Study finds ‘sing-song’ talk helps human-dog interaction

University of York researchers, who conducted a series of scientific speech interaction experiments between adult dogs and humans, say vets should adopt “baby talk” when interacting with canines.
Vets should be using “baby talk” with unfamiliar canine patients to make them relax and comfortably interact in the practice, according to research.
Previous studies on communicating with dogs had suggested talking in a high-pitch voice with exaggerated emotion, just as adults do with babies, improved engagement with puppies, but made little difference with adult dogs.
Now, researchers at the University of York, who conducted a series of scientific speech interaction experiments between adult dogs and humans, believe sing-song “baby talk” works for older dogs too, when combined with dog-related phrases such as “good boy”.
The work, published in Animal Cognition, saw scientists monitor the varying reactions of canine subjects when humans (who were completely unfamiliar to them) addressed them in different modes of speech – from infant-directed speech to dog-directed speech.
One of the authors, Katie Slocombe from the University of York Department of Psychology, said: “The take-home message for vets is, when interacting with unfamiliar dogs where the aim is to make friends with them, and make them relax and comfortably interact with you, talk to them like a baby.
“So, high-pitched, lots of exaggerated intonation and lots of dog-related words like ‘good boys’ and ‘good dogs’.”
“Our research shows speaking to dogs in the ‘sing-song’ way you would to a human baby makes them pay more attention to you and, importantly for a vet, those animals are more likely to show affiliative behaviour to the person who uses that type of speech.”
Dr Slocombe accepted the findings could not be used “blanket” fashion by all vets with all dogs, and there would be some cases where a different approach would be needed.
‘Positive association’
Dr Slocombe said: “It depends what you need the dog to do. If you’ve got puppies coming in for their first checkup and you want them to start having a positive association with the vet clinic then this would definitely be helpful.
“My guess is, if you’re going to have to examine an aggressive dog and that animal is not going to like it anyway then that will be different.
“It’s not a blanket rule that we should all be talking to all dogs all the time in this way, but I think our results show – particularly if you are unfamiliar with a dog, and you want that dog to affiliate with you and for it to be a pleasant experience for the dog – this is a scenario vets and pet owners should be using.”