Dog Talk Might Be Annoying, But According To The Science, It Works

Mr Scrumbles likes the sing-songy voice, even if it drives you nuts.


Rachael Funnell


Rachael Funnell

Digital Content Producer

Rachael is a writer and digital content producer at IFLScience with a Zoology degree from the University of Southampton, UK, and a nose for novelty animal stories.

Digital Content Producer

dog speak

What voice does your dog respond to?

Image credit: Alvan Nee on Unsplash

Dog talk can be quite similar to baby talk, being made up of short utterances delivered in a sing-songy voice that to the non-pet-owning bystander can make you look a little ridiculous. However, new research suggests this could be the right way to go, as it found similarities between dogs and infants in the way that they respond more to the specific speech styles adopted by guardians, particularly when the guardian is a female.

The style of speech we use with infants and animals differs from the way we communicate with individuals we perceive to have similar language capabilities to us. According to the authors of a new study, this may be a strategy employed to try and maintain their attention. With the average dog only knowing around 89 words, it figures that we’d lean on something other than our vocabulary to get through to them.


To test if dogs, like babies, really do pay more attention to our ridiculous pet speak (more scientifically known as dog-directed speech), they employed the help of a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine to observe dogs’ brain activity. Once hooked up to the machines, the dogs were exposed to different types of speech from humans to see how they responded.

The results showed that two key areas in the dogs’ brains were particularly active when human speakers adopted “exaggerated prosody” – the scientific term used to describe (fur)baby talk. This effect was particularly pronounced when the speaker was female. As for why? It may be that we’re just more prone to it.

“Remarkably, the voice tone patterns characterizing women’s dog-directed speech are not typically used in dog-dog communication – our results may thus serve evidence for a neural preference that dogs developed during their domestication,” said Anna Gábor, co-first author of the study, to The Independent.

“Dog brains’ increased sensitivity to dog-directed speech spoken by women specifically may be due to the fact that women more often speak to dogs with exaggerated prosody than men.”


The study also identified the key characteristics that seemed to catch the dogs’ attention: how high or low the voice was on average, and how often it varied in pitch. It’ll likely come as no surprise to dog guardians that speaking to your dog in monotone is far less likely to capture their attention than if you JUMP UP and down LIKE THIS to keep them HANGING ON your every word.

So, the next time you catch someone glaring at you as you croon over Mr Scrumbles at the bus stop, you tell them: it’s called science, look it up.

The study is published in Communications Biology.


  • tag
  • animals,

  • dog,

  • language,

  • Pets,

  • dog behavior