He could talk to the animals, couldn’t he? Hugh Lofting’s most famous creation was a bit of an early hippy/ecowarrior who shifted from medicine to being a naturalist. He could carry on lengthy conversations with all sorts of animals, in their own languages, the better to understand nature. What he didn’t do is use Pet-Directed Speech, or PDS.
This is a latest buzzphrase to emerge from the hot research field of pet psychology. That very term is a bit of an odd one, but let it ride for now. PDS is similar to the way we tend to talk to babies. We vary the pitch of our voices, alter the intensity, use affectionate (pet?) names.
Why they got a research grant to establish this is beyond me, since you can hear PDS whenever you enter any household that has a resident dog. Take the average dog owner. They walk into the house, and the very first thing they do is talk to the dog. It all goes along the lines of, ‘Hey, Rexie! Did you miss meeeeeee? Were you saddums? Ooza good boy den?’
Rex will at this point go batshit, bound around with a huge dopey grin on his face, and attempt to leap up and lick your face.*
Here’s the thing. Dogs are inherently narcissistic. They think their owner’s whole world has to revolve round them. When they’re dashing about going ‘Arf! Arf! Arf!’, this is what Dr Dolittle would be hearing.
‘Yeah, yeah, me, me, me. Ball. Ball. Walk. Dinner. Treats. Me, me, me. Ball, ball, ball. Dinner. Treats. Me. Ball.’ It just goes on and on. Self, self, self.
Dogs think the owner’s world has to revolve around them. Cats are of the opinion that the whole world revolves around them, and know also that their ‘owners’ are delusional indentured servants. Get back to home when you’ve been away for a while, and the first thing you hear as you get through the door is the catflap banging as your version of Snotbag disappears for a couple of days to teach you a lesson.
A cat will express a sound solely to get attention so it gets fed. That’s what that chirpy noise means. When a cat sits on your lap and purrs, it’s nothing to do with its wish to express affection. It’s happy because it’s just come in from outside with cold, wet feet, and said appendages are warming up and drying out nicely.
You can’t babytalk a cat. Cats only understand a sharp ‘Oi! Stop that you little shit!’ Even when they understand you, the chances of them paying any attention whatsoever are vanishingly small, so you might just as well not bother.
*Letting your dog lick your face is a sign of lax morals.