Dogs are recognized as man’s best friend, but how do they feel about other dogs? The idea of self-awareness is an interesting one and incites many questions about the nature of relationships among dogs.
Dogs do know other dogs’ names, and they can learn approximately 150 to 200 words. Because of this, they create associations with specific words, including the names of their owners and the names of their pet playmates. Dogs know their names, and they understand the ownership of other dogs’ names as well.
The idea of dogs having personal canine conversations is intriguing, but understanding communication and recognition between dogs is a little more complicated. Read on to break down the science behind dogs’ connections with each other.
How Do Dogs Identify Other Dogs?
As a species, dogs have a vast number of breeds with a multitude of different shapes and sizes that it beckons the question: “Do dogs recognize and know other dogs?”
Simply put, yes. Dogs are fully aware of their fellow dogs, even if they are of a far different breed. Dogs use three senses to identify other dogs: smell, sound, and sight (source).
Dogs use their sense of smell to identify other dogs and recollect these unique smells to determine if they have met them before. Therefore, when dogs smell one another’s behinds, they do so both as a form of greeting as well as a form of identification (source).
If a dog is deprived of smell and sound, they can identify other dogs through visual means only. This method has some limitations as dogs seem more capable of identifying other dogs within their subspecies than a completely unrelated breed.
In one study where dogs were tested on their ability to identify pictures of other dogs, when tested with a dog’s image — whether in their subspecies of not — and a non-canine animal, the dog always managed to choose the dog, indicating that they can follow visual cues.
Now that we know that dogs can identify other dogs, the question about names remains.
Dogs and Names
Dogs have a relatively strong vocabulary compared to other pets, and they can learn quite a few words, between 150 to 200. There is some debate, however, about what exactly those words mean to a dog.
When a dog hears the word “vet,” he or she might become agitated or upset. Does that mean that the dog knows that a vet is an animal doctor, or is the word simply being associated with negative emotions (source)?
Even if dogs learn by association, they can discriminate between objects, especially if their owner makes an effort to teach them the difference. If you train your dogs with a ball, they know that a ball is a round object that they get to fetch, even if the color or size changes.
This kind of training is more successful when used with visual commands, allowing dogs to make those associations with images. Similar to a child being shown a picture of an apple or given a real apple, dogs learn faster with the object or fellow dog in question in front of them.
Dogs have to become familiar with other dogs to learn their names and be able to identify them. One method to introduce a family dog to a new addition is by pointing and saying the new dog’s name. This begins to build the association.
All dogs will start to recognize when they are called by consistently using your dogs’ individual names. The sound of the dog’s name is important in identification, so each name should be unique and clear.
To avoid confusion, do not name your dogs with a name that has the same starting sound as another dogs’ name or even the same ending syllable. So “Charlie” and “Bailey” should not be the names of dogs in the same home.
This rule also applies to the names of children within the home. Similar sounding names easily confuse dogs and should be avoided.
One aspect that makes a dog’s ability to learn so unique is his ability to point when making associations. Once a dog learns both the command for “point” and the object or person you are referring to, they can use their paw to point to that same object or person (source).
If dogs can learn the names of objects, their owners, and other dogs in their homes, how can they learn their own names? Read “Do Dogs Know Their Name?” to find out more about a dog’s self-awareness.
Socialization of Dogs
Dogs are territorial animals, so their introduction to new dogs in the home should be accomplished carefully and thoughtfully to avoid any battles down the road. First, when introducing your dog to a new dog, you should do so outside, as it is a neutral ground for both animals (source).
Next, the dogs should be allowed to watch each other from a non-confrontational distance. When they look at each other in a friendly manner, reward them with praise and treats.
Body language observation is vital when introducing new dogs. If you see any defensive or aggressive body language, such as growling, bared teeth, or hair standing on end, then distract the dogs. If they are not showing any negative characteristics, then allow them to get closer.
Once it seems like your dogs feel amiable towards one another, you can allow them to walk or play together. Within the home, avoid toys or using the same bowl for food, which may lead to fights. At the start, they might even need to be separated with a gate.
When talking to both dogs, use treats to reward positive behavior and nip any aggressive behavior in the bud.
Allow dogs to explore each other in their own way, including bottom sniffing. Use their names often, and do so in a happy tone. Dogs need time to create name and word associations, so added positive reinforcement helps.
Any pet owner will tell you about their dogs’ personality, their quirks and show you their newly-learned tricks. But we are still learning about dogs’ unique abilities and how they make sense of the world.
Some people even say that dogs are smarter than humans because while they understand our language, we still don’t understand theirs. Whatever the case, dogs have shown themselves as one of the smartest animals on the planet.