Few things are more frustrating than a dog not responding to their name when we call, raising the question, “Do dogs know their names? After all, aren’t names a human thing? Perhaps a name is just a sound to them that they associate with “treats,” “pets,” or “get out of the garbage!”
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What’s more, with a new dog, we also have to deal with the problem of a puppy that doesn’t know their name. After all, they don’t come pre-programmed. So let’s look at how dogs understand their names and how to teach names to dogs.
- Do Dogs Know Their Names
- How Do Dogs Know Their Names
- How Long Does It Take for Dogs to Learn Their Names
- How to Teach Dogs Their Names
Do Dogs Know Their Names
The answer to whether dogs know their names is a resounding “yes,” so long as they’ve had a chance to learn the name. Dogs can recognize their names, and when they’re in a pack, they can fully understand their name versus another dog’s name.
According to a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia and canine expert Stanley Coren, dogs understand their names much the same way babies do. When babies start turning their heads when they hear their name, psychologists agree that they have begun learning a language.
By the same token, when dogs look at you when you say their name, they show “rudimentary linguistic ability,” or the very first steps to understanding language.
Understanding names comes down to whether dogs understand and recognize words. Of course, dogs understand both the verbal commands we teach them in training and other words they pick up naturally. I never taught my dogs the word “bath,” but judging by how quickly some of them disappear when I say it, I think they understand the term.
And science and canine experts agree. One study used brain scans to show that dogs could tell the difference between human language and random sounds and even knew the difference between languages.
Read more: Dog Intelligence: IQ of a dog and Training Tips
But do dogs know their names the same way we do?
Indeed, dogs can’t understand language the way we do, and they can’t intellectually understand the concept of naming either. But think about how you respond to your name. Most of us will react automatically when we hear our names because we’ve learned to respond to the sound since we were babies.
This is called conditioning. If dogs respond to their names without thinking, then it’s not different from how humans know their names.
But what about when dogs ignore you when you call their name? Well, when you’re busy with something fun and exciting, do you always hear someone calling you? Maybe you do, but you might choose to ignore them anyway because whatever you’re busy with has your full attention.
Suppose someone calls you by a new name you’ve never heard before, in that case, you probably won’t respond.
It’s the same with dogs. There are three fundamental reasons they may not respond to their names:
- They have not learned their name, as in the case of a new puppy or adopted dog.
- Something else has their full attention (like a squirrel).
- Or if they’ve associated their name with something negative, like being punished, they may avoid you when they hear it.
How Do Dogs Know Their Names
Dogs learn their names through a process called classical conditioning. This happens when we say their name every time we pet them, give them food or treats, call them over, or shower them with attention. Classical conditioning doesn’t happen consciously, so dogs don’t need to actively learn and remember their names as though they are studying for a test.
Over time, a dog associates their name with something positive, so hearing their name becomes a cue to get their attention. Also, dogs are highly attuned to human voice patterns and can discern specific words, including their names, through the tone, pitch, and inflection used by their owners.
Read more: How to Discipline a Puppy Without Punishment
How Long Does It Take for Dogs to Learn Their Names
A new dog or puppy can start learning their name within a few minutes. And most dogs will start knowing their owners after three or four days. However, they only remember if you use it consistently. This means saying their name whenever you have their attention and interact with them.
If you’re wondering how long it will take your puppy to learn their name, the answer is typically within the first three days of bringing them home. But it depends on the individual puppy and how much time you spend teaching the name.
Setting up a Pet Camera in your pup’s living area is an excellent way to watch their progress and see if they respond to cues like their name. This way, it’s easier to identify areas of training that need work that you may not otherwise notice.
How to Teach Dogs Their Names
With patience, consistency, and positive reinforcement, dogs can quickly learn to respond to their names, especially with the correct dog training tools. The best way to teach your dog its new name or teach a puppy is to bring them into a quiet environment with a bunch of their favorite treats and take the following steps:
Show your dog the treat. When they look interested, say their name and give them the treat. Repeat this process a few times, several times a day.
Start to put a lot of value on their name. Use it every time you are about to feed your dog or give them a treat. Use it right before you go for a walk or when you have their favorite toy. Always use their name when you have their attention and something good to offer as a reward.
Do not use their name when they are too distracted by something else to listen to or when you are angry and frustrated. If you use your dog’s name when they are chasing a squirrel, they may learn that ignoring the name is an option. If you use it when you are angry, they may associate the name with something negative. This sets them up to fail in the future by learning to ignore their name.
As your dog learns that their name is important, gradually start using it to get their attention when they are doing something else. Start small, like when they are just walking past, and reward heavily. Gradually, start using their name to get their attention with bigger and bigger distractions, such as strangers or other dogs. Keep your dog on a leash until they have learned a reliable recall.
Ensuring your dog knows their name and comes when called is essential to preventing accidents, especially if you let your dog off leash in public spaces. That said, accidents do happen, and for that reason, we suggest always keeping a Pet Emergency Fund.
With this fund, you have fast coverage and 24/7 online veterinary help to cover any emergency vet bills for less than $1 a day.
Read more: An Ultimate Guide to Dog Walking
Dogs can know, learn, recognize, and remember their names very much the same way humans do. They understand a fair bit more language than we may think. But how well your dog responds to their name depends on their training.
So always invest in consistent positive reinforcement to ensure your dog doesn’t ignore their name when you call.