Do Dogs Really Know Their Name?

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It’s exciting to pick the perfect name for your new dog. You have to make sure it’s memorable and suits their personality.

And nothing beats that feeling you get the first time they come to you when you call their name.

But do dogs really know their own name? Or are they just responding to your voice?

Find out how dogs recognize their name, at what age they know it, and how to teach your dog their own name.

Dogs know their name

How Do Dogs Recognize Their Name?

There are a few ways to tell whether your dog knows their name or if they are just responding to the way you speak. 

Some dogs will look at you when they hear that tone in your voice when you call them.

Understanding Words

Dogs may know their name based on their understanding of words. For example, if you say their name in another room and they approach you right away, it might mean they understand their name.

However, there’s also a chance that they’re responding to the sound instead of the word. Try calling their name in a different tone and pitch. If they still approach you, it’s a good sign that they know their name. 

Scientists have also observed that dogs can understand words thanks to memory mechanisms and general learning.

A study called this process “fast mapping,” a common ability among children who are starting to learn how to talk.

The Border Collie was the subject of the study. They learned about 200 different items while correctly determining and retrieving the objects through the name. This learning occurred four weeks after being familiarized with them.

Another study shows that our furry friends learn like humans. They are intelligent enough to identify specific words that we tell them. They also use the same brain areas that we use when inputting and processing speech.

The scientists looked at the brain activity of dogs using an fMRI scanner. They discovered that dogs know what our words mean, especially those more exposed to them. 

Note that dogs also process the intonation we use when trying to understand what we’re saying.

If you call your dog with a high-pitched, enthusiastic tone, they will be more excited to respond to you. That’s because they understand your speech as a reward.

Understanding Gestures

Dogs can also recognize their name based on our gestures. Do you clap your hands after calling your dog’s name? Or do you open your arms wide open? 

Dogs may associate your words with these gestures. If you call their name with these same actions, they are more likely to respond to you.

Other gestures can include overt hand movements, pointing directions, and your body leaning toward them. 

Dogs also read our eye movements when we call them. They evaluate our eye movement, eyebrow motions, and more.

A 2020 study on stray dogs reveals that dogs can understand human signals. They do not need prior training before they can respond to complex gestures.

80% of the subject dogs followed humans’ pointing gestures to a particular spot. 

Dogs also show body language when their owners call them. They may respond positively or excitedly when you mention their name.

Dogs either tilt their head, wag their tails, look at you, or even jump out of enthusiasm. Some dogs will also bark in response to their name when you call them. 

Understanding Emotions

Further proof that dogs understand humans is their perception of our emotions. Since we have been in relationships with dogs for millennia, dogs have developed a deeper understanding of us.

Studies have shown that dogs recognize and understand our emotions whether we call them by their name.

A previous study presented dogs with pictures and audio files of other dogs and humans showing different feelings. These media gave happy, mad, and playful emotional expressions.

The scientists learned that dogs spent a long time looking at the images with the same emotional expressions. 

They concluded that such a level of understanding is because of the deeply rooted history of domestication. It caused dogs to evolve and understand humans more. 

However, there is not enough study to show whether dogs understand our emotions when calling their names. 

No studies have been able to show a correlation between dogs’ knowledge of human emotions and their names. 

Why Do Dogs Know Their Names?

It is said that the Greeks were the first to name their dogs because it was an essential part of declaring ownership. Until now, naming our pets symbolizes our ownership of them.

The Ancient Greeks took a lot of time and effort to name their furry friends just like we do now. They wanted their names to have a definite and significant meaning. 

It may have been related to a place, a crucial memory, a tribute to someone, or a name that the owner thought was beautiful.

Many Ancient Greeks also associated their dogs’ names with speed, beauty, and power. All of these abstract concepts were an essential part of Greek culture. 

The names were also short and simple. Some examples include Blue, Trooper, Swift, Dagger, and more. Some of these names remain popular today.

Dogs have become acquainted with hearing the sounds that make up their name. They learn to respond to the sounds depending on their owners’ tone, pitch, and gestures.

Today, naming your dog is often considered an art form.

No matter what you name your dog, they may not respond right away. But give it a few weeks and they will likely fully respond to their name.

However, dogs don’t necessarily understand that their name is their name or a label on their identity. They may consider the sound as a command which requires a response. 

They analyze your upbeat tone and use it as a cue to happily approach you. 

Dogs like using their body language to communicate with you. If they think you are happy when you call them, they will happily join you. 

Dogs Learn Their Names Through Classical Conditioning

Dogs learn through classical or operant conditioning. That means they only respond when you call their name and not because they genuinely know their name.

One way to help dogs understand their name is by giving them treats each time they look back, approach, or wag their tail, when you say their name.

Try saying their name once. If they come to you, give them a treat. Doing so will teach them to approach you when they hear the sound of your name.

They treat their name as a command word, similar to “stay” and “sit”, that they have to learn.

At What Age Do Dogs Know Their Name?

There’s no specific age when dogs know their name. The age depends on when they were first introduced to the “sound” of their name.

If you consistently teach your dog their name every day, they will learn it more quickly.

That does not necessarily mean they will know how to respond. But they will remember your voice’s sound, tone, and pitch.

Keep training your dog, repeating the process, and reward them every time they respond. They will eventually pick it up.

How to Teach a Dog Their Name?

One way to teach a dog their name is to throw a piece of your dog’s food or a treat out and let them eat it.

Once your dog looks to you to ask for more, you can say “yes” and give them another piece.

As they ask for more, call them by their name before turning around. Once they turn around, reward them. 

Keep doing this several times a day. Say their name at different distances. 

As soon as your dog looks at you, say “good boy” or “yes.” 

You can also use a clicker as a marker. Then, reward your dog.

This repetitive teaching will condition your dog to respond to you each time you say their name.

Do Dogs Know Their Siblings?

Yes. Dogs can recognize their siblings and parents later in life. But this is only likely when they spend the first 16 weeks together.

Some dogs still recognize their parents and siblings after being apart for so long. That’s because dogs are intuitive in nature. 

Do Dogs Know Their Gender?

Animals do not have genders, but they have “sex.”

Remember that gender is a social construct that is defined by social and cultural aspects. Meanwhile, sex refers to the maleness or femaleness of a creatures based on biology.

Dogs know their sex based on their sense of smell.

There is no evidence of dogs knowing their gender based on genitals, but they use their sense of smell to identify potential mates.

Do Dogs Know Their Owner?

Yes. Many experts say that dogs recognize their owners not only by face but also by their smell and voice.

Dogs also use their sense of sight to help identify their owners from several crowds of people.

These creatures are experts at telling people apart. This might not be surprising because dogs have lived with humans for several years now.

Your Dog’s Name is Special

Ever since dogs were domesticated, people have been naming their dogs. While dogs do not appreciate the uniqueness of their name, it’s a huge symbol of our deep relationship with them.

Whether it’s as typical as “Max” or unique as “Beckett,” your dog’s name is special and significant in their learning throughout their life. 

Use it to train them to approach you in dangerous situations or to show affection. 

Find out more about what age dogs know their name.