Connecting Through Conversations

A lot of people talk to their pets and if you think this is crazy, well, you are crazy! Any pet parent who denies talking to their pet is either not a very good pet parent or is lying. There is something special about having a little heart to heart with your pet.

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It is known that talking to one’s child improves bonds between parent and child. Recent studies suggest that in the same way, talking to your pet strengths the bond that you share. Pet parents do this instinctively because they feel just as attached to their pets as they may be to their child. But does this kind of ‘dog talk’ do anything for your pet?

When you are explaining to your pet that the sooner they do their business, the sooner they can go back inside and be sheltered from rain, cold, or summer. Or when someone passes by and you explain to them it isn’t embarrassing and they can do their business. You might think that your pet doesn’t understand, but on the contrary they have a deep understanding. Just like you have conversations with your friends, you can have interesting conversations with your furry friends as well.

Backed by science, driven by love

Researchers, Alex Benjamin and Katie Slocombe, at the University of York, UK investigated the effect of dog talk on dogs and whether it improved the bonding between pets and humans, and specifically, whether it is useful for dogs. Dogs often have a vocabulary of several hundred words, with a Collie named Chaser knowing about a thousand words or more. Slocombe explains, “A special speech register, known as infant directed speech is thought to aid language acquisition and to improve the way a human baby bonds with an adult.” “This form of speech is known to share with the way in which humans talk to their pet dogs, known as dog-directed speech.” Their research suggests that dogs need to hear dog relevant words spoken in a high pitched emotional voice in order to find it relevant. So here’s the proof for why your pet gets excited every time you ask him ‘Who’s a good boy?’

Anthropomorphizing – incredible intelligence in a simple way

According to Nicholas Epley, a behavioural science professor at the University of Chicago, people who frequently talk to animals actually show signs of high intelligence. It is called anthropomorphizing, that means the ability to give a human mind to something that isn’t human. ‘Historically, anthropomorphizing has been treated as a sign of childishness or stupidity, but it’s actually a natural byproduct of the tendency that makes humans uniquely smart on this planet. No other species has this tendency.’

So when you come home and ask your pet how their day went and tell them about your own day, you are anthropomorphizing and giving him a human mind and personality. He doesn’t have one, but your ability to perceive a reality where he does separates you from other on the IQ scale. It shows both smart and creative individuals, so good for you.

Ease the pain with love filled conversations

Pets are excellent conversationalists. They never hog the dialogue, or make petty jabs. Talking to someone that doesn’t talk back to you is a completely natural part of the human experience. It is totally normal to ascribe all kinds of thoughts and meanings to other things in our lives. You enjoy the psychological benefits of companionship and your pup enjoys the friendly, conversational tone. They can guess your emotion with the tone of your voice, which is important when they’re working to understand what you want or need from them. And sometimes when all you might need is a snuggle, that’s how your pet understands you.

Deciphering doggie vocabulary, words, and emotions

There is a Border Collie called Chaser who is said to know a thousand words. Before him, there were other gifted word learners like another Collie named Rico, a mixed breed called Sofia and a Yorkshire Terrier called Bailey. Many dogs also understand and respond correctly to two or three word sentences. Most of us know that some words need to be spelled in order to avoid excessive canine excitement, like W-A-L-K. Words and sentences will often slip into doggie lexicon and maybe understood perfectly. Most dogs understand a lot of what we say, without even understanding the words.

It has been suggested that the sounds help dogs develop an emotional connect before they understand the meaning. This is to say that music came before songs!

It is commonly said that as much as 80 percent of the meaning in our language comes from body language and tone of voice rather than actual words we choose to say. On scanning dogs’ brains, it was found that their brains respond to human voice in the same basic way as humans. Both humans and dogs use the same area of the brain to process the emotional meaning of certain speech patterns. This is why many pet parents feel that their pets are able to understand them physically and decipher their language as well.

Building relationships, one conversation at a time!

Dogs are non-judgmental friends. Talking to your pet can help get issues out in the open and help people avoid conflict between humans. They serve as confidantes and companions for children and adults alike. Talking to dogs helps elderly pet parents concentrate on the present and stay active. Simplified and exaggerated nature of baby talk is the best way to introduce language to children. Similarly, the distinctive feature of dog talk, which is the high level of repetition, helps dogs learn that the things we do, we do for a reason.

People who talk to their pets share a unique loving connection with them. You’d be surprised to know that your pet makes great efforts to understand your words and gestures. So it’s fair that we give them time to understand us more effectively and keep the conversations going.

(Garima Singhal is a behaviourist, neurobiologist, school teacher and a long-term pet parent)