Old dog name tag in shape of bone, red, with name Stella Memento to remember deceased pet, isolated on white

Does My Pet Know Its Name?

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Great question, defenders! Humans have names that we identify with and others use to identify us. Although many animals are capable of determining differences between people and other animals, it’s not certain they do so with a name. However, that hasn’t stopped us from giving our pets adorable names that we use to talk to them. But does that mean that your pet knows its own name? The answer is going to depend on what kind of pet you have.

What About My Dog?

It makes sense to start with dogs because over 68% of American households keep a pet. Of those 85 million families, more than 3/4 of them have a dog! Dogs are well known for their intelligence, loyalty, and ability to learn tricks. They can respond to their name, and researchers believe that they understand their name too. Dogs have the ability to associate an object with a noun. This is how you can teach some dogs to get a ball, fetch a toy, get their leash, and so on. The same goes for our names! It may not be our first name, but to a dog, Mom or Dad can be a name too! Not only do dogs know our names, they recognize their own name the same way.

To take it one step further, dogs also are capable of falling in love with us! That’s right, the feelings you have for your dog are real. Studies have shown that oxytocin (a chemical in the brain that is normally used to help parents bond with their babies) is also present in dogs. When a person stares at their dog, their oxytocin level rises –  the same as what happens when we stare at a loved one. Better yet, the same thing happens to the dog when they stare at us! It’s no wonder why we call dogs, “Man’s best friend.”

Does My Cat Know Its Name?

Like dogs, cats are highly intelligent mammals. Unlike dogs, which evolved from highly social pack animals, the majority of cat species tend to live by themselves in the wild. Although every pet is unique, cats have a reputation of being aloof, or separated from the rest of the family. Recent studies sought to seek out the very question if a cat knows its own name. The answer – Yes! However, even though they can learn their own name, they will often ignore it. Dogs have learned that a close bond with humans will lead to their survival. Cats have learned that humans can be a great help, but many have retained their ability to hunt and survive without our help. This could be a factor of dogs being kept as domesticated pets longer than any other animal, but could also just be a part of the cat social structure.

What About My Parrot? Or My Fish?

Even though dogs and cats are the overwhelmingly popular choice for a pet, millions of Americans keep other mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians as pets too! Generally, most mammals are more intelligent than the other groups of animals, but parrots show a high degree of understanding. Like dogs, they’re capable of recognizing words and associating them with objects. Animals like pigs, rats, and horses are also capable of knowing their name. But the simpler the animal gets, like guinea pigs, rabbits, chinchillas… the more training is required to teach them to associate an object with a word.

There are many other animals who will never gain this type of understanding. With the exception of certain intelligent lizards like certain tegus and monitors, reptiles don’t have the brain capacity for associating a word with an object. Fish have been known to recognize their owner and can sometimes come to parts of the tank to greet them, but this tends to be more of an association with food and other physical cues rather than picking up on words we say to them.

But we don’t need science to tell us that we love our pets. We give our pets names because we love them, we give them homes, and often they become a part of our family. Whether they know it or not, it’s important for us to give them names so that we can love them for their special, unique, individual selves that they are!


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