Scientists from the University of York recently published a study showing that dogs respond better to “dog-speak” – using dog-related words in a high-pitched tone of voice – over any other speech patterns. Because of course it takes a scientific study to prove what dog owners already know: you can drone on and on about your long day at work and your dog won’t blink an eye, but as soon as you perk up your voice and ask “Who wants a treat?” your dog is bouncing up and down.
The researchers had people speak to dogs in normal voices about normal things, high pitched voices with exaggerated emotion about dog things (like “you’re a good dog!” and “shall we go for a walk?”), normal voices about dog things, and high pitched voices about normal things. Not surprisingly, the dogs responded favorably to hearing dog things in a high pitched voice and were neutral about everything else.
The goal of the study was actually to determine whether dogs prefer high-pitched dog speak or whether humans talked to dogs as if they were babies for our own benefit instead of the dog’s benefit. Dr. Katie Slocombe, who works in University of York’s psychology department, told the BBC:
“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. We wanted to see whether social bonding between animals and humans was influenced by the type and content of the communication.”
When dogs were presented with different people using each type of speech, they invariably gave more attention to those who spoke about dog things in a high pitched voice. Speaking about dog things in a normal tone of voice and speaking about normal things in a high pitch did not elicit the same reaction, indicating that the dogs needed both the words and the pitch to be directed toward their interests.
PhD student Alex Benjamin told the BBC:
“This suggests that adult dogs need to hear dog-relevant words spoken in a high-pitched emotional voice in order to find it relevant.”
While the researchers may conduct the same study on puppies in the future, presumably to try to determine whether this behavior is learned or innate, they have no plans on attempting this experiment with cats any time in the near future.
Does your dog listen better to “dog-speak”? Let us know in the comments!