Is it okay to talk to your dog? Pros and cons

Is it okay to talk to your dog? Pros and cons
Haley Young
9 Jan
2024

Most of us love talking to our dogs. (My husband and I have no fewer than a dozen song parodies we sing to our heeler when she does something cute, which is basically all the time — not to mention the endless nicknames. So many nicknames.)

But some dog trainers recommend not talking to our pups. Or at least toning the babble down a little, in certain situations, for the sake of training.

So what's the deal? In short: It depends! And the decision is up to you as a dog parent. Here are some pros and cons to help figure out what works for you.

Con: Dogs don't automatically understand our language...

Which can be confusing for them — especially if we forget that we can't expect them to know what we mean.

If we take the time to teach associations between certain sounds and certain responses, our dogs can absolutely learn them. That's what a verbal cue or command is! But it's on us as the human to be patient and help our pups understand. (Think about this the next time you're tempted to say "don't do that!" ;) )

Pro: Dogs are social mammals

Canines and humans are both social species. We're wired to bond with each other. Although domestic dogs don't naturally understand spoken language the way human children quickly do, they are great at picking up on our subtle signals — and they usually know when our tone of voice is happy versus upset.

What this means for you and your pup: Talking to them probably feels natural for you! It can be an interaction you both enjoy, part of your larger social relationship including play, physical affection, and quality time together.

Con: Some dogs "tune out" talking when it happens all the time

Some dogs learn to see talking as mere background noise if it happens often without a message they're able to follow.

If your dog has a hard time paying attention to your words when you're asking them to do something you've taught — like to sit, come, or maybe wait at the door before going out for a walk — it might be because you're talking to them a little too much (or not being clear about when the words should mean something and when they don't).

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Pro: Verbal praise can be reinforcing

Have you ever met a dog who just lights up when you talk to them? Maybe that's your own pup! Some pets just love being cooed at. You can use this to your advantage in training by incorporating verbal praise as a reward for behavior you like to see.

We recommend switching up your reinforcers to keep your dog engaged, like using praise along with treats or even a favorite toy.

Con: Baby talk can hype some dogs up

There's nothing wrong with excitement. It just has a time and place!

If your dog really gets amped when you talk to them, you might want to tone it down if you're trying to help them relax (especially in a new or overstimulating environment). Your voice can be a lot like physical affection: Quick, rough petting can rile your dog up while calm, slow strokes can help them feel calmer. Same with high pitched noises vs steady deep tones!

You might enjoy talking to your dog if...

  • You know you can't expect them to understand everything you say
  • You've found your verbal praise is a great reinforcer for training behaviors
  • Your dog doesn't struggle to pay attention to your cues and commands
  • It makes both of you happy!

You might decide to talk a little less if...

  • Your dog seems confused about when they're supposed to pay attention to your words or not
  • Your dog gets amped up by baby talk and struggles to relax again afterward
  • You realize you've been accidentally reinforcing behaviors you didn't mean to
  • You just want to experiment with how more thoughtful talking might affect your training and relationship

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