We do it. You do it. The most articulate, stoic people do it. One minute, we’re having a completely normal conversation, then we start talking to our dogs. and suddenly our voices get high, sing-songy, and well, ridiculous. According to some psychologists, “baby talk” is a way of maintaining proximity and remaining “in touch,” delivering warnings, encouragement, affection, and reassurance even without direct physical contact.
Since touch and physical contact are critical to attachment, protection, and caregiving in mammals, it is advantageous to be able to approximate the effect of touch through the voice.
There are “melodic patterns” that have the same effect on infants across the globe and which you may recognize as having a similar effect on your dog:
A rising pitch captures attention, increases arousal, and engages the infant in social interaction; a falling pitch calms distress, stills the body, and lowers arousal. A short, sharp pattern interrupts or stops the baby’s action. A rising to falling pitch encourages a baby to try or to repeat an action. In this way, the voice alone can have an effect on arousal, behavior, and mood.
However, there is one other reason that we use the musical melody of baby talk when talking to dogs and it has less to do with them and more to do with us. Simply put, we like it. It makes us feel more authentic, engaged, and effective as caregivers.