Why can dogs learn their names and cats cannot?

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One of the main training techniques every dog owner tries to master is recall, getting your dog to come back to you when you call them by name. Dogs easily learn their names and respond to it – whether they come back to you or not is a different story.
But what about cats? They are notoriously aloof and resistant to training – can cats learn their name and learn to respond to it like dogs?
catsand dogs names

I found some research conducted at the University of Tokyo that shows while cats do respond with slightly more reaction to their owner’s voice than a strangers, they don’t feel compelled to move upon hearing their voice.
The research team theorized the lack of reaction stems from the evolution of cats and the fact they domesticated themselves to humans. Dogs learned from humans and learned to respond to their voice, their commands, etc. But cats did not, they take the initiative in the human-cat relationship and they didn’t really need humans for survivial in the same way dogs did so they never developed the need to respond.
That’s not to say that cats CAN’T learn their names, they can, they just don’t feel any need to respond to you when you call them!
If you want to teach them, the WikiHow article listed below has some good advice.
Additional Readings
Cats recognise their owners’ voices but never evolved to care, says study
Cats Know You’re Talking to Them But Couldn’t Care Less
How to Teach a Cat to Recognize Its Name


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  1. For what it is worth, both of my cats know and come to their names when I call them. And they know which name is theirs. Martha came already knowing her name at about 5 years old. Theodore Trex (who comes to Theo, Theodore, and Trex) I got at about 6 months old, and he learned his name relatively easily. I wouldn’t say either of them has quite as good of a recall outside as my dog. But indoors they have excellent recalls.
    Crystal recently posted…Wordless Wednesday: Early SpringMy Profile

  2. My cat responds to her name and she has a recall, too. 🙂
    Lauren Miller recently posted…When Your Sister Loves You TOO Much!My Profile

  3. We have to disagree. Our cats both know their names. Sophie rarely listens when she is called, but Bert knows exactly to come when called, he knows off (doesn’t choose to do it always), it is amazing but some cats can be trained a lot like dogs if they are motivated like Bert with food and catnip.
    Emma recently posted…Can A Dog Crate Train Herself?My Profile

  4. Any research about dogs who forget their name when they get called for a bath?

  5. Interesting. I’d definitely like to read more about this.

    Dogs do things with and for humans because it’s in their interest to. I sometimes wonder if we just haven’t made it worth a cat’s while to do certain things —like come when we call them, walk them on a leash, etc.
    Pamela recently posted…Doesn’t Your Dog Jump Off The Boat?My Profile

  6. Dogs come when you call them and cats take messages to get back to you at their convenience. LOL! I used to call my cats by pushing the can opener. They would come running.
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…Chews Rescue ~ Choose BarkworthiesMy Profile

  7. I also respectfully and vehemently disagree. Cody TOTALLY knows his name. If he is in another room and we call him, 9 out of 10 times he comes. If I ask Dakota to come to have his leash put on he won’t, (unless he has to go to the bathroom)…………my first cat also always came when he was called. They may take a minute or two longer (depending on their mood), but both of my cats most certainly KNEW and RESPONDED to their names.

  8. Dot Matrix usually comes when called because she is young & wants to play but if it’s nap time; forget it 😉
    Miss Misty is only interested in her name if it’s near meal time.
    I’m a dog & I’m barking it how I see it 😉
    CEO Olivia
    CEO Olivia recently posted…Meet Epi Warrior AbelMy Profile

  9. Cats are their own species, lol
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…Resorting Back To Puppy-hoodMy Profile

  10. It’s been so long since I lived with a cat (mid- to late-70s when I lived with my girlfriend) that I can’t say for sure if I agree or not.
    Callie, Shadow, and Ducky’s Mom recently posted…This Is What HappensMy Profile

  11. I’ve always thought my cats knew their names, but just often choose not to respond to them. We always paired a special noise with feeding them so that they would then respond to that noise. It works great if you keep it up.
    Jan K recently posted…Black & White Sunday – Heat HoundMy Profile

  12. Since I don’t have a cat – I’ve never given this much thought. But come to think of it – I’m struggling with when if ever I’ve heard a cat owner call their cat by name and the cat came. Hmm?
    Groovy Goldendoodles recently posted…THE PET FRIENDLY WENTWORTH MANSION® #THEDOODLESPOTMy Profile

  13. I came across this site/question quite by accident, but this has to be one of the most witless things I’ve read in a long time. Cats can and DO learn their names, just as dogs do. Every single cat I have know their names well. They come when called, and unlike the many dogs I also have, when I shout a certain cats name for doing something he or she isn’t supposed to do, that particular cat responds. Unlike the dogs, who ALL show guilt for the action of one getting in trouble. No, the cats don’t have similar sounding names, so there is no reason to think they all respond because they think their names are alike.
    Cats learn just as dogs, do, with repetition. A dog or puppy doesn’t know it’s name by telling it once. The same applies with most animals.

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