Can Dogs Remember Voices?

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Introduction

Dogs are smart. They are also great mimic artists who copy our facial expressions. You might notice your pup squinting his puppy-face as he’s noticed you doing it. This is a far-cry from the days when they were literally, "seen and not heard," as science is proving there’s a lot more going on. 

Dogs are thinkers and listen carefully to the sound of your voice. They’ll pick up the tone whether it’s happy or sad. If you call them on the phone, their ears will prick up knowing they recognize something in the caller’s voice. Watch out for that bad guy talking to you in the park, as your woofer is listening and can tell he’s no good. Can dogs remember voices they’ve heard in the past? That’s a great question. Let's see what the experts think.

Signs Your Dog Can Recall Voices

A person’s voice is how dogs take their cues, whether it’s training to be a K9 or just learning how to catch the ball. They are body language experts, taking in every move, so when you speak with a certain emotion, your angel is going to understand. That’s only fair because we take our cues from the way they raise their paw, swish their tail, or stare right at us.

If you talk to a dog with anger, their fur may rise at the neck. Depending on the background of the dog they could bare their teeth and growl. Talk to pup in a kind tone and their happiness will show in their moves. It’s likely they’ll react with ears up or tilt their head to the side. They might even play bow, thinking it’s time for fun. If it’s training time, they are probably listening, sitting or learning the basic commands. 

A study shows dogs process language in a similar way to us. The Daily Mail featured the experiment at Sussex University, involving 25 dogs that were placed between speakers, calling out commands. Different vocal tones were used to see how dogs formulated them in their brains. Some tones saw the pooches turning their heads to the right, which indicated they were listening with the left side of their brain and when their heads moved to the left, the right side of their brain was activated. The researchers believe dogs process speech in a similar way to us.

 This asks the question "can a dog recognizes its master’s voice after a long time apart?" We know a dog’s sense of smell is stupendous and they have an olfactory memory for scents. This long-term memory was thought to be entirely human until dogs grabbed the limelight and made it theirs also. 

A story featured on ”People Pets", highlights how dogs know the sound of their guardian's voice. Tabitha, a Bichon/Poodle mix went missing and her worried family contacted a local news channel to see if they could help. The missing pup was picked up by a local family who were watching the news when Tabitha heard her family’s pleas and went ballistic, woofing at the TV.

Body Language

Here are signs your dog can memorize voices:
  • Staring
  • Barking
  • Head tilting
  • Listening
  • Howling
  • Play bowing

Other Signs

Some more signs your dog is remembering a voice from the past are:
  • Growling
  • Baring Their Teeth and Snarling
  • Woofing with Excitement
  • Hair Raised at the Back of the Neck
  • Acting Happy

History of Dogs Remembering Voices

The matriarch of dogs is the wolf, who communicates vocally with pack members by yelping, whining, howling and growling. Wolves understand the intention of each sound, the same way their dog-kids relate to us humans. If the Alpha wolf is putting his paw down, the others are likely to listen. This goes for dogs being prompted by humans for good behavior.

The ancients soon found they could use their voice to coax dogs and in Roman times, they considered dogs the guardians of a farmer's animals. According to “Ancient History Encyclopedia", the ancient Greeks had pooches on a pedestal. The Greek philosopher Plato, was a fan of dogs and was inspired by their awareness and ability to learn.

In the middle ages, dogs were seen as a symbol of success, with royals and the creme of society parading their pooches. Throughout history, dogs have been revered as friends to humans, culminating in the catchphrase, “man’s best friend.”

The influence of the wolf and man has steered the course of our dogs' destiny. Loud voices from the past insisted dogs had no mind and were just machines operating on instinct. Dogs got caught in the crossfire until researchers found a correlation between our pups and human minds. This paved the way for studies that found dogs were emotional and capable of remembering the voices of people from the past

Humans possess an episodic memory which enables us to re-examine past experiences. Now, it is suggested by “The Guardian”, who checked out a study in Hungary, that dogs have a version of this memory. This opens the kennel door to dogs recalling past events and people. It also suggests dogs can remember the voices of people they may not have seen for years.

The Science of Dogs Remembering Voices

Can dogs tell it’s their guardian talking to them on Skype or the phone? The short answer is pups can often pick up the tones that make your voice unique, depending on the device and how the sound is generated. Perhaps it’s another amazing ability they have, like their powerful senses of smell and hearing.

“Pet Centric,” mentioned a study in Italy where dogs were seen to recognize their guardians among strangers. When the people involved wore masks, the dogs struggled with recognition. It has always been thought dogs identified their family members by scent primarily but this study saw dogs confused with facial recognition. In the same study, it was found cats could also tell their owners voice apart from strangers. Is it possible getting close to humans has created empathy between the species, causing household pets to take on the attributes of their people companions?

Dogs can tell what your intention is by the way you use your voice. If you say, "you’re the best little pup," in a neutral tone, they will know you don’t mean it - but if it's presented in an upbeat way, you’ll probably get their attention. Humans share this ability and it helps us decide if a person is being honest.

You can’t pull the paw over your smart mutt as your private-eye Pitbull can tell if a stranger is not what they seem. With news dogs may have a long-term memory and can recognize voices, it is highly likely they’ll know a person from their past - just by the way they talk.

Training a Dog to Respond to Your Voice

When it comes to training a dog, your voice has an important role to play. It’s the device that motivates a dog to follow commands. The tone of a trainer’s voice tells a pup what they need to know and top trainers are aware dogs can read between the lines.

If you’re trying to get your Beagle to stay and you’re having an off day, your inquiring hound might be confused, as your voice is reflecting the way you feel. Scrap the training for the day and come back when you feel 100%. Your dog will stay when the tone of your voice is right.

Victoria Stilwell believes command training is out of vogue. She aspires to teach a dog to do things without the pack leader style of leadership, using cues instead of commands. In her book "The Secret Language of Dogs”, she talks about how dogs remember people’s voices from their pitch and tone.

If a soldier comes back from serving his country, will his pooch recognize his voice? US Today ran the story of a soldier who was waiting at the airport for the return of his army canine after three years of separation. He calls to the German Shepherd, who responds by racing toward his past master, proving time can never dissolve a close attachment between man and dog.

Of course, a person’s voice might not have such a positive reaction if a dog recalls abuse in their past. Hearing the voice of someone who was unkind may trigger a negative reaction while meeting a past owner who formed a strong, caring attachment will be positive. Our dogs rely on their senses to guide them wisely through life. They were once wolves but now co-exist with humans who can’t get enough of the canine mind. Our mutts are magnificent and can learn the most challenging tasks. We know they remember voices of people from their past.

How to React When a Dog Responds to a Persons Voice:

  • Reward your pooch with a treat or toy.
  • Give praise if they remember your voice after a separation.
  • If your dog recalls the voice of an unkind, former owner, take them out of the situation.
  • Be amazed that dogs can remember in a similar way to us!
  • Take your dog's advice if you meet a stranger and they don't like the sound of their voice.