Science Blast! Talkin’ to Man’s Best Friend

woman talking to dogPeople talk to their adult dogs as if they were puppies.

What dogs hear when we talk to them

We often say the same sweet, nonsensical things to our dogs that we say to our babies—and in almost the same slow, high-pitched voice. Now, scientists have shown that puppies find our pooch-directed speech exciting, whereas older dogs are somewhat indifferent. The findings show, for the first time, that young dogs respond to this way of talking, and that it may help them learn words—as such talk does with human babies.

To find out how dogs reacted to human speech, Nicolas Mathevon, a bioacoustician at the University of Lyon in Saint Étienne, France, and his colleagues first recorded the voices of 30 women as they looked at a dog’s photograph and read from a script, “Hi! Hello cutie! Who’s a good boy? Come here! Good boy! Yes! Come here sweetie pie! What a good boy!” (The scientists were afraid the women would ad lib if they spoke to a real dog.) The women also repeated the passage to a person.

When the scientists compared the human- and dog-directed speech, they found that, as expected, the women spoke in distinctive, high-pitched, sing-song tones to the pooches—but not the humans. “It didn’t matter if it was a puppy or an adult dog,” Mathevon says. But the women did speak at an even higher pitch when looking at puppy photos.

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