Dog’s Eye View: What’s in a name?
September 26, 2013
Steamboat Springs — What does a dog's name mean? In the initial teaching of the dog's name (name recognition), owners should begin by offering a treat and praise each time the puppy turns to look in the direction of the person who said the sound of his name. After several successful repetitions, increase the distance between yourself and the dog to begin to get the response from a bit farther away. This can be the first step in building a good recall cue.
A common mistake is that we sometimes say our dog's name with so many voice inflections in so many circumstances throughout the day that it becomes just another sound to ignore. How about when your puppy is heading for your new slippers? “Fidoooooooo? No!” Or when you want to get his attention? “Fido. Fido. Fido. Fido. FIDOOOO!”
What a way to poison the sound of his name. If the sound of his name means that you are about to explode on him, no wonder he won't look at you. His name should only mean, "Look at me." It should not mean, "Read my mind."
After slowly returning to you and your mad voice, he gets yanked around or thrown back in the car. It's a wonder dogs pay attention at all.
A frustrated dog owner often will say, "He should just do what I tell him because I'm the human, and he's the dog!" In our arrogance in elevating ourselves as the higher life form, we seem to think that all other creatures should defer to us as a higher authority.
We are our dog's companions and guardians by keeping them safe and out of trouble in our human society. That's our job as their keepers. Making assumptions about automatic respect from a dog can definitely get us in trouble. If we are to create an environment of learning and trust between ourselves and our canine companions, it's up to us as the so-called higher life form to learn and understand dog behavior. That knowledge will serve to deepen our respect for our dogs and communicate our understanding back to them.
Way too many things can become a distraction in the space between an owner saying the attention cue, which is the dog's name, and the dog responding to that cue. Receiving reinforcement for the act of approaching us and earning a reward (treat) and praise will go a long way toward strengthening that response.
If you pair the delivery of the treat with a praise word, you can bridge the behavior. The bridge serves to make the verbal cue stronger by reminding the dog that good things are coming by responding. Without creating a connection between answering your call and positive associations, your dog might not become reliable. That's one of the many reasons dogs choose not to come when called.
The moral of the story is this: Be aware of how many interpretations you expect your dog to understand when you say his name. The name means, "Look at me, I'm about to communicate with you, and good things are coming your way."
Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with more than 25 years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC here in Northwest Colorado.