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Do Dogs Know Their Name?

The domestication of dogs marked a significant point in human society, and, currently, there are over 89.7 million dogs in American homes. Performing the role of man’s best friend, they have become uniquely attuned to our behavior. So, do dogs know their names, or are they just responding to our tone of voice?

Yes, dogs can recognize their names and distinguish them from other sounds and words while understanding that their name identifies them specifically. Animal behavior studies have found that dogs’ brains react similarly to a human’s when they hear their name, and dogs can retain an impressive vocabulary.

This article will discuss how dogs know their name, how they understand you, and how you can tell that they know their name. Additionally, there is information on choosing a name and a few tips on training them to recognize it.

How Dogs Know Their Name

Dogs learn words primarily through associative learning, referential cues, and positive reinforcement, although recent evidence shows that dogs have some episodic memory level. Over time, they can retain an impressive vocabulary of 150 to 200 words. Precisely how they do this is still not fully understood (source).

Speech Recognition

A study on dogs’ brains conducted by Attila Andics, a neuroscientist at Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary, noted that the speech centers located in the brain’s temporal pole of both dogs and humans reacted the same when listening to environmental sounds and vocal noises (source).

Emotional sounds, such as crying, and laughter, also showed activity in the area near the primary auditory cortex, lighting up both in dogs and humans.

Even more intriguing, dogs understood the meaning of words separately from the tone used to communicate emotions and feelings. This level of understanding is something previously only seen in humans.

In another study done by Gregory S. Berns, MD, Ph.D., at Emory University, they found out that dogs have a remarkably similar neural mechanism to discern meaningful words from the meaningless sound, which is really amazing (source).

While many think that dogs don’t comprehend their name so much as they just respond to their owner’s tone of voice, as the study has shown, they can associate the sounds with the particular meaning of the words.

As far as referential cues, I had a deaf Dog named Daisy that we taught sign language to give her commands, demonstrating that dogs learn and understand words and concepts, even if they are non-verbal.

They may not understand the word at first, but dogs have a sense of self, and, given time, they will associate their name as unique, relating only to them. It appears that dogs can also understand other dogs’ names.

Typical Response

Still, how do we really know if our dog knows their name? Dogs are not that hard to read. They may lift their head, perk their ears up, wag their tails, and they may even come to you and ask for love and attention. 

They may even notice their name mentioned in a conversation, perking their ears up and turning their head toward the person. You may even be in another room, and, all of a sudden, they come running to you. 

Sometimes, they may come running to you no matter what tone of voice you used at that moment. Try saying their name in different tones of voice and observe their reaction. This is a fun way to test if they know their name and see how they react to different situations.

Name Training Ideas

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Image by cp17 via Pixabay

It helps to do name training and create positive associations with their name. Using a positive tone of voice helps them understand that their name is related to something good, such as love, warmth, and caring. 

Whether it is an older dog or a puppy, you will need to teach them their name when you bring your dog home. You can set aside 5 to 10 minutes every day to teach your dog their name. It is best to do this with your dog on a leash, but it can be done without one. Two common methods of teaching a dog their name are the name game and the orientation game.

The Name Game

Firstly, you will need a few treats and have your dog in a small area where they can not run off. Next, wait until your dog is no longer looking at you, and then say their name cheerfully. When they respond to their name, mark this with praise, and give them a treat (source).

Orientation  Game

Again, start in a quiet place with little distraction and where your dog is used to playing with you. Throw a treat out, and, after eating, they will naturally look back to you for more. Mark this with a positive word, and give another treat (source).

Once your dog is turning back consistently, introduce your dog’s name before they turn around, and then mark and reward.

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Image by 1115305 via Pixabay

Choosing a Name for Your Dog

Choosing a name for your dog can be a daunting but not impossible task. There is one suggestion that stands out among trainers as you choose the perfect name for your pooch.

Go for a short name over a long name as it makes self-recognition and training easier. Some dog experts suggest that if you use a name that is one or two syllables long, this will make it a bit easier for your dog to identify and for you to say.

In a multiple-dog household, it’s wise to avoid naming each dog with names that sound very similar. That way, you can avoid any confusion and potential strife.

Some of today’s topmost dog names are Bella, Charlie, Luna, Lucy, Max, Marley, Cooper, and Daisy.

Final Thoughts

Yes, according to a host of studies, dogs do know their names. You will need to take the time, put in an effort, and give them lots of love, but you will be rewarded. Your dog will learn and respond to their name when used in no time at all. 

When naming your puppy, try to use a single-syllable name as it will make it much easier for them and you. 

Be mindful of your tone of voice and body language while training them and make sure their name is associated with only positive reinforcement. Of course, treats are a tasty way to give positive reinforcement.


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