September 10, 2020
Shouts and Murmurs, how do dogs perceive tone and volume
Does the way you speak to your dog matter?
The short answer is yes! Dogs are sensitive to both tone and volume. Recent studies have shown that the way dogs perceive tone is very similar to the way that we humans do. They respond to both pitch and the emotional intention behind the words. The reward pathway in dogs’ brains light up when they hear prise in a high-pitched or energetic tone, but don’t light up when those same words are said in a dull tone. So how you speak to your dog is more important than the actual words spoken.
What pitch is best?
This depends on what you are trying to communicate with your dog. It’s tempting to always speak in a high-pitched voice, often when we speak to dogs we are praising them (you are SUCH a good boy!!), or asking a question (who’s the best boy???). But a higher tone of voice isn’t always productive. A higher voice can excite and stimulate a dog, so if you are doing training this might distract the dog from being able to complete the tasks.
A lower-pitched and commanding tone can be effective for doing training, think of telling a dog to “sit”. If you consistently use this voice in training, a dog will be more tuned in and know that it’s time to listen! Instinctually we use soothing tones to help a dog that is frightened or scared.
Yelling should be strictly saved for if your dog is in danger, running into traffic, or attacking another dog. In those cases, yelling might be the best way to jolt them out of dangerous behavior.
It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it
Dogs may know a lot more about how we are feeling than we think. Dogs pick up on a lot about us through nonverbal cues. They are attuned to our body language and moods as well as our changes of tone. Remember that when you are trying to communicate with your dogs, they are paying attention and how you speak to them matters!
Zoe Sjogerman is the North-East manager for Rover-Time and has been part of the RT team for four years. When she isn’t walking dogs she is the executive director of Avalanche Theatre and an avid book reader. She lives in the north-side of Chicago with her husband. Although she doesn’t have a pet of her own, she loves getting to walk pups all over the Chicagoland area.