Can Dogs Remember Their Names?

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When you first bring home a new puppy, they have no idea what their name is. They won't respond to their name when you call them and likely won't even acknowledge the sound of their name. However, as time goes on, they begin to learn and eventually start responding to their name all the time. Are dogs actually learning their names or are they simply just responding to your tone of voice when you call them or tell them to do something? 

There is no direct or simple answer as to whether they can learn and know their name or not. Essentially, it depends on the dog! Let's take a further look at why some dogs are better with verbal language than others and how some dogs are able to learn their names. 

Sings of a Dog Knowing Their Name

If a dog is able to recognize their name, there are a ton of different ways you can evaluate whether they actually know their name or if they are just simply responding to your tone of voice and it has become a habit. If your dog is able to recognize their name when you call them, many dogs will come running to you right away. 

For instance, your dog may be in another room or in another part of the house and as soon as they hear you calling for them, they respond right away by running to where you are. If they respond to you calling them, this may be a sign your dog knows their name. Your dog may also look in your direction or acknowledge you when you say their name if your dog is in the same room as you. 

You can also test them a little bit further and try calling out different names to see if they actually come to their name or if they will come to any name you say if your tone of voice is the same. If your dog comes to any name when you call in an upbeat and excited manner, it is more likely they are responding to the tone of your voice than they are to their actual name. 

If they do only respond to their name, you can also look out for body language signs as well. They may respond positively or in an excited manner when you say their name, they may tilt their head, perk up their ears, look and listen to you, wag their tail with excitement, raise their tail, be alert, and may even bark in response to their name when you call them. 

Body Language

Here are some signs you may notice if your dog knows their name:

  • Ears up
  • Tail up
  • Wag tail
  • Running
  • Head tilting
  • Barking
  • Alert
  • Staring

Other Signs

These are some other signs you may notice if your dog knows their name:
  • Perking Up When Their Name is Said in Conversation
  • Immediately Responding to Their Name
  • Not Responding to Tone Only

History of Dogs and Their Names

Ever since dogs have been domesticated, dogs owners have been naming their dogs. Naming dogs and puppies date all the way back to the ancient Greeks and it was a very important step in dog ownership, just like it is to this day. People take a lot of time and care in naming their dogs and it was not much different back in the ancient days. People just went about naming their puppies in a different way. 

Ancient Greeks named their dogs with short, yet strong and powerful names. Names were typically associated with ideas of speed, power, and beauty - all of which played an important role in Greek culture. For instance, some examples of popular pup names included names like Blue, Blossom, Trooper, Killer, Swift, Dagger, etc. Many of these names are still popular options we see for dogs in the 21st century! 

Today, there is an art and a process of choosing the perfect name for your dog. Experts claim you should stick to dog names that are only one or two syllables, just like the Ancient Greeks did. It makes it easy to say and call your dog and it's much easier for your dog to learn as well. 

Science Behind Dogs Learning Their Names

Some dogs are able to learn tons of words, while other dogs are only able to pick up on a few basic words, like their name. This does not have anything to do with how intelligent your pup is, but rather how well they are able to read verbal language from humans. 

Some dogs are able to learn hundreds of specific words, while others are not. Dogs are able to learn different words through the process of deductive reasoning and positive reinforcement. 

For instance, if you walk into a room and say "good morning, Fido" your dog may think, "mom is saying something positive in an upbeat tone to me, Fido, I think something good is going to happen soon, like a walk." Your dog isn't necessarily understanding you are saying good morning to him. They will also use body language to help decode your message to them. If you say good morning and head to their leash or food bowl, they will know what you are talking about right away. 

Dogs will also learn their name through classical conditioning. This means that they learn to respond to their name when it is said, not that they actually know their own name is Fido. If you call their name and they come to you, they receive treats, helping them learn to come to the sound of their name - just like you teach them to respond to "sit" and "stay."  

Training Dogs to Learn Their Names

Training your pup to learn their name is one of the easiest things you can train your dog to do. In fact, most dogs will begin to learn their name within the first few days to weeks of bringing them home. You can begin to teach them their name in short, five to ten-minute training sessions.

Put your puppy on a leash so they cannot run off and keep them close to you. Have plenty of treats on hand so you can reward them for a job well done. First, say your dog's name, have them make eye contact with you by holding a treat to your nose, and when they look at you when you say their name, say "yes!" and proceed to give them their treat. Repeat this process for the next five minutes or so. 

After this, you then want to introduce some phrases your dog will likely not understand. Begin to insert your dog's name into those phrases in the same tone as the other words so the dog can begin to learn to respond to the actual name and not just your tone of voice. When you say their name, have them look at you, provide their treat, and say "yes!" 

Once you have mastered this part of training with your pup, you want to begin to increase distance. You will continue to do the same training as above, but gradually increase the distance between you and your dog. You should keep your dog on a leash, but give them enough room where they can move around and become distracted by the things around them.

When they are distracted, say their name, and as soon as they come to you or acknowledge you, say "yes!" and give them a treat. After a few days to a few weeks of this training process, your dog will learn his name and know when you say that name, it means to come to you. 

How To React When Your Dog Responds to Their Name

  • Use a word like "yes!" to show they did a good job.
  • Give lots of praise and positive reinforcement.
  • Give lots of treats!

We Want to Hear Your Story About Your Dog Learning Their Name!