Most dog owners talk to their dog. They know their dog doesn’t understand what is said, but like talking to very young children or babies, it’s just something you naturally feel like doing, and the dog doesn’t seem to mind.
It actually goes much deeper than that. It is now known that the bond between a parent and a child is significantly strengthened through the parent speaking to the child.
The way you speak matters
Of course, we are talking of calm, soothing speech, or excited, happy speech that obviously has goodwill behind it, and not shouted angry speech. Your baby can easily tell the difference.
It should come as no surprise to learn that your dog can tell the difference too. When you shout at your dog when she makes a mistake, she may not know exactly what the problem is, but she will know something is wrong.
This becomes even more confusing for the dog when you discover something your dog has done hours after the event, then you shout at her. She will most likely not connect the thing she did wrong with you shouting, and will only know fear.
Strengthening the bond between you and your dog
A recent study published in the journal, Animal Cognition concluded that speaking to your dog in a particular way does indeed strengthen the bond between you.
However, it’s not just speaking to your dog that’s important, it how you speak to your dog that really matters. Think of how a parent speaks to a baby. They usually adopt a high-pitched tone, known as infant-directed speech. It might sound silly to someone else listening, but we’ve all come to accept it.
That same high-pitched tone of voice saying things like, “Who’s a good boy?” or “Will we go for a walk?” has a similar effect on dogs to the effect it has on babies. In short, they like it!
It’s not just any kind of speech that your dog likes to hear
The study also found that when dogs are spoken to in normal tones, in the way you might talk to a friend, it simply doesn’t have the same effect. The dogs like to be spoken to any friendly kind of way, but they far prefer to be spoken to in a high-pitched ‘baby talk’ kind of way.
Alex Benjamin, one of the scientists conducting the experiments in the study had this to say:
“We found that adult dogs were more likely to want to interact and spend time 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.”
He went on to say, “When we mixed-up the two types of speech and content, the dogs showed no preference for one speaker over the other. This suggests that adult dogs need to hear dog-relevant words spoken in a high-pitched emotional voice in order to find it relevant.”
This obviously has great relevance, not only for pet owners but also for veterinary professionals and dog refuge rescue workers. Speaking to a frightened, stressful dog who has just been taken to a rescue center in a high-pitched, kind, emotional voice is likely to be more effective at calming her down than anything else.
Your dog will learn to recognize key words in what you say
I personally found out with my old dog, Sam, who sadly died not too long ago, that, while he recognized many phrases, there were only a few key words that he actually responded to.
I used to say to him, “Let’s go for a walk!” in a bright, breezy kind of way. He loved it and always knew exactly what I meant. I naively thought he recognized all of the sentence, but one day I discovered he only really responded to two words within the sentence. The words were, “go for”.
He loved to hear me say just, “Let’s”, but I think he was expecting me to say the rest of the statement when he heard the start of the sentence. It was “go for” that made him the most excited, which probably sounded more like, “gopher” to him.
I soon discovered that just saying, “go for” was all he needed; he responded to those two words in the exact same way he responded to, “Let’s go for a walk!”
I tried saying just, “walk!”, and that got him interested, but not nearly as interested as when I said, “go for”. For old Sam, who I still miss terribly, “go for” meant we were going out for a walk. That was all he needed to know.
You don’t have to ‘baby talk’ to your dog all the time
I personally think that all dog owners should talk to their dogs regularly. You don’t need to use the high-pitched emotional tone of voice all the time. Mix it up. Talk to your dog in a special baby talk way when you are actually petting her, and speaking directly to her.
But when you are in the same room together, for example, and you just want to speak to her in a general kind of way, feel free to do so. Your dog will love the attention, perhaps not as much as when you talk in a baby talk kind of way, but she’ll still like it a lot.
We tend to treat our pets like we treat our children, and that’s actually a good thing, for they are a lot like children. Your dog has the intelligence of roughly a two-year-old. Most people think their dog is more intelligent than that, but that’s often wishful thinking.
Think about it, especially if you are a parent, a two-year-old child is far from stupid. They can work out quite complex things at times. They can be very devious too, and all that takes intelligence.
This means your dog is far from stupid too. She may not have the intelligence of a rocket scientist, but then, who do you know who does?
The relationship between you and your dog is important, so strengthen that bond daily, talk to your dog, yes, in that high-pitched emotional way – at least when no one is listening. You and your dog will both be glad you did!