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Using "Dog-Directed" Speech When Training

"Dog-directed" speech was the subject of a recent study looking at a dog's attention to the handler.


Any of us who work regularly with and around dogs knows what "dog-directed" speech is. It's that slow, high-pitched tone we use with babies and puppies that has a "sing-song," lilting quality to it. A recent study has shown that there's real training value to this speech pattern especially when working with young dogs.

The study was conducted at a shelter in New York City where the scientists played several recordings to a group of 10 puppies and 10 adult dogs. The recordings were of 30 different women with a variety of speech patterns reading the same line of dialogue. The dialogue was basically what we would say when seeing a cute dog (i.e. Oh what a cute good boy!") and was read to both a picture of a dog and to an actual person in front of them. After listening to the recordings, the researchers observed that the women definitely spoke in a higher pitched tone of voice to the photos of the dogs, especially if they were puppies, but did not use the same tones when speaking the same dialogue to another person.

When the recordings of the higher-pitched voices were played to the dogs, most of the puppies reacted energetically to the speakers and some were observed making play bows. They did not react strongly to the recordings were the women were speaking in a normal tone of voice. On the other hand, the adult dogs did not seem to have a strong reaction to any of the recordings.

Clearly there's a benefit to using a higher, song-like pitch to our voices when training puppies and the study bears this common experience out. The study was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences in January 2017.

Source: Ben-Aderet T, Gallego-Abenza M, Reby D, Mathevon N. (2017). Dog-directed speech: why do we use it and do dogs pay attention to it? Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. January 11: DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.2429.

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