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The Name Game

Author: Alison Spanner | Date: August 21, 2013

My dog has a lot of names: Huck, Huckleberry, Chuckleberry, Big Guy, Buddy, Bud, Wannagoforawalk to name only a few.

Choosing a dog’s name is a ritual of sorts.

We make lists, try saying them aloud, imagine calling our dog in from the yard and ask friends for their honest opinion. Once we bring them home, we start saying their name immediately and we say it often.  “Huck do you want a treat” and “Huck, how cute are you” and “Huck, I love you yes I do! Yes I do!” And our dogs quickly learn their name.

However, over time we start to use our dog’s name for less favorable objectives. “Huck, leave it!” and “Huck, NO!” and “Huck, I want to give you a treat but you are five now and a looking a little thick around the middle so I can’t”. Then before we know it, we find ourselves repeating our dog’s name several times to get even a slight acknowledgment.

I know Huck KNOWS his name.  And as much as I would like his name to have the same deep significance to him it has to me, the truth of the matter is that it doesn’t.

A dog’s name is just a cue.

When I say my dog’s name aloud, I want him to look at me immediately and wait with baited breath for my next cue. When I say, “Sit” I want my dog’s rear to hit the ground. When I say “Touch”, I want my dog’s nose to touch my hand.

As with every other cue, whether a dog responds to her name depends entirely on whether responding has been reinforced.

Strengthening your dog’s response to his name is easy.  All you have to do is play The Name Game.  Follow these steps:

  1. Get 10-15 tiny and tasty treats.
  2. Say your dog’s name and when he looks at you, give him a treat. If your dog doesn’t look at you immediately don’t repeat his name, rather reach around and stick that treat in his mouth.  Trust me, you will only have to do that a couple of times.
  3. Repeat the following sequence several times a day for a week: name, treat, name, treat, name, treat, name, treat, name, treat etc.

Consider doing this fantastically easy training game with your dog’s breakfast or dinner.

So, what’s in a name?

  • Humans place great significance on names.
  • Dogs do not.
  • A dog’s name is a cue, which can loose significance if not reinforced.
  • A dog’s name is the most commonly used cue (I use my dog’s name 15 times before breakfast) making it the most important cue your dog knows.
  • Training your dog to respond every time to his name is easy peasy.  Name, treat, name, treat, name, treat.

How do you make sure your dog “knows” his name?


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