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We've all gotten a little carried away with the baby talk at an animal that may not be a human baby. But there's a lot of research into exactly how much your sweet little fluffy-belly baby actually understands - and it's more than you might think.

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As a SciShow viewer, you can keep building your STEM skills with a 30-day free trial and 20% off an annual premium subscription at [♪ INTRO] If you have a dog or a cat or like a guinea pig or something, you might sometimes talk kind of funny to it. You know, like “How is my Pupper-Wuppers doing today?

Is Pupper-Wuppers a good doggie?” And if you’re lucky, no one has ever actually heard you talking like that, because that would be humiliating! People have been talking baby talk to their human babies since the dawn of doing embarrassing things, and for a lot of people, pets are stand-ins for those parent-child relationships. And there’s some science behind exactly why people use ridiculous voices when talking to human babies.

We covered it in a previous video, but here’s the basic rundown: Baby talk, or infant-directed speech, provides structure to our interactions and helps human babies learn to communicate. Our pets can’t learn to speak, obviously, though it would be cool if they did. Still, a lot of people talk to their pets in the way they might talk to a human baby.

Some people call this “fur baby talk,” but scientists use the term “pet-directed speech.” Pet-directed speech is very similar to the infant-directed kind. It’s slower than the speech we use when talking to adults, but it’s more high-pitched with exaggerated vowels and simplified phrasing. And we use this type of speech much like we use infant-directed speech.

We talk to our pets as if they understand us. We ask them questions as if we expect answers, and we sometimes even answer the questions for them. Fluffy is a good doggie!

Yes she does want belly rubbies! And research suggests it’s not just something silly we humans do because we don’t realize just how embarrassed we should be by talking like that. Pet-directed speech, like infant-directed speech, seems to serve a purpose.

Using a high-pitched voice can help get your pet’s attention. Because embarrassingly high-pitched voices, after all, are super hard to ignore. And that direct communication can help us control their behavior.

It’s also a way to show affection. In the case of animals who don’t know us, it can also help establish our friendly intentions. Because even dogs understand that someone who can say the words “Pupper-Wuppers” with a straight face probably isn’t going to turn aggressive.

And, just like with human babies, fur baby talk can help your pet learn words. Sadly, they won’t ever learn to say words, but some scientists believe the average dog can probably understand around 165 of them. Now, with human babies, infant-directed speech serves the additional purpose of helping the child learn to communicate in full conversations, not just understanding the meaning of words like “ball,” “walk,” and “treat.” And even though we know our pets are never going to talk to us in a meaningful way, we still have those conversations as if we think they might.

Wishful thinking I guess. It’s not just about us though. Fur baby talk is also good for the fur baby.

Using pet-directed speech can help your pet know whether you’re talking to it or to a person. Our pets understand that particular voice means we’re addressing them specifically. Some research has established that this type of speech is better at getting a pet’s attention.

In fact, a 2022 study found that even horses like to be addressed in a silly voice from time to time. In that study, horses were more attentive and experienced an increase in heart rate when they heard fur baby talk. And sometimes, pets do respond the way human babies do.

For example, cats and dogs can both make sounds that mimic the cry of a baby. Some scientists have even suggested that fur baby talk might increase oxytocin levels, AKA the love hormone, in both pets and humans, though the research is still lacking. And weirdly, our baby talk interaction with them may even be familiar to them from their own puppyhoods or kittenhoods or whatever.

Because dogs and cats may even use baby talk with their own offspring. There’s probably a certain amount of wishful thinking in the way we talk to our pets, whether we’re aware of it or not. We think of our pets as children, so we kind of instinctively talk to them as if they are children.

And even though we know they’re not ever going to talk back, it’s still an important way to connect with them. So the next time your roommate makes fun of you for talking to Snuffles in that goofy voice, you can let them know there’s science to support you calling him your widdle wiggly bubby boy. It’s all a kind of code you use to tell your pet that you’re talking to them and for them to understand that.

And you can explore more ways to do that with the Brilliant course, Thinking in Code. But in this Brilliant course, the language isn’t English and the code isn’t baby talk. Instead, you get to learn how to recognize patterns and logic in computer programming languages.

This eight lesson course builds the foundation for you to think like a programmer, by writing simple programs that accomplish real tasks. Brilliant is an online learning platform with thousands of interactive lessons like this one, filled with science puzzles! You can take one any time at or in the link in the description down below.

That link also gives you a free 30-day trial and 20% off an annual premium Brilliant subscription. Thanks for watching this SciShow video and thanks to Brilliant for supporting it! [♪ OUTRO]