Talking to Your Dog Can Make You Smarter, but Not In The Ways you Might Think


Whether you recognize it or not, you most likely participate in the phenomenon of chatting with your pets: talking to your dog about the weather, or complimenting them on the sheen of their fur. As the “dialogue” typically occurs in a high-pitched voice, this speech pattern may seem juvenile to some. Why would you carry on a conversation with your dog when you know they can’t talk back? Don’t worry, you’re not alone: multiple studies conclude that verbally interacting with your dog can increase your intelligence! It might not grant you access to the Mensa society, but talking to your dog can help you become more emotionally, interpersonally, and even linguistically intelligent.

Although the chatter you engage in is typically mindless, talking to your dog can actually benefit your human relationships if you use the conversation to address underlying feelings. A study by Deborah Tannen from Georgetown University examines real-life scenarios where people talk to their dogs and cats, but they are really attempting to communicate with another person in the room. For example, a mother told her daughter who had just returned from college to pay “lots of attention” to the family cat because the cat missed her “so much”, but the mother was speaking through the cat to communicate her own desires for attention. Her daughter reported that she understood her mother’s implied intention, and such interactions can foster stronger emotional intelligence between people. 

Tannen suggests that humans talk to, about, and “with” their pets (specifically dogs) through a process called “ventriloquizing”, where a participant speaks in the voice of a nonverbal third party in that third party’s presence. By personifying the animal, Tannen writes that the pets become resources where speakers can lessen criticism, dole praise, mediate conflict, and establish a sense of family identity. In this manner, people can understand how to interact with their inner circle, which heightens their interpersonal intelligence that relies on understanding and interacting effectively with others.

Talking to dogs can even manifest itself in a form of linguistic intelligence, albeit not in the typical form of prose and wordplay. According to Patricia B. McConnell, the opposite is actually expected: humans should always modify their language in order to efficiently communicate what is desired from their dog. In The Other End of the Leash- Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs, McConnell, who has a Ph.D. in “acoustic communication between trainers and their working animals”, suggests modifying your commands, and also analyzing them from a dog’s perspective. 

As an example, instead of just saying “Down!”, which can be said in multiple contexts, figure out precisely what you want your dog to do when you give them that command. Do you want your dog to “lie down on her belly? Stop jumping up and stand there with all her paws on the ground? Leap off the couch?” Figuring out how to talk to your dog efficiently will not only strengthen the relationship between you two, but your own communication skills will become diversified.

Instinct Dog Training in Englewood, New Jersey, creates McConnell’s ideal environment, where both dogs and their owners are spoken to clearly and respectfully. Using positive reinforcement to treat their clients, Instinct Englewood encourages the repetition of acceptable behavior by rewarding desirable actions, but not providing harmful punishments for undesirable actions. The facility also encourages as much interaction between dogs and their owners as possible, and yes, that includes plenty of talking!

Talking to your dog can in fact improve the lives and intelligence of both you and your canine companion!


Talking the Dog: Framing Pets as Interactional Resources in Family Discourse, by Deborah Tannen

The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs, by Patricia McConnell

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