How We Talk to Animals: All About “Pet-Directed Speech”

Raise your hand if your voice changes when you talk to your pets! If you find yourself using a high-pitched singsong when talking to dogs, cats, birds, and other animals, you’re not alone. In fact, there’s even a term for it: pet-directed speech (PDS). It’s more common in women than men, and is closely related to another type of speech we’re all familiar with: infant-directed speech (IDS).

A recent study published in the journal Animal Cognition took a closer look at PDS…specifically, how women talk to dogs. The results are very interesting. The researchers observed 34 adult women talk to their dogs in 4 different situations:

  • Before separating
  • After reuniting
  • During play
  • While giving commands

When do we most use that high-pitched, singsongy form of PDS? According to the study, it’s when we reunite with our pets after a separation. Before separating, our voices are more low, even, and unaffected. During play, we use questions and attention-getting tactics. Giving commands, we use imperatives and attention-getting tactics.

A story about the study on the NPR website goes into the science behind how we talk to our pets, and how it compares to the way we talk to young children. With both groups, women in particular tend to adapt their communication style in order to optimize the transmission of both their intentions and their emotional state…in other words, to facilitate interaction.

The experts note that women are more likely than men to talk a lot to their pets and use PDS while speaking. In terms of your pets’ reactions…scientists say that puppies are much more responsive to PDS than adult dogs, who show less interest in this type of speech. Another interesting finding? Women who were not mothers spoke to their dogs in a higher pitch than women who had children. Makes sense if your pets are *really* your kids!


12 thoughts on “How We Talk to Animals: All About “Pet-Directed Speech”

  1. Oh totally!! I talk continuously to all my animals in a sing-song voice, LOL! I am convinced it soothes them. I did it all my life, as a child, as an adult, before and after I had children… And yes I don’t hear men doing this! Hahaha! X

  2. I think I must be an exception. I usually use my high-pitched, happy tone when I want Tippy to come to me when I am being ignored. It doesn’t always work though. Most other times, I try to use my normal voice, but I do talk to her like she’s a person. It could be because I substitute at a local daycare and we try to instill independence in the kids and try to not use a lot of baby talk with the toddlers.

  3. That’s fascinating! I’ve noticed a few men that we’ve encountered lately around the ‘hood on our walks also exhibit PDS…and it always cracks me up with a 6+ ft. something dude has ‘that’ voice. But very smile inducing. 😍

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