Do you speak Motherese to your puppy?

No person was more shocked than me when ‘baby talk’ came out of my mouth just seconds after my daughter was born. A spontaneous natural reaction of sorts.

You see, I never talked in ‘baby talk’ to another person, ever, even when playing with dolls. My dolls played in the dirt, they went swimming, and for long bike rides in my basket, but they never got coo’ing or ga’ing from me, no way.

I did however talk ‘baby talk’ with my rats, cats, dogs, bunnies, and fish. It was my ‘special talk’ to let them know I loved them, and I never had to think about it or force it, it just came out that way.

Yes I know, but I never put it together until years later.

So ‘baby talk’ is actually called ‘motherese’, and in the science world it is referred to as ‘infant directed speech’ (IDS). And for our super science-y crowd, and really everyone, this is an awesome  ARTICLE.

So what makes motherese so different from how we talk with adults around us? It turns out that linguistically, it has its very own characteristics that help with emotional bonding, understanding, connection, and language acquisition. BUT, babies respond to it, will gravitate to the person speaking motherese, and use a deeper and more full emotional range with the motherese speaker.

Motherese has patterns that can be described as simple language, that is slower tempo, very repetitive, has a rhythm (sing songy), longer pauses, and a higher pitch, vowels are over exaggerated, and there is a high frequency of questions.

What fascinates me is that mothers, fathers, and to a degree grandparents around the world, no matter the countries language, speak motherese. It is a universal spontaneous way that we connect to infants and young children.

An instinct.

So do humans use spontaneous motherese with other species, and does it have the same outcome?

Yes, actually we do and it does.

My laboratory, which is my puppy classroom, is possibly one of the best places to observe anything you ever wanted to know about puppies but didn’t know what to ask!

I am asked almost daily why puppies respond to me the way they do. There are a hand full of reasons, but one of them is language. I am a motherese speaker without even thinking about it. I see a puppy and boom, I talk to them how they need me to talk to them, and we have an understanding.

I am fully aware of the people in my classes that roll their eyes at me, I am a professional observer, those things aren’t lost on me, but I am not there to make myself look good for the person, I am there to show the person more about connecting with their puppy. And speaking so a puppy can understand, connect, and bond, is part of the bigger whole.

The Teams that are not concerned with how others perceive them, spontaneously talk motherese through the whole class, with the same patterns we have for our own children.

For example – ‘s-o-p-h-i-eeeeeeee, c-O-me, here here here, g-ooo-d girl, i.m so proud of you, do you know you are a g-ooooo-d girl? You are a g-oooo-d pupp-eeeey? you are sOOO pretty? …etc’. And without knowing it, they will repeat this pattern over and over and over, all night long.

And guess what, the puppies respond to this, want to be around people who do this, and are very eager learners. Now keep in mind, puppies are not human speakers, so tone has a lot to do with this, as does body language. But do puppies learn human language over time, more than just simple words for simple positions, possibly phrases or sentences? Yes they do, but this is through patterning, like what happens in motherese.

And with puppies, motherese does include body language. A softer more inviting posture, that adjusts to the puppies needs.

For Example – If I am calling a puppy to me, and they aren’t certain, I will get on my hands and knees in a play bow posture, and clip clap my hands on the floor, while I make fun, inviting, friendly noises. And I will continue this pattern, and adjust my body language, until the puppy feels safe and comes to me.

The connection that motherese speaking Teams have is different. I am not going to say better, but different, there is a deeper level of understanding between the person and puppy. These puppies are still scampy puppies, teething, rolling around goofballs, and doing puppy things, like puppies should do, BUT there is a different level of connection and understanding between two species with these puppies.

People who speak motherese with their puppies, build a pattern of communication through the characteristics of slow, rhythmic, repetitive, high pitch, and lots of question asking, which leads to consistency. Consistency in everything we do with our puppies counts a whole awful lot, especially with language. Consistency builds patterns, routines, structure, and this is an environment where two species can thrive together with understanding.

So, here you go. I find these little things to be so innately interesting.


4 Comments Add yours

  1. marie says:

    A very natural instinct around little people or pets. I am glad I speak Motherese.

  2. Susan says:

    Years ago I had a friend whose adult male dog growled when spoken to that way. Don’t know his background, but it was strange to observe.

  3. Hi! My puppy is 15 weeks old and this is how I speak to her a lot of the time because she responds well to it. It’s all currently a learning curve but I’m pleased I’ve found your very helpful and informative blog!

  4. Jenny H says:

    NOT talking motherese to babies (of any species really) is a definit sign of Aspergers/autism.

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