Want to bond with your pet? Try ‘dog-speak’

Want to bond with your pet? Try 'dog-speak'

Adopting a baby-like tone when talking to a dog can help owners bond with their pets, scientists have found.

Most owners can be found changing their voice when talking to their pets, often mirroring the same exaggerated high-pitched sounds that parents use with their children.

Now scientists at the University of York have found that so-called ‘dog speak’ is important for helping owners bond with their animals.

Dr Katie Slocombe from the University of York’s Department of Psychology said: “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.”

Researchers carried out a series of speech tests with adult dogs, where they were given the chance to listen to one person using dog-directed speech containing phrases such as ‘you’re a good dog’, and ‘shall we go for a walk?’, and then another person using adult-directed speech with no dog-related content, such as ‘I went to the cinema last night.’

Attention during the speech was measured, and following the speech, the dogs were allowed to choose which speaker they wanted to physically interact with.

The team found that dogs not only paid more attention to ‘dog speak’, but were motivated to spend more time with the person who had spoken to them in that way.

Alex Benjamin, PhD student from the University’s Department of Psychology, said: “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.

“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.

“We hope this research will be useful for pet owners interacting with their dogs, and also for veterinary professionals and rescue workers.

“We wanted to look at this question and see whether social bonding between animals and humans was influenced by the type and content of the communication.”

The research was published in the journal Animal Cognition.

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