Stephen Colbert once asked, “What is it about dogs that makes intelligent men and gifted women—great minds—look at them and in a baby-talk voice say, “Who’s a good boy? Wooj a whajeejeeb?” Yes, we talk to our precious pups. Even Twitter has a hashtag: #ThingsPplSayToTheirDogs. How come?
We were talking to dogs long before we began dressing them in cable knit sweaters and celebrating their birthdays with peanut butter cake. In fact, hundreds of years ago, humans talked to all kinds of animals! Farm animals like pigs roamed the towns beside pedestrians (sometimes knocking over human children). Chickens were allowed indoors. Cows were often milked in the street.
But there’s a big difference between the way we talk to our dogs and the way our ancestors talked to their livestock. The language spoken to those animals reflected man’s domination. Today, while we might command our pups to “sit” or “stay” (whether or not that actually happens), more often they are part of an ongoing dialogue (spoken “with”, not just “to”).
It’s in our vernacular: we refer to ourselves as our pup’s “Mommy” or “Daddy”, and we refer to our pups themselves as our “fur babies”.
It’s also in our brains. One scientific study found that human mothers had the same patterns of brain activity when looking at pics of their pups as they had when they looked at pics of their children.
We use “baby talk” and higher pitched voices with human babies and toddlers. Ditto when we’re addressing dogs!
Yet, there are differences. New York Times bestselling author Alexandra Horowitz, author of “Our Dogs, Ourselves: The Story of a Singular Bond”, writes about many categories of Dog Talk: The Mom Commentary (“You can sit all you want when we got home, let’s get going”); The Cheering Squad (“Good job Buddy, one more and we’re done!”); The Implausible Instructor (“No pizza! No!” as a pup devours a fallen slice from the sidewalk) and Forever Unanswered Questions: (“Do you have a toy?” to a pup with one in their mouth).
And who hasn’t talked through their pup? (“Mommy’s being crabby tonight. We’d both better stay out of her way.”) When we ask “What’s your name?” to a dog we meet on the street, its walker always tells us. We may never learn the name of the walker, but we’ll never pass by without acknowledging them!
“Instagram dogs are today’s autobiographers,” writes Horowitz. A Frenchie clad in striped p.j.’s, sits on a bed against plumped pillows. A fresh newspaper and plate of bone-shaped biscotti lay on a nearby lacquered tray. The caption? “5-star sleepover!” “Insta-dogs” model clothes and sponsor everything from cleaning products to colognes. Some have hundreds of thousands of followers and often, their own agents!
According to a recent survey of North American pet owners, two-thirds of us say “I love you” at least once—every day–to our pups!