If you think your dog really does understand you then you may be right according to a new study, which found that using “dog-speak” to talk to your pet helps boost communication and bonding.
Carried out by researchers at the University of York, UK, the team recruited 37 adult dogs for a series of speech tests with humans.
Previous research has already suggested that when adults talk to puppies in a high-pitch exaggerated voice – in the same way many adults talk to babies – they are more engaged in what humans are saying. However, research has also shown that this type of talk made little difference with adult dogs.
To explore further, the new study placed the human participants in the same room as the dogs, rather than broadcasting human speech over a loudspeaker for the dogs to hear as in previous experiments.
This provided a more natural environment for the dogs and made it easier for the team to observe if dogs not only listened more to “dog speak,” but also wanted to spend more time with the humans who spoke to them in this way.
The dogs then listened to one human using dog-directed speech, such as ‘you’re a good dog’, and ‘shall we go for a walk?’, and then to another person using adult-directed speech, such as ‘I went to the cinema last night,’ with no dog-related content.
The participants then mixed dog-directed speech with non-dog-related words and adult-directed speech with dog-related words, to see whether it was the high-pitched exaggerated tone of the speech that engaged the dogs, or the words themselves.
After they had listened to both types of speech, the dogs were then allowed to choose which speaker they wanted to physically interact with.
The team found from the first part of the test that the dogs were more likely to want to interact with the speaker that used dog-directed speech with dog-related content, than they did those that used adult-directed speech with no dog-related content.
From the second part of the test, when the type and content of speech were mixed, the dogs showed no preference for one speaker over the other, suggesting that dogs need to hear dog-relevant words spoken in “dog-speak” for them to find it engaging.
The researchers now suggest that “dog-speak” could be an important tool for communicating with dogs as well as building a relationship between pet and owner, similar to the way that ‘baby-talk’ helps parents bond with babies.