses to “Scientists say your dog likes it when you use baby talk with them”

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  1. Pinkosaurus says:

    I talk baby talk on behalf of my dog to myself and my husband. He loves it. He knows many words but really I can say anything because it’s the tone of voice that he knows we are including him in the conversation. He loves being part of the group and tries to talk himself.

    • HufflepuffLizLemon says:

      One of my rescues (half lab, half boxer) goes NUTS for any communication and talks back-vocalizes with rumbles (could be confused with a growl if you haven’t spent a ton of time with him) and the occasional yip or bark. The other (lab/golden) looks at me like I am so far beneath her notice as to be a speck of dust on her shoe. 🙂 You win some, you lose some.

    • ama1977 says:

      We have a voice that we use for our dog (she’s very sassy!) and I forgot and used it when I had my son and his friend in the car together this weekend. Oops!! Friend probably already knew our family is a little…creative anyway!

      My girl is snoring away in the front hallway where she can spring into action if any threats (i.e. the Amazon man, kids walking, or squirrels) materialize. She is a Very Good Girl and we talk to/for/about her all day long!

  2. BlueSky says:

    When I had dogs they absolutely went crazy when mama would do the baby talk. I’m sending this to my sister because it drives her husband crazy when she does this. “You are just getting him all riled up!” 😂

  3. Snuffles says:

    I have cats and I baby talk with them non stop. They don’t seem to mind and it makes me very happy.

  4. CC says:

    Uh, yes…that’s why I baby talk to animals. For science.

  5. Hillary says:

    Motherese! God, I absolutely loved learning about the inflection & tones we instinctively use to give & grab the attention of animals, babies, & drive hardened adults nuts.
    We do it cuz we love other beings, we do it cuz we like other things to feel joy, we do it to connect, do it <3

  6. Kitten says:

    I feel like this study would apply to cats too. My cats LOVE soothing, soft baby talk in their ears: they get super-calm and my boy starts purring instantly. Forget if we’re allowed to post vids here but there’s a really cute video of a parrot doing this EXACT same thing to her new babies. IDK if she was just emulating/mimicking how her owner interacts with her or if she just instinctively knows that her babies will respond to this or a combo of both but it’s so cute!

    • MaryContrary says:

      That’s funny because I definitely speak differently to my cat than my dogs. I feel like he’d be really insulted if I spoke to him in baby talk. LOL.

      • DK says:

        I started talking to our cat in baby/dog talk (“Who’s a good kitty? Who’s such a good kitty?” etc.) in part because I’m a dog person who has somehow wound up in a cat household, and in part because my cat-obsessed spouse always thinks it’s an insult to cats to treat them in anyway like a dog (and I enjoy riling *him* up on cat-related things).
        Anyway, it turns out our cat LOVES it, always preens and starts purring when I do it. And now everyone in the house speaks to the cat as if he’s such a good doggie!

    • bluhare says:

      That’s adorable, especially kissing their little foreheads!

      Guilty of baby talk to all the animals!!

  7. Becks1 says:

    I don’t use baby talk on my dog, per se, like I still use full words lol, but I do talk in a more sing song voice to him because he is my beautiful baby and I cant help it.

    But my dogs also respond 100% when we just use a normal voice with them too, lol. I think they just like being spoken to and part of things.

    • windyriver says:

      This whole discussion reminds me of the scene in Three Men and a Baby – for anyone who’s seen it, think the movie dates from the 1980’s – where Tom Selleck is reading in a soothing, lyrical voice to a baby who’s looking up at him with rapt attention. Turns out he’s reading coverage of a boxing match from a newspaper. He responds to a comment criticizing him with, “It doesn’t matter what you read, it’s the tone you use.” Don’t have pets of my own (allergies) so can’t speak for what animals may or may not understand, and am not much for baby talk, even to babies, but the tone definitely gets a positive response when I’m around pets of friends or family!

    • StellainNH says:

      I don’t do baby talk, but we have endless conversations while on our walks.

  8. Lala11_7 says:

    Since the pandemic started…For the first time in my life…I’ve been around dogs constantly ❤️ I’ve been a Kitty-Mama…but MY G-D…Dogs bring out a DIFFERENT type of loving for me…Where I can’t HELP speaking in a CONSTANT barrage of LOVING baby talk❣️. Their tails DO NOT LIE! I could not EVEN imagine giving ANY of my Kitties that type of rapport 😅

  9. Glamarazzi says:

    This commentary is hilarious and so are the “woman laughing with dog” stock photos used to accompany the piece. I especially like “dog who put aside reading glasses to pay attention to your dumb ass.”

    • BlueNailsBetty says:

      And that is the difference between dogs and me. If you interrupt my reading I will not have that sweet, happy expression the dog has. Not even close.

  10. Her again says:

    Totally relate. With my dog, I’m all [eardrum busting high pitched voice] “does my sweet baby want his yum yums???” and “time to go sleepy weepies!!!” and “Does my widdle boy need to make a pee pee????” and “who’s my handsome widdle man???” the list unfortunately goes on………

    I am reminded of an Onion headline that had a pic of a woman pointing at a group of dogs and said “Dog owners of America DEMAND to know WHO is a good boy?! Is it you? Is it you? Are you the good boy?….”

  11. L84Tea says:

    I admit I use a sort of form of baby talk on my dog. As long as I call her my “schmoopy-poopy” in a certain tone she does that adorable head tilt thing. It’s super cute. Happy to know I am contributing to science, ha ha.

  12. Malcolm says:

    I love my Goldendoodles so much – they’re big and a little stinky but they mean the whole world to me. I don’t do much baby talk with them but, I just might have to start.

  13. QuiteContrary says:

    This is just what I needed — more encouragement to sweet-talk my doggie, who’s the bestest girl in the whole wide world (sorry, other dog parents).

  14. Michael says:

    I kind of thought this was generally accepted knowledge. I am pretty sure I heard this 10 or 15 years ago. If you have dogs you can tell what they respond to most

  15. Gabby says:

    Did this really need a study? My dog is happy with whatever tone I use if I happen to be tossing her pieces of steak.

  16. Shells_Bells says:

    My baby and I go on “walkies” and snuggle with a “blankie”.

    • Surly Gale says:

      “WWWWWWalkies” is what Barbara Woodhouse encouraged us all to use with our dogs; she said they appreciated the wwww sound, and that it ends w/”ies” we naturally tend to use a higher tone. She encouraged HHHHHHelloo so a dog could smell your breath w/o jumping up. Both these tips have proved valuable to me over the decades. Hello especially helpful at dog parks when you don’t know if the dog is a jumper or not.
      The dog that lives with me has been rejected/returned to the rescue because he bites people who disrespect him (specifically w/baby talk).
      IMO as a trainer, baby talk encourages excitement, so it’s useful when praising during a training exercise. Keeps the pup excited to be engaged. If it’s used all the time, for all communication, dogs will start to ignore, ore respond less enthusiastically, if at all. Most dogs I have ever met, once they know the command, prefer more low-keyed praise. Moving forward becomes the reward. I’M the reward (quick smile, loving pat). Same w/treats, actually. Training w/treats ok, but eventually you have to phase out the treats or they lose their value. I think baby talk to an adult dog (unless you are training a new behaviour) a little demeaning. That said, when they become seriously senior, sometimes it’s the motivator and brings them back to their youth. If you and your dog agree the communication is two-way and working, then by all means, carry on!! In other words, to each their own!

      • Dara says:

        I’ve been working to get my elder dog to understand when I let him out just before bed, it is not to explore the yard, sniffing every bush and looking for squirrels. He is on a mission – he is to go straight out, empty is bladder/bowels, and come straight back. When he does this, he gets congratulated with a pretty loud (he is getting deaf), high pitched “Good potty!” from me and plenty of pets and praise. I’m sure my neighbors think I’m nuts, but having a big celebration when he does what I want has taught him that “go potty” is different than just mucking about in the yard.

  17. Bettyrose says:

    Every time I see a headline about how scientists have discovered something super obvious to any pet parent, I wonder how I get in on that research funding.

  18. VilleRose says:

    I thought everyone baby talked their pets and that it was a universal thing lol. I definitely used baby talk on my childhood dog, RIP little Milou <3. I also feel like it's another win for the pro baby talk people. It drives me nuts every time I hear about how parents who act like they're soooo much better than us baby talkers for not speaking to their own babies/toddlers in baby talk. It's fine if someone doesn't want to use baby talk for your own baby or animal but you are not a more evolved being for not using it (and neither is your baby or pet for not being exposed to it). I'm glad the science supports babies and animals actually like it. 🙂

  19. Clara says:

    My dog (pug) does the sweetest head tilts and twists when I talk to her, my sausage dog does as well but not as much.

  20. DeltaJuliet says:

    Lot’s of plurals, lots of partial sentences, lots of nonsense lol My girl loves it all

    “Is you good girl? Is you good girl?” She freakin loves it.

  21. Bumblebee says:

    Any competent dog trainer could have told you this. And taught you how and when to use baby talk (happy voice) when teaching your dog.

  22. Trex says:

    For the record: Cat’s like it too.

  23. Tiffany:) says:

    I don’t baby talk to my dog…it’s more like children’s theater where every word is exaggerated. I read that when the sound and the meaning match, it helps dogs to understand better. So when I tell her I love her, I say I LOOOVE You! and give her the “CareBear Stare” of love and hope she gets it. I think she does!

    But she truly knows these words:
    Good girl, No, Walk, she, do you want, has she, go, (in addition to skills like sit, stay, shake, hi five, pop fly, and getting in her spot).

  24. Satchel says:

    “I really hope that as a vet Dr. Buzby has been able to work with some bee patients, because otherwise that’s a tragic missed opportunity” literally made me LOL.