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What’s in a name?

Author: Greg Raub | Date: June 25, 2012

Over the past few days I’ve realized that the most important word I ever taught my dog is “Ernie.”  That’s his name.  And it is the one word he will always respond to.  Always.*

Why is that so important?  I was reminded recently of just how important “Ernie” is to my dog when I was working in two different classes where we were teaching recall – having your dog come when called.  In one class, almost every dog in the room was having some issues.  Some were no doubt caused just by the environment.  There are a lot of distractions in a classroom full of dogs and people.  Others were likely due to the fact that the owners had not yet had time to really “charge” their recall word. That is, they had just picked the word and had not had a chance to work on associating it with good stuff (treats, treats and more treats).

But then I noticed something else, many of the dogs were not even responding to their names.

“Albert.  Albert.  Albert,” one woman repeated over and over. Albert never turned his head.

“Lucy, come. Lucy, Lucy” another said.  But Lucy was preoccupied.

A week or so later I was in another class where most of the dogs were doing a terrific job of coming when called.  What I noticed in that class is that the owners hardly had to use their recall words.  Instead, the instant the dogs heard their names, they would turn their heads and start running.  Again, there are a lot of different variables at work here.  But I am convinced that when it comes right down to it, the most important word we can teach our dogs is their name.  In our puppy classes (and actually in many others, too), the Name Game is the first thing we teach.  We start by simply saying the dog’s name and giving a treat – whether they look at us or not.  Whenever I teach this I find myself saying “you may think this is a really silly thing to be spending time on in class…”  Well, it may seem silly to actively work at continuously teaching your dog its name.  And it may seem even sillier to do it when your dog is a year old and most certainly already knows its name.

But believe me, if your dog does not always turn its head to look at you when you say its name, you need to work on the Name Game.

It will make a lot of the other training you do… and your day-to-day life with your dog… much more rewarding.

*Okay, no matter how well Ernie knows his name I will admit that if there is a choice between chasing a rabbit and looking at me when he hears that all important word, the chase might sometimes win.  But that’s just more evidence of why it’s so important to keep teaching and reinforcing your dog’s name.


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