Are they *all* good dogs?
November 29, 2016 2:54 PM   Subscribe

I have read that there is a near-universal tendency for people to speak to pets in the same kind of high-pitched voice they would use towards babies because it is an instinctive response to smallness, cuteness, innocence. And I know that "Who's a good boy/girl/dog? Are you a good boy/girl/dog? Yes you are." is an extremely common way for people to talk to dogs, their own or others...although what's behind this I can't guess. (Bonus points if you can.)

My question is: Is this something that only occurs in English? Or do the French ask a pooch if he is 'un bon chien'? Do the Italians ask the dog if she is a 'brava ragazza'? And if not, is there something standard that does get said instead? I am looking for examples in as many languages as possible (anything to get my mind off the Sociopath-Elect)
posted by uans to Writing & Language (22 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Why humans like doing it?

Dogs respond to it.

Also from a training point of view deep voices are usually considered aggressive in the animal kingdom. Dogs actually prefer the high pitched voice that goes with baby talk. Think of a dogs play bark compared to it's territorial bark.
posted by wwax at 3:14 PM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

I should clarify: I am not asking about the high-pitched voice. I am asking if people say basically *those words* to their dogs in other languages
posted by uans at 3:18 PM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Here's a parody clip from France which shows that people really do talk like this - in French, 'doggy' might be 'chienchien' in this kind of baby talk...
posted by blue_wardrobe at 3:34 PM on November 29, 2016

This Tumblr post humorously asks the same question, but about medieval witches.

Did medieval witches baby-talk to their familiars?
“Who be the finest rat in all of this hamlet? Be it thou? Be it thou?? Yes it be!”

posted by redsparkler at 3:37 PM on November 29, 2016 [28 favorites]

Hi, native Dutch speaker here. In Dutch, people definitely tell their dog they're a good dog ("brave hond") but they also mix in a lot of 'well done' ("goed zo") to reward good behaviour. This video is a fairly good example.
posted by dutchbint at 3:55 PM on November 29, 2016 [8 favorites]

I know an Azorean Portuguese woman who says "que lindo gatinho" to her cat, which means "what a pretty little cat" ("gatinho" can also mean "cutie" in regards to a person, not a cat). Mostly she uses the same crooning voice as one would in English, a bit more triumphant maybe? Kinda like she's congratulating him for being cute, as much as cooing to him about it. And she calls him a diminutive form of his name which basically involves dropping a syllable. I've never heard her call the cat "boy" though.
Here's a Brazilian woman talking to her cat, you can kind of hear the tone I mean.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:24 PM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Here's something from YouTube that has plenty of wuvvy-wuvvy-duvvy going on.
posted by BostonTerrier at 4:54 PM on November 29, 2016

This might help.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:04 PM on November 29, 2016

People have always baby-talked their dogs, called them "good boy," etc., but the specific rhetorical question of Who's a good dog? Is it you? is something I never heard even in English before maybe ten years ago and seems to be everywhere now. I suspect it's spreading through internet pet videos - maybe it was around but less common before, or confined to a particular region, or something?
posted by waffleriot at 5:05 PM on November 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

depends how narrowly you define the speech habit. to me, "asking questions you already know the answer to" is the defining primal pet dialogue and who's a good boy is just one iteration of this drama. and you can see that in the french video linked above where he asks, "do you want the cake? do you want the cake? do you want it?" so in at least two languages yeah, you make the dog declare himself even though you already know the damn dog wants the cake. or is/is not a good boy.

I don't think I learned to do this from seeing it done and definitely not from a particular book/show/meme, it's more like a compulsion, or a sickness. sometimes when I ask who's a good cat and she says it's her, I prolong it by pretending not to believe her. YOU can't be the good cat, I say. there's got to be a better cat around here somewhere. now who's a good cat really, and tell the truth this time. this makes her so mad. No, it's me, she says, it's me!
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:51 PM on November 29, 2016 [36 favorites]

Japanese has an elaborate and pretty distinct dialect for baby talk that gets used when speaking to pets a lot of the time. Here's a short article that talks about it in the context of kids. So a Japanese dog owner might not ask if their dog is a good dog, but instead use the word for dog that contextually means they are speaking to a diminutive loved one who they think is cute and deserving of extra care. Which translates to contextually the same thing.
posted by Mizu at 5:56 PM on November 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

“Who be the finest rat in all of this hamlet? Be it thou? Be it thou?? Yes it be!”

Early Modern English would probably be more like so (and I have no doubt people talked to their familiars this way):

"Who art the most wond'rous rat in this hamlet? Is't thee? Is't thee? Yea, 'tis thee! Thou art the selfsame rat!"
posted by lefty lucky cat at 6:02 PM on November 29, 2016 [49 favorites]

Whoops, that should be "Who is" at the beginning.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 6:08 PM on November 29, 2016

In English it does appear to be recent-ish, but older than 10 years. "Who's a good dog?" I can find in Google books as of 1973, and "Who's a good boy/girl?" as of 1989. This headline is from 2000.
posted by phoenixy at 7:02 PM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

I can't find it now, but I have seen a German lady on Youtube fussing over a dachshund stuck in a long sweater -- "Bist du ein Seehund? Bist du?" ("Are you a seal? Are you?") Seeing German people coo over puppies is instantly recognizable.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:05 PM on November 29, 2016 [5 favorites]

As dogs domesticated, they took on (kept?) what are otherwise juvenile traits in wolves. That may account for humans' tendency to use the same high-pitched voice and other mannerisms we use with human babies.
posted by mchorn at 7:41 PM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't think the high pitched thing is universal. As a kid in northern europe I was always taught to speak quietly and low to animals and the high pitched thing was kind of a Barbara Woodhouse rich-woman affectation. Of course we were surrounded by sheepdogs which mostly need to be kept. very. calm. and not riled up, so that might have had something to do with it.
posted by fshgrl at 9:45 PM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

In Dutch, I've never heard anyone use the literal equivalent of 'who's a good dog? Is it you?'
I have however heard 'Istie zo braaf? Is het dan zo'n brave hond?' which translates to 'Is he so good? Is he such a good dog?' and of course these questions are then answered in the affirmative.
'Ben je zo braaf? Ben je dan zo'n brave hond?' (Are you so good? Are you such a good dog?') is also possible. So we do the questions thing. I just have never heard the 'who' question here.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:14 AM on November 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

[One deleted. The OP's question isn't so much "I'd like to see people interacting with their dogs in another language," but a) do non-English speakers use the "who's a good dog" or similar phrasing, or if not, is there's a particular phrase like this that is used in X country. Video is fine, but should be explained to address that question if it's demonstrated in the vid. Thanks.]
posted by taz (staff) at 5:28 AM on November 30, 2016

Two examples (from French speakers) of how they baby-talk at dogs from a Reddit thread.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 7:00 AM on November 30, 2016

I have good luck saying, "Hey, puppy!" Our old country vet would always say that at the fence, and the dogs would go from territorial and menacing to jello almost instantly. I think they remember the sqeeeees of puppyhood, when everybody was their bff. The "other language" was South Alabama southern.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 3:06 PM on November 30, 2016

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