When you're home alone, there's no one around to police your activity, or to judge your sort-of-weird habits. I'll be the first to admit that I talk out loud to my cats as soon as my boyfriend leaves for work, and I'm so over being ashamed about it. Pets are excellent conversationalists. They never hog the dialogue, or make petty jabs when you divulge that you've recently started talking to your ex again. So, if you've ever wondered if it's good to talk to your dog, the answer is simple: It depends on what you're talking about.
Talking to pets is an incredibly common habit for many pet owners, even though it might seem a little bit strange, or maybe even pointless. They can't really understand what you're saying, after all, so why do it, right? Why talk to someone or something that can't talk back?
As it turns out, talking to something that doesn't talk back to you is a completely natural part of the human experience. Hal Herzog, an anthrozoologist and professor of psychology at Western Carolina University, told The Atlantic that it's totally normal to "[ascribe] all kinds of thoughts and meanings to other things in our lives.”
Humans have a natural urge to anthropomorphize things, Herzog explained, which means you assign human characteristics to non-human things or creatures.
For the same reasons most of us are totally cool with — and, in fact, sort of love — talking animals (and snowmen — what's up, Olaf?) in movies and TV shows, we love talking to our pets.
What's more, your pet loves when you talk to him or her, too, according to Vetstreet. It's a total win-win situation: You gain the psychological benefits of companionship and feeling less alone, and your pet enjoys your friendly, conversational tone. They may not understand exactly what you're saying (although there are some dogs that have been shown to know over 1,000 words), but they can guess your emotion within your tone of voice, which is important when they're working to understand what you want or need from them, even if all you want is a snuggle.
Even though the instinct to talk to pets is pretty natural for all humans, there are, apparently, some people who are more likely to talk to their pets than others. A 2008 study done by researchers at Northwestern University showed that people with few or no friends tend to engage in more emotional conversations with their pets, while others with more social lives tend to limit their conversations with pets to more simplistic, factual sentences.
Regardless of the specific type of conversation you're having with your pooch, there's no need to feel embarrassed about it. In fact, you should feel proud.
Nicholas Epley, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago, told Quartz that talking to animals is actually a sign of intelligence. He explained,
Historically, anthropomorphizing has been treated as a sign of childishness or stupidity, but it’s actually a natural byproduct of the tendency that makes humans uniquely smart on this planet. No other species that has this tendency.
Recognizing the mind of another human being involves the same psychological processes as recognizing a mind in other animals, a god, or even a gadget. It is a reflection of our brain’s greatest ability rather than a sign of our stupidity.
Take it from Professor Epley: Talking to your dog before you head to work, or after you come home from a long day of talking to boring old humans, is a way for you to flex your brain power. Think about it: When you're talking to a pet, you're carrying the weight of a conversation, in addition to ascribing emotions (and maybe even thoughts) to your little fluff ball. It's like a Rubik's Cube game for your mind, only it's actually fun.
Who knows, maybe one day, you'll be able to teach your little pupper to howl, "I love you!" Or, you know, something that sounds like that.