It’s an unspoken rule that humans can only communicate with dogs in Puppy Voice — you know, the stupid one with the high pitch. According to a new study, it’s not just humans who love this ridiculous charade.
Researchers at the University of York report pooches respond better to dog-directed speech (DDS) as opposed to when we talk to them like, well, people. To test this theory, researchers rounded up 37 dogs and had them listen to a person talking to them in “dog-speak” — the classic high-pitched voice, coupled with “dog-relevant” phrases (e.g. “Do you wanna go to the park?” “Who’s a good boy?”). Then, people would speak to the dogs in flatter tones about more mundane things (e.g. “I went to the cinema last night”).
“This form of speech is known to share some similarities with the way in which humans talk to their pet dogs, known as dog-directed speech,” Katie Slocombe from the University of York’s Department of Psychology says in a statement. “This high-pitched rhythmic speech is common in human interactions with dogs in western cultures, but there isn’t a great deal known about whether it benefits a dog in the same way that it does a baby.”
The team found that the dogs chose to spend more time with the people who spoke to them in “dog-speak” using “dog relevant” words. It’s the combination of pitch and content that the dogs feel most favorably about. The group’s findings have been published in the journal Animal Cognition.
“When we mixed-up the two types of speech and content, the dogs showed no preference for one speaker over the other,” Alex Benjamin, a Ph.D. student from the University of York’s Department of Psychology, says. “This suggests that adult dogs need to hear dog-relevant words spoken in a high-pitched emotional voice in order to find it relevant.”
Since 37 dogs seems a little low for a sample, we decided to do a little very unscientific research of our own. On Wednesday, I tweeted out a question asking pet owners to tell me if they speak to their furbabies in a ridiculous voice. Here are just some of the replies:
Now to repeat this experiment with cats!