What non-human animals recognize their human given name?

Dogs obviously know what their name is. “Blah blah blah Ginger” and all that.

My dog’s neck snaps, her ears perk up and she looks you right in the eye when her name is mentioned.

I have never been a cat owner, but I don’t think cats do this: or do they?

Are there any other species that recognize their names like dogs? Horses possibly?

The “cat version” of that Far Side cartoon notwithstanding, our cats certainly have seemed to recognize their names.

The difficulty is that you are confusing “recognise their own name” with “respond to a specific sound”.

Pretty much any animal that can hear human speech can be trained to respond to a specific sound. It doesn’t matter one bit whether that sound is the name you assigned it or two bells ringing. It’s been done with cats, seals, parrots, horses, dolphins, bears, lions, chimpanzees and possums to my certain knowledge. It is such a basic example of operant conditioning that I can’t think of any mammal or bird for which it would not work.

None of this is in any way indicative that these animals recognise their names. The animals, including your dog, have all have been conditioned that when they hear that sound they will be either punished or rewarded, and so they respond to the sound. That is all their is to it. Their is not a shred of evidence that they recognise the sound as their name, or even that they have any concept that such a thing as a name exists.

The interesting thing is that you claim that your dog reacts when her name is mentioned. But in fact she does not, she only reacts to a very specific sound said in a very specific way. That is why she does not react when you casually mention her name in conversation with another person. She reacts to the word said with emphasis and usually a rising inflection. If it isn’t said in that way she ignores it.

Some animals will almost certainly be better than others at detecting sound differences within human speech so, for example, many animals won’t be able to distinguish “Tiger” and “Diver”, but they will respond to either said in the same way precisely because they are responding to the sound. None of them are very good and all will only respond to very specific sounds, including the right inflection and emphasis. None of them has ever been shown to respond to words as opposed to sounds.

I can say from personal experience that this is bullshit. My dog, no matter how or to whom I said her name, would perk up and either look at me or come over. It’s not just inflection or emphasis.

Well in that case you should publish. Because this has been the subject of numerous studies, and they all conclude the same thing. The idea that you can say “While I was out with Rover…” and the dog will come running over belies all the scientific evidence, all my personal experience and all common sense.

Fer crying out loud, because of the way words flow together in normal speech *humans *who do not speak your language would not be able to distinguish the name in that sentence. Yet your dog can do it.

Seriously, try it when you get home. Simply say the sentence “While I was out with rover” in normal conversational voice without looking at your dog and and he will not respond in the slightest.

If it does, then hie thee down to the nearest university, present your dog and you should be able to have a scientific publication within a month. This would be truly groundbreaking research. You have just produced incontrivertible evidence that dogs can understand language. Not just sounds but actual language.

How is “sound” different from “language” in this context? I mean you’re communicating verbally with another creature… no, perhaps they don’t understand all the grammar and nuances of human-to-human interactions, but isn’t it a matter of degree and not absolutes?

And how is it that different people with different voices can verbally command dogs and have them understand? (Sit!)

No, you are not communicating verbally, you are communicating aurally. Verbal communication involved words. Sounds are not words. Thisis very different to language in both kind and degree. Language requires, amongst other things, a well developed theory of mind and an ability for abstract thought and in both sender and receiver. Mere communication does not.

To give an example: I see a animal walking casually walking towards an area I don’t want it to enter. Maybe I just planted seeds there, maybe it’s minefield .

If that animal happens to be a human I can shout out “Hey! Stop! Stop! Stop! Don’t go in there.” That is use of language. I had a concept in my mind, I used a specific signal that has that specific meaning to me, the target received that signal and decoded it into the same meaning that I had in the first place. That’s some very complex mental work there, and it requires that both of us are capable of abstract thought about concepts such as “danger” and “future movement”. It also requires that both of us know that the other can have information about those things that we do not possess. It also requires a lot of other high level mental processing, but those two are essential characteristics of language.

Alternatively I can run towards the animal screaming, waving my hands in the air, throwing rocks and making fierce faces. That is communication. It communicates very clearly that I do not want it to continue doing what it is doing. Animals do this between species all the time with growls, bared teeth etc. This kind of communication will work equally well on a rabbit, a buffalo or a human who does not speak my language. However this is not in any way language.

A dog can be conditioned to respond to auditory signals, Pavlov proved that a hundred years ago. That does not mean that the dog has any conception that “ringing bell” means “I am going to get you food” in the mind of the human being. there is no language being used here. It’s just operant conditioning. If you feed a dog every time that it starts to rain, then the dog will salivate when it starts to rain. Once again, the dog does not believe that rain is a word meaning “I will feed you”, it simply associates the two events.

The same way that you instantly recognise that thisandthis are both clocks, despite the fact that they are far more dissimilar than similar.

In the natural world no conditional cue is identical every time. The vertebrate brain has become very good at picking out the patterns of similarities in cues and filtering the differences. So minor differences in voices get filtered, while the similarities in sound and inflection are retained.

A dog that has grown up chasing rabbits his whole life will still chase the first hare he ever sees, even though there are minor differences between them. The species would have died out long ago if dogs were incapable of responding this way. That’s the way the mammalian mind works. Similar cues = similar response. Of course the response for a rabbit is unlikely to result in the successful capture of a hare, but that is something that gets learned over time.

So when I say, Rabbit
Or Blackie
and my dog does not respond but when a stranger says Spot with a rising inflection just as I said Rabbit or Blackie with a rising inflection and does not respond, other than looking because a human spoke but comes to the stranger when Spot is said by the stranger? My dog does not recognize his name? He just recognizes a sound no matter who says it?

How is that different than when you turn and ask, “Me?” when a stranger just says your name, ? A name is just a sound You do not have to know language to respond to a sound.

I know that Gus is my name by conditioning because the sound means nothing in & of it self, just like a loud cracking above my head in a forest means a limb is coming down. I know this from experience, not knowledge of language. So why can not a Dog learn from experience that his name is Spot & not Lot.

You have seen the video of or heard of ’
Skidboot" right?


There are several to chose from, Google is your friend.

My cats recognized their names even if it was whispered and if I called one the other would look at the cat called. It obviously wasn’t purely tone related communication. I could also tell by the meow they made what they were generally trying to convey.

Ehr, no. I’m 100% sure that I would not be able to recognize which word is a noun if I heard someone speaking Tutsi or Mandarin.

And “recognizing that this particular sound means something is about to happen to me” works for me as equivalent to “recognizing its name”. You don’t have to know what a name is in order to recognize it, babies do it all the time way before knowing what names and nouns are.

That’s what he said. :confused:

What about Alex the African Grey Parrot?

“You do not have to know language to respond to a sound.” True.
“A name is just a sound”. Not true.

As I pointed out above, language is a code system for transferring information between minds. I have an idea, I encode that idea in language, transmit it to your mind and your mind de-encodes it and reproduces the idea. For example, I think of a chair. I encode that in the word “chair”, and as soon as you see or hear the word “chair” it all but impossible to stop your mind from forming a mental image of a chair. If I say “A cat sat on the chair” it is impossible to stop your mind forming a mental image of a cat sitting on a chair. That mental image has been transferred from my mind to yours encoded as sounds within an arbitrary rule systems. Those sounds are words and the whole system is what we call language.

A name is a word. It is not just a sound, it is a metal concept encoded as a sound, a mental concept that has meaning to the speaker and the listener.

No, none of this is true.

You learned that your name is Gus because as part of your assimilation of language, not through conditioning. You do not come when I say your name because your brain has been conditioned to come. You come because you know that “Gus” means “you”. The encoded meaning of the word “Gus” is “you”. That is why when I say “Gus, duck” you don’t come towards me.

Think of somebody you know. Now say their name out loud. Did your mind instantly conjure up a brief mental image of that person. If so that means you are a perfectly normal human being, because barring brain damage all humans do that. It is part of the process of decoding language. Our ears hear a sound and our brain can’t help but decode it. Your name is no different.

In contrast a loud cracking noise has no encoded meaning. There was nobody to put the code into it, so it can not be word. As you note, you have learned from experience to look for danger from above when you hear this sound, but the sound is not a word, but you don’t think it means anything. It is just an sound that coincides with an event.

As far as we can tell Dogs feel the same way about their names. They don’t mean anything, they just coincide with reward or punishment, and so they must be noted. It is exactly analogous to breaking tree branch sound. You could train a dog to respond every time it hears a tree branch break. Does that mean that its name is the sound a breaking tree branch breaks? Who calls it by that name?

Because they lack the mental machinery to encode and decode words. Dogs do have a theory of mind, but even that is very limited, and there is no evidence that they can comprehend the idea that sounds are encoded information. That is why you can train a dog to respond to sounds that it has heard many, many times before associated with the same situation many times, but they can never correctly respond to old sounds without repeated situational epxosure.

For example, I define “chorting” as gripping something using you teeth so it hangs outside the lips. And I define a “Skent” as any circular metal object. Any human with basic language skills could be told those words in minutes while sitting motionless in a darkened room. They could then be taken to another room filled with dozens of random objects such as coins, tennis balls, tables etc. When I ask them to “chort the skent” they will always grip a coin in their teeth. They have learned the coded the meaning of totally novel words, and they can apply it in totally novel situations instantly. Any human from the age of about 4 upwards can do this. They have language.

In stark contrast, you can easily teach a dog to “jump on the table” and to “sit”. But you try to get that same dog and get it to “sit on the table”. It can’t be done. You need to teach the dog what to do in response to that exact phrasing right form scratch. And you will need to do the same thing with “lie on the table” “Roll over on the table” and so forth. One by one. No matter how many tricks the dog already know or how many “on the table” tricks it knows, the next “trick on the table” has to be taught form scratch. This is why it take so long to train a dog, whereas a human infant could be obey all of these commands within minutes of learning the words.

Dogs clearly don’t recognise any of the words, they only recognise the sounds. There is no evidence that the response to their name is any different to the response to any other word that they have been conditioned to respond to.

Not until just now. And I can’t quite see what the relevance is. Dog learns to do tricks on command. Hardly news. Is their any particular part of the video that you think has relevance to this discussion?

All of this is perfectly true, and none of it indicates that the animals in any way recognise their name.

So you are claiming that while you would not be able to recognize which word is a noun in a sentence, you would be able to distinguish the name in that same sentence, because a name is… a noun.

Consider me both confused and highly skeptical. But if you want to test this we can. I’ll place some recordings of passages that contain names on the net, along with what the name is, and you can tell us at what point in the passage the name has been used.

I am very confident that you will not be able to do so. Languages just don’t work that way. Words run together when spoken, it is only when we are familiar with a language that we can distinguish individual words.

I suspect we are running into a semantic quibble here. Just to make things clear, when i say that an animal can “recognise a name” I mean that the animal can recognise that the sound is a name, ie a *word * used by other people and uniquely associated with itself.

As I said in the OP, almost any animal can be conditioned to respond to a sound if every time it hears that sound something happens to it. But that does not a name make.

For example we can put a baby in a skinner box, and every time it rains we randomly either prick it with a pin or give its something nice to eat. Would you agree that this baby will come to recognize that rain means “something is about to happen to me”. That means that this baby now recognises the *process *of rain as being its name, according to your definition. Not the word “rain” or even the sound of rain, but the actual process will be recognised as its name.

That is not what most people mean by a name. Nor is it indicative be that the baby recognises that it has a name. Even if the child had never been given a name, it would have the same reaction to rain. SO clearly this is not evidence that it recognises its name. How can it recognise that it has something that does not exist?

But if that is your definition of “recognising a name” then we really have nothing to discuss. All animals from jellyfish through to humans can recognise their name by this defintion. Even some plants and many bacteria can recognise their name at this level of conditoning. It is hardly meaningful, nor do I think it goes any way towards answering the question in the OP.

I am always amazed that knowledgeable people assume there is a fundamental difference between the way human brains and “animal” brains process information. Humans are just animals with (generally) more complex brains than a lot of other animals. I believe that the quality and character of animal thought, though less complex than human thought (depending, of course, upon the human in question ;)) shares many of the same emotions and thought processes that we use, though in simplified form.

Human thought has foundations that predate our humanity. I can remember being young enough that speech was still kind of new to me. I had a rich emotional life despite having no words to express my feelings. I suspect that animals with complex brains (mainly birds and mammals) also have rich emotional lives, and while a dog might not be able to think “That’s my name”, the fact of the matter is that the dog recognizes that sound and responds to it. This response is functionally identical to the dog “knowing his name”, at least as well as a dog can know his own name.

Alex always comes up in these threads, and once upon a time it was Alex and Koko. But since Koko has been totally discredited as evidence of anything more than junk science we are left with Koko.

But Alex suffer from most of the same criticisms as Koko. They work almost exclusively under a single operator and her students. To the best of my knowledge there are no double-blind studies done on either of them and the operator is the one who deciphers the communication and explain away when things go wrong. So, for example, when Koko says "Hello nipples’ the operator explains how “nipples” means people to Koko.

When Alex consistently gets the wrong answer to a problem it is ascribed to “boredom”. When Alex fails to learn the word apple, instead referring to it is as a “banberry” the operator explains that this is evidence that he thinks an apple is a cross between a banana and a cherry. When Alex says ““You wanna grape?”” at random tines, the operator “explains that Alex occasionally uses phrases without meaning them. Sometimes he does mean them”. And just as with Koko, the only person who gets to interpret when it is meant and what is meant by it is the same operator. When an independent observer is present and Alex is asked how many forks are on a tray “Alex is in an ornery mood and will not look and responds Two” When he fails to answer a question correctly he is asked the same question again and again until he either gets the right answer or else “this kept occurring until [the same operator] said "Fine” and asked a different question. An all the stories I have ever seen from independent observers all include these cases where Alex answers incorrectly or refuses to answer at all. So they are far from uncommon.

Here is a sample of the types of tests that they use on Alex:

Trainer: Okay, tell me, how many wood?
Alex: Two.
Alex is given one stake, which he chews apart. It is replaced, and the tray
is presented again.
Trainer:* Now, how many key?*
Alex: Key.
Trainer: That’s right, keys. How many?
Alex: Two wood.
Trainer: There are two wood, but you tell me, how many key?
Alex: Five.
Trainer: Okay, Alex, that’s the number of toys; you tell me,
how many key?

Alex: Three.
Trainer:* Good boy! Here’s a key.*

Notice that Alex, in response to the second question, answered first “two”, then “five” then “three”. And this is characterised as a correct response. But Alex can only use numbers up to seven. So he actually guessed half the numbers he knows before he finally hit the right answer.

IOW Alex says all sorts of things at random, and when he gets a “hit” that is counted as him using the word correctly, and when it can’t be twisted into a hit (eg an unambiguous “five” is re-interpreted as “He means five objects total”) Alex is asked again and again until he gets the right answer. If it becomes clear that he will never get the right answer, he is asked another question.

As far as I am concerned Alex is in exactly the same league as Koko. It is on par with psychism or any other sort of mumbo-jumbo where the operator interprets the hits and gets to decide what is a miss.

And in the case of both Alex and Koko, there is no evidence that I know of that either is doing anything that dogs have not done for millennia. Yes, Alex can make noises that mimic human voices, but that is the extent of the difference. Alex sees a red sheet and says the word “red”, a word that he never uses in response to any other colour. A guide dog sees a red light and sits on the ground, a motion that he makes in response to no other colour. Alex sees a book and says "book. A hunting dog sees a duck and points in a way that he does not point at other prey such as fawns. Any hunter will tell you that their dog is perfectly capable of indicating the type of prey by body language or barks. And all these things can be explained perfectly easily as basic operant conditioning.

If you can point to an single example of Alex or his replacements doing anything linguistically that dog could not also be trained to do in just a few days, I would like to see it, because I have been casually following this subject for 10 years, and I have yet to see it. And just to keep this clear, I don’t doubt that the parrots’ grasp of numeracy is better than a dog, and any individual parrot can probably learn a greater number linguistic tricks than any individual dog. What I have not seen evidence of is the parrots using any specific linguistic ability that a dog can not. Or, basically, I have seen no actual evidence of linguistic ability, as opposed to basic conditioning to verbal cues.

Yes, it is also functionally identical to a dog that can use telepathy and functionally identical to a dog that has been conditioned to respond to a sound. A world created *ex nihilo *last Thursday would be functionally identical to the world we live in Lots of things are “functionally identical”. And that is the whole problem.

That is why science works on the process of falsification. It does not matter if your hypothesis is supported by an observation that is functionally identical to something else. What matter is whether you are able to prove a functional difference from hypotheses that we all accept.

We all accept that a dog can be functionally conditioned to respond to sounds. Pavlov proved that a century ago. So while this response may be functionally identical to the dog “knowing his name”, it is not functionally separable from a dog that has been conditioned to respond to a sound. As such the hypothesis is no more scientifically valid than the hypothesis that the dog is using telepathy.

Much of the disagreement in this thread seems to stem from the fact that we haven’t been using an agreed-upon definition of the concept of a dog “knowing” his name. That’s why I injected the word “functional” into my previous post.

Until we define what specifically is meant when we say “the dog (or other animal) knows his name” we will be unable to resolve this question. If the dog doesn’t know his name, something very much like it is occurring when we call the dog and he seems to understand that further communication is about to occur, whether we will scold him, pah him on the head, offer him food or any number of things we might do after getting the dog’s attention.

Until you can explain to me what you mean by the phrase in question and how a conditioned response is fundamentally different from “the dog knows his name” I will continue to believe that although other animals’ thinking might be alien to our own, we still share many fundamental similarities that make some amount of speculation on this subject reasonable (but still subject to change in light of new information).

My cat doesn’t seem to respond to her name unless we are speaking directly to her, in which case I think it’s more tone of voice than name recognition.

The same with the horse I had as a teenager, he would prick up his ears and come when I called him, but I think that was more he recognised my voice than his own name.

Well, no. I just explained how this does not help at all.

Well I have defined it at least twice in this thread.

So I say again, we can put a dog in a skinner box, and every time it rains we randomly either prick it with a pin or give its something nice to eat. Would you agree that this dog will come to react to rain in excatly the same way as another dog reatcs to its name? If so you now arguing that the dog thinks that its name is the process of rain. Not the word “rain” or even the sound of rain, but the actual process will be recognised as its name.

Now this is clearly nonsense. The dog has simply been conditioned to respond to rain. It does not think that it is rain. I hope that we can all agree that what is occurring is not “something very much like” knowing its name is rain.

And for exactly the same reasons something very much like it is demonstrably *not *occurring when we call the dog and he seems to understand.

Well this forum is for factual answers, not speculation.

Factually there is no evidence that animals respond to their own name out of anything but conditioning. If you have any facts to the contrary then please present them. until then your speculation is precisely as fact based as my speculation that dogs are telepathic.

Good. I’ve missed it twice then. I’ve only occasionally been accused of having a keen sense of the obvious, so would you be so kind as to point out which of your several posts defines the meaning of the phrase?