Back to puppies!

Actually, some recent very interesting research on how puppies relate to the sounds of people around them.

A recent mailing under the SmartNews banner used by The Smithsonian Magazine seemed too good not to share with all you dog lovers.

Plus, our internet connection is not good at the moment so not going to dilly dally but go straight to the article that may be seen on the Smithsonian website here.


Why Puppies Love Baby Talk

New research shows puppies respond strongly to high-pitched chatter, but most adult dogs could care less.

istock-511313058-jpg__800x600_q85_crop_subject_location-1501569By Jason Daley
January 11, 2017

Anyone who has lived with a dog will find themselves occasionally cooing to their pup in slow-paced, high-pitched baby talk (OK, maybe most of the time). And a new study suggests that our canines respond to such dulcet tones—well, puppies do at least.

The study, published this week in the Proceedings of Royal Society Bshows that the baby-talk, also known as dog-directed speech, gets a big response from puppies. Older dogs, however, aren’t super impressed, reports Virginia Morell at Science.

The study’s researchers had 30 female volunteers look at photographs of dogs while reading standard dog-directed phrases, like “Who’s a good boy?” and “Hello cutie!” (they didn’t use real dogs to minimize the speakers going off script). The volunteers also read the doggie praise to a human. The researchers found that women used the higher-pitched, sing-song baby-talk tone when reading the passages to the photos, making their voices 21 percent higher when reading to the puppy images. With the human, they spoke in their normal voice.

That was more or less expected. But when the researchers played recordings of the women’s voices to ten puppies and ten adult dogs at a New York animal shelter, there was a stark difference. The puppies went wild when they heard the dog-directed voices. Morell reports they barked and ran toward the loudspeaker, crouching down in a pose used to start a round of horseplay. When researchers played the same phrases using the women’s normal tone of voice, the puppies weren’t nearly as enthused.

The adult dogs, however, were a different story. “They didn’t care at all,” Nicolas Mathevon, a bioacoustician at the University of Lyon in Saint-Étienne, France, and co-author of the study tells Morell. “They had a quick look at the speaker, and then ignored it.”

There’s no clear reason why the puppies reacted so strongly to the baby talk and the mature animals didn’t. It’s possible the higher-pitched tones stimulate a special response in the puppies. Mathevon tells Helen Briggs at the BBC that it may be related to a theory called the baby schema. In that hypothesis, humans evolved to find big eyes, big heads and round cheeks irresistibly cute. That helps parents bond with children, convincing them to spend the endless hours required to feed and tend to infants. Many of those cues are also found in baby animals.

But there may be more to the response.  “One of the hypotheses was that we humans use this dog-directed speech because we are sensitive to the baby cues that come from the face of a small baby [animal] as we are sensitive to the faces of our babies,” he tells Briggs. “But actually our study demonstrates that we use pet-directed speech or infant-directed speech not only because of that but maybe we use this kind of speech pattern when we want to engage and interact with a non-speaking listener. Maybe this speaking strategy is used in any context when we feel that the listener may not fully master the language or has difficulty to understand us.”

Over time humans have bred dogs to be more baby-like, which only makes humans bond with them more, Evan Maclean, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Arizona not involved in the study tells Nicola Davis at The Guardian. “As a result of selection for juvenile traits, dogs emit a lot of signals that scream ‘baby’ to humans, which can facilitate special kinds of interactions with dogs that are normally reserved for children,” he says. “The question we don’t have a great answer to is whether there are long term functional consequences of interacting with dogs in this way (e.g. effects on word learning), or if this is just a byproduct of the baby-like cues that dogs inundate us with.”

So why did the older dogs just keep chewing their bones when they heard the strangers’ voices coming from the speaker? “[M]aybe older dogs do not react that way because they are just more choosy and they want only to react with a familiar person,” Mathevon tells Briggs.


I think there’s more to this than the slightly light-hearted tone that came across in the article (well to my ears anyway!).

If you want to study the published proceedings from The Royal Society, referred to by Jason Daley in the second paragraph, then the paper is here:

Dog-directed speech: why do we use it and do dogs pay attention to it?

Tobey Ben-Aderet, Mario Gallego-Abenza, David Reby, Nicolas Mathevon
Only one way to finish today’s post!

P.S. Don’t run the video in front of a roomful of dogs! (As we did last night!)

15 thoughts on “Back to puppies!

    1. No more than I really appreciate your generous reply. There are times when I think I should share fewer articles and write more from my own account. But replies like yours are so lovely in guiding me in what to do.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. My terrier’s quizzical response to that video had me laughing out loud! Thanks Paul.
    Seriously, those bones the adult dogs were chewing were just too juicy.
    For them, the sound of the voices by themselves weren’t enough – they needed the physical presence of a person. Unlike the puppies, they’ve probably heard too much tv or radio in their lives to be fooled enough to respond to a disembodied voice.
    ‘Scientific’ studies like this one amuse me – from my lifetime experience with dogs of all ages, I have absolutely no doubt that human voices that are higher rather than deep, softer rather hard, and with expression rather than ‘flat’, are much more positively received by all dogs, regardless of age.


    1. Yes, we too are certain about the link between our voices and how our dogs respond. What amuses us is that the dogs recognize the sound of the closing credits to an evening programme. If the time of those credits is after 8:30 pm then they are out of the room heading for the front door before we have time to turn off the television!


  2. Just come back into the house from feeding the horses. Plus the wild deer that know this is their morning feed time as well. There were four deer this morning watching me walk towards the stables.

    Quite automatically I looked across at the deer and talked softly to them. Then it struck me that I was speaking in exactly the same way as today’s post describes!

    Not just puppies!


  3. Interesting article. When training any of my dogs to learn something ( I should write when TRYING to train my dogs something) I use a high pitched happy voice. I read about the voice thing many years ago and have no idea what book or article that was in. The motive is: to get the dog to understand that you sound happy and enthused. I’m not sure why the high pitched voice is needed, in fact I don’t use it all the time. Maybe I’m not consistent enough. Being able to train a dog is an art. I’m not good at it but my dogs come when I call and generally behave. I’ve taught a few tricks but I wish that I were really good at it.


    1. You and me both!

      We have it pretty easy here because the new dogs so quickly learn the routines from the others. The only exception is Brandy who either is so independently minded he doesn’t care or is a little lacking in the brain box department. We haven’t made up our mind yet about that.

      When young Pharaoh was ready to be trained I took him to Angela Stockdale in South Devon, England where I was then living. Angela was fantastic. Indeed, you have given me the motivation to write about Pharaoh and his training days for tomorrow’s post.

      Liked by 1 person

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