Chances are, even if you named your dog Stinky Mcdumb Face, he will more than likely still come lumbering towards you with utter excitement when you call him.
But why is this?
Is he actually responding to his (admittedly) silly name, or is it something else, such as a familiar voice, that gets him to come running?
To give you the most simplistic of answers, it is a little bit of both and can sometimes vary greatly from dog to dog. While some dogs, like Chaser, who we will introduce you to later, have an almost unnatural recall, some are simply recognizing his human family’s voices.
So, Do Dogs Know Their names?
Studies show that dogs process language in very much the same way that we do, by using the left side of their brains to process the meanings of the words and the right side for intonation and inflection. In addition, dogs are capable of learning their names through classical conditioning and positive reinforcements.
And, there is, actual science to back it up. Until fairly recently, owners that believed their dog could actually understand what they were saying were given a long, hard side-eye. However, scientists have more recently come to the conclusion that dog owners might not be so crazy after all and that some dogs are actually capable of understanding what we say, at least in their own special, unique way.
While they are not likely to start spouting Shakespeare, it isn’t so far-fetched that they would be capable of understanding, at the very least, their name (and quite possibly even yours!).
Do Dogs Know Their Owner’s Name?
While they are more likely to recognize a particular voice and distinct scent, with time, and especially if used in his presence frequently, your dog can eventually learn your name.
If others are referring to you by name regularly, your dog is more likely to recognize your name as opposed to if you lived alone.
Hopefully, eventually, even the mere mention of your name will have Fido come running. Researchers have also found that dogs are able to recognize familiar faces as well as having the ability to make correlations between faces, voices, and words.
Do Dogs Know Other Dogs’ Names?
After a while, your dog will likely learn, or at the minimum, somewhat recognize, the names of the dogs around him.
However, the majority of dogs can only truly identify one another by scent. Dogs smelling abilities are almost 50% stronger than ours (hence the reason that they can smell bacon from a mile away!).
A canines individual scent IS their name as far as your dog is concerned. They really have no need to know the human names of their canine pals, they can’t exactly call them by it now, can they?
He Used To Know His Name…Did He Forget?
So Fido used to respond to his name but now he doesn’t, what’s up with that?
No, he did not forget (unless of course, he has doggy Alzheimers, which is an entirely whole other article), but more than likely, he has learned to associate his name with negativity.
A dog’s name should be used in positive situations only. If he is in trouble and is scolded by name, he might stop responding to his name because in his mind it is now associated with mom (or dad) being upset with him.
Signs Dogs Know Their Names:
Dogs learn, mostly, by repetition and they can use not only the words but also the way you say them to comprehend their meaning.
When they understand what you are saying and know that you are calling them, there are certain tell-tale signs of recognition. These are just some of the more common indications that your dog recognizes his name:
- Staring at the person using his name and making prolonged eye contact
- His ears perk when he is mentioned by name
- An exaggerated tilt of the head
- Wagging his tail when he hears his name
- Will respond to his name regardless of the tone
Your precious pooch knows his owner’s (that’d be you!) voice so it can be difficult to tell if and when your dog is responding to his actual name as opposed to simply responding to his favorite voice.
Some dogs will need a little extra help differentiating between the two. Luckily, there are certain exercises that can help teach your dog to remember his actual name.
Teaching Dogs To Remember Their Names:
A dog’s learning capability will vary from dog to dog as well as sometimes differing between breeds.
One dog might come to know their name simply by using it a paw-ful of times while others need a little bit of extra help.
Not to worry though, because if it seems your dog is having some difficulties, there are a few training exercises that could help him learn not only his name but those of his human family members as well.
- With only you and your dog in the room, call his name in an even-toned voice. If he responds, give him a treat. Repeat this exercise repeatedly for around five minutes. After which he should have the hang of it, but you should still continue to use his name regularly.
- Play the family name game. Have the whole family stand in a circle with puppers in the middle. Ask him, “Where is (insert family member name here)?” When he goes to the correct person, offer him a scooby snack.
- Use their name constantly until they ‘get it’. Whenever interacting with your dog, use his name. The more you use it, the easier it will be for him to learn.
The key is persistence. You have to stick with it.
The Power Of Positive Reinforcement
Dogs are quite literally born to please their humans, it is their ultimate goal in life.
The best way to ensure that your training techniques are working is by using positive reinforcement.
This can be done by way of treats or even a ‘good boy’ in the voice he loves so much. Dogs, not unlike children, tend to shut down when it comes to negativity. You are more likely to catch more bees with honey than vinegar as the saying goes.
You are going to have better luck with praising him when he remembers than scolding him when he does not. If he knows that responding to his name will make you happy, it is almost a guarantee that he will be doing his damndest to reach that goal.
Why It Is So Important
So let’s say your dog is one of the stubborn ones, is knowing his name really all that important?
Well, the answer is yes, it really is, and for quite a few different reasons.
- It is used as a communicative prompt: Not unlike their human counterparts, a dog’s name is one of the best ways to let the dog know that you need to communicate with him.
- It’s a safety issue: When you and your dog are out in public, you need to have a way to get his attention and get him to listen to your commands. If he does not know his name it not only puts the dog at risk but also others.
- It helps with recognition: If a dog hears his name he correlates it with a positive and also will know that the human using it is familiar.
It is never wasted time or effort to get your dog trained to recognize and respond to his name. It can, in the worst-case scenario, be the difference between life and death for your canine companion.
It also factors into being able to control him when in public. It is your responsibility as a pet owner.
The Story Of Chaser
To truly appreciate just how much a dog is able to understand their humans, you must know the story about the fabulous Chaser.
Chaser was a Border Collie that learned over 1000 nouns. She was able to identify most objects by name.
Although Chaser has since crossed the Rainbow Bridge (she was 15), her legacy lives on and gives us a glimpse of just how smart, and understanding, our dogs can be.
It can be incredibly frustrating, not to mention dangerous, when your dog refuses to or is incapable of responding to his name. It is a normal reaction and no one is going to fault you for it.
What matters is how you react. Some canine companions are just going to need a little bit more patience as the levels of language intelligence are not the same with every dog.
Some rely more on body language, while some use the inflection of your voice, and some can understand you completely. Rest assured that they will get it eventually.
It is really a learning curve for both of you. It is up to you just how difficult this learning curve is going to be.