A team of researchers from the University of Lyon in France set out to determine how dogs respond to human speech. The experts are reporting that puppies love when people direct a type of “baby talk” at them and may even begin understanding some human words through these types of interaction, while older dogs appear to be indifferent.
To examine how dogs react to the way that humans speak, the experts first recorded the voices of 30 women as they looked at photographs of dogs and spoke to the images. The women were exposed to pictures of both puppies and older dogs, and were also directed to repeat the passage to a person.
The script read, “Hi! Hello cutie! Who’s a good boy? Come here! Good boy! Yes! Come here sweetie pie! What a good boy!”
The scientists compared the women’s speech when it was directed at humans to when it was directed at dogs. It came as no surprise that the women had spoken in distinctive, high-pitched, musical tones to the animals, but not to the humans. The women spoke at an even higher pitch when looking at puppy photos.
The researchers played the voice recordings for 10 puppies and 10 adult dogs at a New York City animal shelter and filmed their responses.
The documentation revealed that nine of the puppies reacted strongly to the voices, barking and approaching the loudspeaker even when the recording had been made for an older dog. Some of the puppies bent down toward the sound of the voices in a play bow, which is a pose that shows a puppy is in a playful mood.
Study lead author Nicolas Mathevon explained that the younger dogs most likely consider dog-directed speech as “an invitation to play.” The puppies were not nearly as excited by the recordings of the women speaking to other humans, however.
As far as the adult dogs observed for the analysis, it made no difference if they were hearing speech which was directed at puppies, older dogs, or humans. “They had a quick look at the speaker, and then ignored it,” said Mathevon.
Further investigation is needed to determine if the dog-directed speech means something to the puppies that is not yet understand or whether it helps them to learn human words.
The study is published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.