People have an ability to hear their own names amid lots of noise, something scientists call “the cocktail party effect.” Now, new research has found that dogs can do it, too – even better than human babies.
In recent experiments at the University of Maryland, scientists found that dogs can perceive their name spoken at the same intensity as or louder than background noise. The canines also recognised their own names when spoken by an unfamiliar voice and through a loudspeaker; suggesting they were not responding to a person’s body language, tone of voice, or other cues.
This is valuable insight for people handling working and service dogs, who may need to take urgent commands from people other than their owner in a noisy environment, according to the study, published in the journal Animal Cognition. It also highlights the value for dog owners of using a dog’s name in any busy situation.
“Some people say you’re better off giving hand signals; but the dogs are often scanning the room to see what’s going on around them, so they miss them,” says Stanley Coren, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of British Columbia. “So this says, no, you can cut through the noise by using the dog’s name.”
Mallikarjun suggests owners realise their dog is not quite as good at detecting their name as we are. “Dog owners shouldn’t be frustrated if their dog doesn’t respond to his or her name in a noisy environment like busy city streets or crowded parks,” she says. “Your dog isn’t being stubborn – he actually might not be able to understand you.”