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Is your dog a super good boy or girl? Here's the scientifically best way to tell them

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

So Ari, when you talk to your dogs, do you do that kind of high-pitched voice thing?

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

You mean like, (high-pitched voice) oh, you're such a good dog? No, absolutely not. I talk to my dogs like they're guests on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

SUMMERS: (Laughter) Well, that aside, now researchers in Hungary have actually looked at that phenomenon scientifically to see if other people's high-pitched doggie babble really does resonate with pets.

ANNA GERGELY: As a researcher, when you see something like this and you feel that, OK, this is weird, you start to think and start to do research on it.

SUMMERS: Anna Gergely is with the Research Center for Natural Sciences in Budapest - and yes, owns a dog.

GERGELY: Let me call her. If she's in front of me, maybe I am better. (High-pitched voice) Jenny (ph), (speaking Hungarian). Oh, so very good. (Speaking Hungarian).

SHAPIRO: Even in Hungarian, it sounds the same - the higher pitch, the different tempo. It's almost like baby talk, right?

SUMMERS: Sounds kind of like it. And Gerges says while infants seem to respond more to baby talk versus regular speech, they wanted to test this out in dogs because dogs might actually be an interesting model for this phenomenon in humans.

SHAPIRO: So I'm looking at the list of study subjects. It is 19 family dogs - golden retrievers, cocker spaniels. I am frankly disappointed not to see any English pointers on the list, like Bruce and Simone...

SUMMERS: Right.

SHAPIRO: ...But maybe the results will generalize. What did they find?

SUMMERS: So they had these dogs lay down in a brain scanner, and then they played back recordings of men and women talking normally or doing baby talk or doggy talk.

GERGELY: And this is really important to note that none of the speakers were familiar to the dogs.

SHAPIRO: Because presumably, that could bias the results if they heard their owner?

SUMMERS: Exactly. And by observing the brains of these very good girls and boys, the scientists found that certain parts of their brains did indeed respond more to the dog-directed or baby-directed speech, you know, the high-pitched stuff compared to the regular adult talking. The details are in the journal Communications Biology.

SHAPIRO: So you're saying I should speak to Bruce and Simone in a cutesy, high-pitched doggy voice and not a radio broadcaster voice.

SUMMERS: Exactly that. But Gergely says they also found something unexpected. The dog's brain responses were even more sensitive - get this - to the female voices.

SHAPIRO: Rude.

GERGELY: Yeah. I think male owners can really use a little bit higher pitch and also more variable one. But I mean it really, really. My husband also used higher voice, and it works.

SHAPIRO: I will try this science when I get home tonight.

SUMMERS: Me, too. Give it a shot. And, Ari, maybe we should start saying that dogs are woman's best friend.

SHAPIRO: You can say that, Juana.

SUMMERS: I will. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.