Confirmed: people who talk to dogs are not barking mad

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Without wanting to offend my husband, children or real human friends it's possible my dog is one of my most favourite creatures to hang out with regularly.

He doesn't judge my life choices, argue with me or talk back. In fact, he doesn't talk at all, because he's a dog.

However, I sure do talk to him, all of the time.  He's like my fourth baby.

If you don't have a dog you could be excused for thinking I'm going a little loopy, but for those in the know, they'll totally get it.

He follows me everywhere, even to the toilet (which is very annoying) and he looks at me with such adoration it makes my heart ache. He rests his head on my knee when I sit on the couch and even sleeps on my bed.

I talk to him when my family isn't home. He understands none of it, except when I say - "walk" or "stay" or "food" or "high five".

And now research has confirmed that talking to your dog is a good thing.

According to scientists from the University of York, how we speak to our dogs is important in relationship building between dog and owner, similar to how 'baby-talk' is bonding between a parent and their baby.

Researchers wanted to test the theory that when humans speak in a high-pitched voice with exaggerated emotion, much like when they talk to babies, it helps humans bond with both puppies and adult dogs.


"A special speech register, known as infant-directed speech, is thought to aid language acquisition and improve the way a human baby bonds with an adult," Dr Katie Slocombe from the University of York's Department of Psychology said.

"This high-pitched rhythmic speech is common in human interactions with dogs in western cultures, but there isn't a great deal known about whether it benefits a dog in the same way that it does a baby.

"We wanted to look at this question and see whether social bonding between animals and humans was influenced by the type and content of the communication."

The team found that adult dogs chose to interact with adults who talked about dog-related topics – such as walks and food – in a high-pitched dog-directed voice over people who spoke in an adult-directed voice about non-dog related topics.

Pooches at Play vet presenter Dr Melissa Meehan, said the York study confirmed what we already know – dogs love their humans talking to them with kindness.

"It proves what we seem to instinctively know — dogs love it when we talk in a particular tone using words and phrases that are familiar to them. You see their head tilt and tail wag and know you've made them happy," Dr Meehan.

"Speaking with kindness and respect to our pets has a two fold effect - they feel loved and nurtured while we feel more positive about ourselves and the world in general."

Communicating with your dogs also positively impacts on humans, particularly when you're feeling lonely, stressed or sad.

"Pets are the ultimate listeners and master readers of body language," she said.

"Chatting to your pet can definitely be therapeutic, it can make us more consciously aware of our own feelings and thoughts, but it can also help to simplify a problem when we suddenly realise how 'human' our concern is and by human I mean unnecessarily complex." 
And for parents, struggling with anxiety, empty nest syndrome or up at night feeding a new baby, a dog can be a supportive 'friend'.

"Speaking to my clients over the years, I have no doubt that pets help immensely in combating loneliness as well as depression and anxiety," Dr Meehan said.

"Pets depend on us for affection, companionship, food and shelter, they make us think beyond our own needs and if we dare to take a leaf out of their book - they live for the moment and are satisfied with the small things in life.

"Traits we could definitely take on board."