So, what’s in a name?

One of the more interesting things I’ve noticed over the years in training dogs is how the names of dogs have changed. I remember when dogs used to be named Buddy and Bowser, Rex and Rover or even names that focused on their appearance like Rags and Patches. In the last 10 years however, there has been a shift away from those traditional names. Now my class roster is full of names like Chloe, Abby, Allison, Oliver, Harry, and Charlie! And those aren’t the owner’s names either!

This is a wonderful trend and one that I think can be attributed to the fact the people are considering dogs as members of the family. Things can only improve for dogs as their status changes from family ‘pet’, to ‘family’.

Whatever you name your dog, there are a few things to consider. First and foremost your dog’s name should always mean that you need their attention. Just like when we call out to our human friends, the polite response should be a turn to look and make eye contact. A name simply means, ‘I need your attention’. It doesn’t mean ‘come’. In fact, using it to mean come can actually be dangerous. Imagine your dog has gotten away from you. You see him across the street and say his name. He hears it and dashes across the street! Yikes! If the name just means look at me, he will look up and then you can ask for a ‘sit’ or even a ‘down’ to keep him in place until you can reach him.

Your dog’s name should always have a positive connotation. As humans, we tend to use dog’s names when we are exasperated with their behavior. ‘Jake! Get your head out of the trash!’. After a few of these, your dog will start to cringe when you call his name and even stop responding altogether. That won’t be helpful when you want him to do something you ask. Instead, say his name sweetly and when he makes eye contact, follow it up with something he really likes, a toss of his favorite toy, a trip to the cookie jar, a belly rub or some sweet talk.

It is important to remember not to overuse the name either. It is not necessary to repeat your dog’s name before every command if you already have his attention. Remember, the name means ‘look at me’ so if he is already attentive, there is no need to belabor the point. If you say your dog’s name and he doesn’t look at you, don’t continue to repeat the name endlessly that will just turn his name into white noise! Instead, wait for him to look at you while at the same time preventing him from doing anything else such as walking away or sniffing at something on the ground.

The most important thing to remember is to reward the free attention your dog gives you! There will be many times when your dog will look to you in a ‘did you see that?’ way. Use that to your advantage! Be aware when you are with your dog and reward/praise when he looks to you for direction. You can never have too much attention!

A good name response is the foundation for everything else that you will ever train your dog to do! You must be able to get your dog’s attention before he can respond to your direction. Once you have a dog who attends to your call, training will most definitely be easier!