We’ve all heard it. Most of us have used it. Some of us (gasp!) even prefer it. It’s baby voice, and it’s been around for millennia. Using baby voice with your dog is totally fine and can even boost your bond with new puppies. People around you might think you sound ridiculous, but you can just tell them science says it’s OK.
Is It OK to Use a Baby Voice with Dogs? (Or Do They Think I'm as Ridiculous as I Sound?)
What is baby voice?
There’s actually a scientific term for baby voice. It’s called infant-directed speech (IDS), and it’s common in many cultures. Researchers believe high pitches and certain exaggerated pronunciations help babies learn their native languages faster, making IDS a good move for evolution. Baby voice can also improve the bond between parent and child. So, duh, this is why so many of us use it with our dogs! Researchers call baby voice with dogs pet-directed speech (PDS) or dog-directed speech (DDS).
Do dogs like baby voice?
It turns out dogs do like baby voice—at least for a while. A 2018 study out of the University of York found that dogs preferred the company of people who used PDS or DDS when discussing dog-related topics. The canines were less interested in humans using regular speech. (In this study, regular speech meant speaking in a conversational, casual tone about people-related topics.) However, when researchers swapped out dog-related topics for people-related topics, it was hard to tell where the dog’s attention went.
The American Kennel Club says this may be a result of humans using baby voice more often with puppies. Young dogs learn to associate baby voice with good things, so their ears perk up when high pitched language is paired with words like “outside” or “good boy” (which is a phrase you should actually try to cut out of your DDS!).
A separate study from 2017 found adult dogs couldn’t care less about pet parents using baby voice (teens, amirite?). The study further discovered puppies loved hearing baby voice and it actually helped humans achieve certain outcomes (saying “sit” in baby voice may yield better results than using your regular, boring human voice). However, adult and senior dogs demonstrated no more interest in baby voice commands or phrases than they did conversational tones.
Should I use baby voice with my dog?
After reviewing the results of these two studies, we think using baby voice with puppies is definitely a good idea. It seems to establish a bond between you and your pet and puppies respond well to it. Once your dog reaches adulthood (or stops responding to baby voice), you can get rid of it. But, if your adult or senior dog loves it and you love it, keep on using it! No judgment.
Interestingly, even when humans use PDS or DDS, there are differences in intonation and vowel structure than when we use IDS. Researchers think this is because we know that eventually, human babies will have to speak, recreating the language we use with them, but we know canines will never replicate our vowel and consonant sounds. So, subconsciously, we use different baby voices with each!