Any puppy parent knows dogs know their names and come when they are called. While pups live to please and respond to us, cats are usually too busy hiding somewhere or simply ignoring their owners to answer when called. But do cats even know their names? Is their aloofness involuntary or are they just not that into us?
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Cats and dogs use verbal communication differently.
Humans are social beings and use verbal communication to build relationships. Dogs, as pack animals, are similar in their ability to be social and friendly. This makes communication with dogs much easier than it is with cats. Dogs will also acclimate to human needs and adjust their behaviors in communication to be whatever us humans need. The phrase "man's best friend" is no myth!
Cats, however, are a solitary species and only communicate, especially verbally, if absolute necessary. Cat mothers in the wild will only call out to their kittens if imminent danger is ahead. So, if you are calling your cat's name and she don't see any dire reason to respond to you, she just won't. Even if a cat knows her name, you calling her is not enough motivation for her to respond.
Do cats recognize their owners' voices?
Studies show that cats do indeed recognize their owner's voice. Researchers Saito and Shinozuka conducted an experiment where human participants verbally interacted with 20 different cats while they were out of sight. The researchers found that out of 20 domesticated cats, 15 responded to the voice of their owner whether through a twitching of the ear, meowing or movement in the tail.
These responses to an owner's voice are called orienting behaviors. When a cat turns her head or twitches her ears, she is acknowledging that she hears you and recognizes your voice. It has not been scientifically proven, however, that a cat knows her specific name, just the sound of her owner's voice.
Cats communicate when treats are involved.
Because cats are motivated by their own needs and desires, your kitty is most likely to come when you call her if there is more incentive than just your loving voice. If you call your cat's name while shaking her favorite toy or extending her favorite treat, you will most certainly have better luck than if you just call her name.
How to train your cat to learn their name.
If you want to train your cat to recognize her name, you will need to start by socializing your furry friend. Socializing should begin at a young age while your cat is still a kitten, between the ages of a few weeks to a few months. The more people and other animals your cat meets at a young age, the more comfortable she may become with responding to her name. Once your cat progresses in socialization, follow these specific steps to get her to respond to her name:
Step 1: Get her attention (usually with the help of a treat).
Step 2: Without calling her name, feed your cat the treat and pet her.
Step 3: Once the treat is fed, now call her name. Repeat this step in short intervals.
Step 4: Walk away from your cat and call her name from another part of the house. See if she exhibits any orienting behaviors like twitching her ears or moving her tail. This means she is associating her name with an award (personal motivation). If she comes to you, hand over the treat!
Step 5: Repeat step 4 in different parts of the house or outside. Make sure you see distinct orienting behaviors to the name calling and that your cat isn't just following the treats.
Step 6: Finally, try calling your cat without a treat! If she responds, reward her with a pat or a belly rub, but decrease the number of treats given until she's simply responding to her name!
Again, scientists have found that cats recognize their owner's voice but not necessarily their name. If you want your cat to respond to her name, there are steps available to train her! When it's time for a treat, call your cat and make sure that voice she's sure to recognize is saying her name!