′Awww, you′re such a cutie′ - why we use baby language on dogs | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 11.01.2017
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'Awww, you're such a cutie' - why we use baby language on dogs

Humans have a very special way of talking to babies - and they also use it on dogs. According to a new study, puppies are subjected to especially high-pitched babble - and they like it.

We've all done it. Seeing a cute baby turns us to mush, and we suddenly lose our ability to talk like a normal human being. Instead we switch to baby talk. The voice goes up an octave and suddenly gibberish phrases like "boo boo" or other variations on "cutie pie" become acceptable nomenclature.

It doesn't hit home that other adults would be offended by such talk. The baby is happy just hearing the friendly sound of our voice, and that's all that matters.

Animals, too, are subjected to the senseless babble, first among them, dogs. Researchers say they have discovered why and published their findings in the journal "Proceedings of the Royal Society B."

The scientists believe that baby talk is less of a reaction to an adorable baby or puppy face and more of an attempt to communicate with a counterpart who can't talk or hardly understands language.

Golden Retriever - Welpe (picture-alliance/Bildagentur-online/Tetra Images)

Feel your voice going higher just looking at this puppy? It's a natural instinct

Tobey Ben-Aderet and his team at the City University of New York showed pictures of puppies, adult and senior dogs to 30 women and asked them to call the dogs with the following phrase: "Come here, you're such a good boy."

The researchers recorded what the trial participants said to analyze the language markers later. They didn't use real dogs at this point because that would have made analyzing the language harder, the scientists explained. In the second part of the trial, the recordings were then played for real canines of all ages.

Puppies like baby talk

The women talked to all the dogs in a register usually reserved for babies, but their voices were a little higher when they were asked to call puppies. The young dogs also reacted to the high-pitched babble more attentively than older canines, responding more quickly and examining the sounds longer.

Older dogs were less impressed with baby talk, the scientists said, adding that the older a dog becomes, the more it ignores human sounds that don't come from its owner.

But why do we need baby talk to reach man's best friend? Ben-Aderet and his team believe it's a general impulse when it comes to communicating with animals, which react more to voice intonation and rhythm than to what is actually being said.

The researchers also say that a puppy face triggers this impulse even stronger because puppies exhibit traits that people agree are cute, like big, round eyes. That's why a young golden retriever with its baby-like proportions and facial features triggers our protective and parental instincts.

hf/cb (dpa)

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