When you call your dog, they come to you. Does this mean they recognize their name? Many owners talk to their dogs, but how much do they understand? The answers might surprise you. 

Do dogs recognize their names?

Dogs respond to their name, so they seem to have some type of recognition. In fact, they may be more skilled at recognizing language than you think. 

What’s in a Name?

We know that naming dogs goes back to ancient Greece. Then, names were often associated with speed or power. Names have changed over the centuries, but their importance has remained. In medieval times, it was common to name a dog after their physical attributes. In later centuries, personality traits and human names gained popularity. 

Do Dogs Understand Their Name?

Yes, dogs recognize their name. It’s obvious each time you speak your dog’s name, and see them come to you or wag their tail. Do they know their name means them? Or are they just responding to previous training? 

It was once thought that dogs respond to their name simply because of deductive reasoning and conditioning. However, recent research suggests dogs understand their name as a part of their identity. Hearing their name lights up a similar area of a dog’s brain and human brain.

This seems to indicate that dogs recognize their name as referring to them. Dogs are often smarter than they are given credit for. 

Choosing a Name

First, it’s important to choose a good name for your dog. Words that are one or two syllables are easier to remember and understand, so try to stick to simple words. If you want to formally name your dog Alexander, call them Alex. If you love the name Melisandra, Maddy is a great day-to-day name. 

You’ll also need to keep in mind how often you’ll be saying the name, and in what circumstances. You want something that’s easy to call out multiple times a day. You also want something that’s appropriate for all situations. 

Naming a dog after the Pagan Goddess Hel, for example, causes some strange looks at the dog park. 

Be sure that the name you choose isn’t too close to the names of other household members. If you have a child named Misty, naming your dog Missy will cause some confusion.  Consider two and four-legged family members, and choose a name that sounds different than any others in the home. 

Training Your Dog to Know Their Name

Training your dog to know its name is a simple process. In fact, it happens naturally without any intentional training. However, a little awareness can make the process easier. 

When your dog is learning its name, try to avoid using nicknames. Those can come later, after your dog is familiar with their name. You should also use your dog’s name as often as possible when you are talking to them. Use their name at the beginning of the sentence, not at the end. “Fido, Sit,” rather than “Sit, Fido”. 

Does my dog know my name?

Dogs know many things about their owner. They can recognize their owner’s smell, identify their emotions, and recognize them by sight. Dogs can remember their owner by sight and smell even after years of not seeing them. 

Given these things, it’s not surprising that your dog also recognizes your name. Many owners have noticed that their dog will respond to hearing the owner’s name, even if the owner isn’t present. 

As an example, we’ll use Samantha and Mark. Samantha looks at their dog, and says Mark will be home soon. The dog gets excited, and perhaps even goes to wait by the door. You may have experienced similar scenarios with your furry friend. 

They Don’t Know What They Don’t Hear

There’s a catch to your dog knowing your name. If they don’t hear it, they won’t know it. Young children often know their parents as only mommy and daddy. As far as they are concerned, these are their names, because these are the words they hear in reference to their parents. 

If you live with a significant other, and they call you honey, your dog may believe your name is honey. However, most dogs seem to be able to recognize different names for one person. Your dog may recognize your name as honey, as well as your given name. Just like a growing child will use mommy as a name, but also be aware of their mother’s given name. 

Do dogs know the names of other dogs?

Yes, dogs can learn the names of other dogs as well. Households with multiple dogs say that each dog comes when its name is called. If one name is called, the other dog will look at the dog whose name was called. 

How Dogs Recognize Each Other

Dogs may be better at recognizing other members of their own species than humans. Have you ever ran across someone at the grocery store and been unable to remember their name, or even how you know them? It’s a normal human phenomenon. Perhaps dogs, like elephants, never forget. 

Dogs use scent, sound, and vision to remember other dogs. Scent is their preferred means of identification, which is why they sniff each other’s butts. It’s also why they can take forever to find the perfect spot to pee or poop, and spend a significant amount of time checking out other dog’s deposits. 

Dogs can remember other dogs, regardless of breed, by their smell. Sound is also useful. They remember different dog’s voices. Sight isn’t as effective for dogs. They do pretty well recognizing other dogs of similar breeds. They have a hard time recognizing dogs of very different breeds through sight alone. 

They have a long memory as well. They can remember canine friends months or even years after seeing each other. Generally, the more time the dogs spend together, the longer they will be able to remember them. 

Dog Vocabulary

We’ve established that dogs recognize and remember each other, but what about names? Dogs are able to learn names because of their language processing ability. 

They don’t have the complex capacity that humans do, but the process is much the same. Children learn language through association and reasoning, just as dogs do. They hear a word repeatedly, and begin to associate it with what it represents. Dogs have the same ability. They are limited to about 150-200 words, but they can understand many of the words you use every day. 

Do dogs recognize their owner’s voice?

Yes, your dog can recognize your voice. In wolves and wild dogs, sound is an important communication tool. Commands are given, threats are warned about, and feelings are expressed with vocalizations. 

Dog’s Emotional Understanding

Much of what your dog interprets about your intent and emotions come from your voice. If you speak in a positive, upbeat tone, your dog will be excited. 

If you are down, your dog will know, no matter how hard you try to hide it. They will hear it in your voice. One study placed dogs and owners in rooms separated by a window. The door between the rooms was closed with a magnet, so it could be pushed open. 

The dog’s stress levels were measured by monitoring vital signs during the experiment. When the owners cried, the dogs would go to them 3 times faster than if they were singing a song. The dog’s stress levels were also elevated when the owners cried. 

Memory

Dog’s brains work differently than ours. Until recently, it was thought that they only have an associative memory. New research suggests that they also have episodic memory, similar to humans. This means they may remember specific events, sights, sounds, and smells. Because dogs don’t have an established sense of time, they can remember for a long period of time. 

One dog owner reports that they lost their dog. They put a news report on the local tv station, asking for any information about their missing pet. 

Signs Your Dog Recognizes Your Voice

If you want to know if your dog recognizes your voice, and not just your smell or visual appearance, it’s easy to find out. You can do a phone experiment. 

When you are away from home, call your dog on the phone. Of course, you’ll need another human to answer the phone so your dog can hear you. Speak to your dog through the phone and see how they react.

The phone is an ideal way to test your dog’s ability to recognize your voice because it takes away all the other clues dogs use for recognition. Your voice will sound a bit different on the phone. If your dog doesn’t respond, it’s likely because they don’t hear the same voice they hear in person, and not because they don’t recognize it. 

Signs your dog recognizes your voice include staring, tilting their head, ears perking, howling, and play bowing. Your dog may show these reactions when you speak to them on the phone, and when you talk to them. 

Can dogs remember their names?

Yes, dogs remember their names. Because they have a  good long-term memory, they may remember their name even if they haven’t heard it in a while. 

Do dogs learn their names?

Yes, dogs learn their names through conditioning and association. To train your dog to know their name, you’ll need to use it when you talk to them. Over time, they will learn that you are talking to them when they hear their name. 

Deductive Reasoning 

Deductive reasoning is part of how dogs learn their name and other words. If you say “Good morning, Fido”, your dog may not understand the exact words. However, they may think they are talking to me, and it’s morning. 

If you say “Do you want to go for a walk” while you are grabbing their leash, they will likely get the gest of what you are saying. 

Conditioning

Your dog also learns their name through conditioning. When you call your dog and they respond, you praise them. Perhaps they get a treat, pets, or a walk. Over time, your dog learns those good things happen when they hear and respond to their name. This positive reinforcement makes your dog happy to respond. 

Do dogs know nicknames?

Yes, dogs seem to be able to learn nicknames. Dog trainers have long recommended against using nicknames for dogs, saying that it can confuse them.

However, most owners say that their dog is able to recognize both their name and nicknames. It’s probably best to use your dog’s name during training sessions to avoid confusion. If you are training them to sit, for example, you want them to be absolutely clear about when you are referring to them. 

However, if you come home to an excited dog named Sunny, and exclaim, “Come here my cuddle bug”, this shouldn’t cause any harm.  

Author

I created and currently manage Pet Dog Owner, the website you can go to when you have questions about your dog's behavior. It is my hope that you find Pet Dog Owner to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your dog. You can read more about me and my website here.