“A dog is not considered a good dog because he is a good barker. A man is not considered a good man because he is a good talker.”

Chuang Zhu

Last week, I wrote about dog owners not talking to (or at) their dogs so much, particularly when giving a dog a command. Clear, concise communication is essential to a dog’s understanding of what you want from it. This means short, one- or two-word verbal commands, followed up with praise when the dog performs the command successfully. Interestingly, scientists have found that dogs differ in the way they respond to how humans talk to them. Cognitive biologist Mario Gallego-Abenza and his colleagues had 30 women record a standardized script of phrases (e.g., “Hi!” “Who’s a good boy?” et cetera) while looking at images of dogs of varying ages (puppy, adult, old); they also individually recorded the women talking to one of the researchers to get an example of normal speech patterns (human-directed speech). The researchers then tested how 10 puppies (2 to 5 months old) and 10 adult dogs (13 months to 4 years old), responded to that speech.*

The researchers found that the women spoke with a higher pitch and slower cadence that varied slightly depending on the dogs’ age; the women raised the pitch for dogs compared to humans (dog-directed speech), and the pitch was the highest when the women were talking to puppies (puppy-directed speech). The puppies were highly responsive to dog-directed speech, and the pitch of the voice was a key factor in affecting their behavior. Interestingly, the adult dogs in this study were not highly responsive to the dog-directed speech. The take-home message? Unless your dog is a puppy, talk to it in a normal voice.

What a difference one week makes! In the last article, I wrote that Emmie, a recently surrendered 1.5-year-old mixed breed, was a bit timid with men, car rides, and new experiences. Well, not anymore! This 32-pound girl has found her confidence, and every day shows us volunteers how joyfully she approaches life. Emmie loves people, and she’s really made huge progress with the male volunteers at the shelter. She loves to be outside—going for a walk, going to the park, going to the beach, even going to the vet on an errand. She has been on several outings in the last week, and has met many different dogs, both on- and off-leash. She was well-behaved when greeting the dogs, which is very encouraging, because dogs on leash often feel threatened when approached by off-leash dogs. She’s not timid about getting into cars, either, and now willingly jumps in the back seat to go for rides. Emmie has a fairly high prey drive and spent her early months on her own with her sisters. So, we think an adult-only home would be best for her. She might be okay with another dog at home, depending on the introduction. We’ve been told she likes cats. If you think Emmie is the perfect companion for your life, please drop by the shelter to meet her.

Baeo, our 1.5-year-old Malamute mix, also has a zest for life and enjoys time spent exploring. He and Emmie have a lot in common: love for people, curious natures, happy-go-lucky personalities, affectionate temperaments, and loyal hearts. Baeo loves to snuggle, is very respectful inside the home, and like Emmie and all other dogs, thrives on a consistent routine. Because he has Malamute ancestry, he loves being given a job. Malamutes are not a dog breed that can be left alone all day while their owners are away at work. This sweet boy would do best with a family where at least one person could consistently give him the time and enrichment he needs. Baeo is currently living with a foster family, but can be seen by appointment.

FFD is at 150 Blacksmith Shop Road, Falmouth. We are open to the public Wednesday through Saturday, 10 AM to noon, Monday and Thursday afternoons, 4 to 6 PM, and Sundays, 3 to 5 PM. We can be reached at 508-548-7742, or visit friendsoffalmouthdogs.org.

*Ben-Aderet T, et al. 2017. “Dog-directed speech: why do we use it and do dogs pay attention to it?” Proc. R Soc. B 284:2016.

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