Ask the Vet: How to Talk Terrier

Here's why it's perfectly fine to baby-talk to your dog.

A Yorkshire Terrier

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Q: My wife uses baby talk to communicate with Sally, our Yorkshire terrier. It drives me crazy. How can I get her to speak normally to our dog?

Cartoon drawing of a mixed breed dog.

A: I’m not sure Sally would appreciate the change. Recent studies show that dogs prefer what researchers call dog-directed speech to adult-directed speech. It’s similar to infant-directed speech in that both are characterized by high-pitched sounds that rise and fall and exaggerated facial expressions. Researchers tested dogs of various ages with combinations of dog- and adult-directed speech, dog-relevant words, and words that held no meaning to dogs and found that the dogs paid closest attention to dog-relevant words spoken in dog-directed speech patterns. Overall, researchers believe dog-directed speech strengthens the bond between canine and human.

Ask the Vet is written by veterinarian Lee Pickett, VMD. Send questions to [email protected] and read more at

This article is featured in the March/April 2020 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

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  1. I’m surprised this lady’s husband didn’t have some idea why his wife was speaking to Sally using baby talk. Maybe she overdid it, I don’t know. I agree with Dr. Pickett’s logical reasoning as to why dogs respond well to it, and can personally attest to it.

    Back in 2016 I took an extra part=time job where I got paid ‘off the books’. It was located in the owner’s garage office doing phone work. To enter you had to go along the left side, where there were 2 big one year old Doberman brothers and they were barking fairly loud and intently behind a chain link gate. It was my first day, and I arrived early; no one else was home.

    The first thing I did was walk up to the gate slowly saying “such good boys” in a higher-pitched voice. At the gate they were pretty tall standing on their hind legs, so I crouched down to make myself subservient to the dogs, making ‘kissing’ sounds, saying “I wuv you” etc. to them. Soon they were becoming quiet and I put the back of my hand up to the gate, so they could both smell and lick it. I stood up, and they were okay with that, continuing the praise in baby talk mode.

    An hour later one of them had come into the garage while I was at the computer, between my left arm and leg just as if we were old friends. It was that way ever since. Because my relationship was so good with the boys, I got to dog sit for even more extra money when the family was away on weekends, frequently. They’d bark at first when I’d get to the door, but as soon as they heard my voice, that was it. Once you’re in good with the dogs, you’re good to go. I’d use the baby talk at first when they were excited to see me, but then switch to more normal, like you’d speak to a 3 to 5 year old, not a baby. My own conclusion is use as needed, but not all the time.


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