Puppy handshake

Puppies prefer it when you baby talk to them

But older dogs couldn't care less

By Charlotte Brouwer, 12 January 2017
Puppies prefer it when you baby talk to them

We've all been there, we've all done it, and we're all guilty. 

If you haven't, then, well, you have a heart of stone. Go away.

You're walking down the road having a perfectly normal adult conversation with your partner, friend or family, when a puppy comes along and you automatically melt into a baby-talking puddle of love and rainbows. "Aaaawww who's the cutest fluffiest widdle puppy in the whoooole world? You are! Yes you are! Yes you are! Who's a good boy? You're a good boy! How are yooooouuuuuu???"

"Who, me?"

"No, not you, yooooouuuuuu!!!! Aaaawww you're just so cute!!"

Resume adult conversation like nothing happened.

It's the same thing anywhere you go, you could be FaceTiming a friend, then change your tone the very second their dog appears in front of the camera.

This spontaneous wave just comes over us, we can't control it, it's just natural

And apparently, it's a good thing too. Not only do puppies actually like our strange need to speak to them only in baby talk, but it also serves a purpose; signalling human-puppy interaction and letting the puppy know it’s time to listen. 

When we talk to dogs, we often speak in a similar tone to the way we talk to babies, which is logical really, as they're just so cute. But there's evidence that raising your voice, slowing your words and emphasising your vowels will not only hold an infant’s attention but also help them to pick up language, and researchers suggest that this way of talking may be our natural way of trying to interact with non-speaking listeners. 

Scientists have been studying dogs and puppies, and the way they react to different speech patterns (seriously, can we change jobs please?), and have decoded "dog-directed speech" for the first time, proving that puppies respond well to it.

Puppies reacted positively and wanted to play when researchers in France played them recordings of women speaking in a high-pitched, excitable manner, saying phrases like "Hi! Hello Cutie! Who’s a good boy? Come here! Good boy! Yes! Come here, sweetie pie! What a good boy!" (this sounds like so much fun, seriously is it too late to change jobs?).

Nine out of ten puppies responded more to a "puppy voice" than to a normal voice, reacting more quickly, staring at the speakers more, and getting closer to the speaker for longer periods of time.

But while the researchers found that puppies were quizzical about the speaker and padded over to see what was happening, adult dogs ignored this kind of speech, and barely pricked up their ears at the noise, reports The Times.

Apparently it’s all down to learning. David Reby, an animal cognition expert from the University of Sussex, says that the high-pitched voice teaches puppies which commands to listen out for, but as dogs grow older they’re less interested.

"We found that puppies are highly reactive to dog-directed speech, in the absence of any other cues, like visual cues," Prof Mathevon of the University of Lyon/Saint-Etienne in France told BBC News.

"Conversely we found that with adult dogs, they do not react differentially between dog-directed speech and normal speech."

Which basically means that while talking to a puppy like they're the most "adowable widdle fwuffy baby with the cutest widdle paws in the world" is totally acceptable (in fact, encouraged), telling an older dog that they're your little dumpling is, frankly, wasting your breath – they really couldn't care less*.

*(Unless you call them a good boy. That’s very important, and should be done at every opportunity.)