Dog-speak

I caught myself baby talking to a puppy—a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Adult King Charles Cavaliers are cute; the puppies are triple cute.

His name is Kevin. Yes, you heard right. Kevin—as in, well, Kevin.

I wondered if Kevin’s owner came up with the name to get even with a former boyfriend, but I doubt her husband would have agreed. No one wants to be reminded of a spouse’s former sweetheart day after day, much less cuddle with his namesake.

I don’t often think in baby-speak when I hear the name Kevin. The last Kevin I met was a not-so-nice boyfriend of a young woman I knew. She married him.

No offense to Kevins near and far. My first boyfriend was a Kevin. We parted on good terms. Still, if forced to choose between not-so-nice Kevin and sweet puppy Kevin, I’d choose the puppy—hands down.

But I digress.

The pup I held was Blenheim in color. Blenheim is a royal way of describing red on white.

“Royal?” you ask.

Well, he is a king, after all—one with floppy ears, a fuzzy face, and a silky back—all covered in chestnut red. He’s a King Charles called Kevin.

I lifted the 10-week-old pup, and endearments in baby talk poured out of me.

“Hey, little guy,” I said in a soft voice, two octaves higher than my normal pitch. “Whatcha doing, little one? What a sweet boy.”

After Kevin padded away, I said to myself, “Self, why does baby talk come out of my mouth whenever I see a puppy?”

But it isn’t baby talk. Ok. Maybe it is. Ugh. I can explain.

“Dog-speak” is the official term for using a high-pitched voice with exaggerated emotion when communicating with dogs (and puppies). No kidding.

Funny thing, though, baby talk shares the same definition as dog-speak. The difference reveals itself in to whom the words are directed: babies and toddlers or puppies and dogs.

It would be a waste of time to argue with a person who says he uses dog-speak to communicate with his baby and baby talk when whispering to his puppy.

Studies have shown that “dog-speak” is effective in bonding with canines. Pups don’t often respond to words that carry little to no vocal inflection. If I speak to a dog in the same voice I use with my husband, the dog won’t even look my way.

Hmmmm. Maybe I should try “dog-speak” on my husband.

Because our speech helps us connect with our pets, I assumed it must be the same for our kids. But I couldn’t find much on baby talk as an essential bonding mechanism between children and their parents.

What I do know is that “hush hush” sweet tones must be exchanged for normal conversation at some point in a child’s life. The mother (or dad) who insists on using baby talk or dog-speak with a 16-year-old, even a 12-year-old, will encounter a fiery response.

I can’t remember making the switch with my kids. I didn’t say to Gary, “We need to have a meeting. It’s time we started using our normal voices with Jordan (or Kristen or Trey). No more baby talk.”

Did we revert to regular speech when Jordan passed potty-training 101? Did we switch things up when Trey showed signs that he has a mind of his own? Maybe we changed our vocal intonations after Kristen’s first day of preschool.

I have no idea. It just happened. I am certain of only one thing: had we not started speaking in customary tones by the time our kids reached high school, our adult children would not claim us today.

Parenting is not as complicated with our canine kids. Whether they are young or old, our dogs cozy-up to dog-speak, and we are happy to oblige.

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