How many times have you heard somebody yelling at their dog? Probably a lot. When you think about those examples, do you recall hearing the person saying their dog’s name first? Pay attention next time you are around dog owners, either at a friend’s house or even at the dreaded dog park (if you are so bold as to go to one of the worst places to take your dog). It is only natural to say the dog’s name prior to addressing it in any fashion, which is why it takes place so often.
However, not without consequences.
In order to understand where I am going with this we first need to look at what a name is. To humans its obvious. It is the visual and audible term we use to identify ourselves to others. Dogs do not have the same sense of self awareness or identity that humans do. As I so often tend to do, allow me to take the romance and imagination out of the situation, and inform you that to a dog, their name is only a sound that has a meaning attached to it. That meaning, is one that WE create, and often times, the humans create the wrong meaning because they fail to understand this concept.
I always say, dog training’s difficulty is that it is so simple.
The concepts are black and white. These concepts are never broken down to dog owners upon the acquisition of their first dog though, hence I felt the need to outline them in my first book Speak Dog NOW which hopefully when done, will help explain some of the biggest questions people have about their dogs. This whole name issue is one of the best examples of it.
To the dog its name is NOT a representation of any type of psychological identity or recognition of self. It is simply another odd and unique sound made by the dog’s human partner that will have an associated meaning to it, and like I said, often times what it means to the dog is not what the human would like to believe it means.
If you call your dog’s name, then when it looks at you, or comes to you and you give it a treat, then what does the name mean to the dog? The name becomes a sound, then when followed by the dog’s response of coming to you or looking at you, is rewarded with a treat. It is that simple. Conversely, if you say your dog’s name when you are about to correct it, think about what you are actually telling the dog it’s name means!!!!!
All “commands” are actually “cues” that have an association that the dog understands based on how the human has used the cue. The name is just another cue to a dog, that’s it. If you say the dogs name and always follow it up with something positive, then there is a positive association the dog recognizes and it will behave accordingly. If you say the dog’s name before you are about to correct the dog, or punish it, then be prepared for that dog to build a negative association with its name and behave accordingly to that context as well. If you mix it up, and use the name all the time, in every type of context you can expect your dog to be completely confused when it hears its name and basically just put it in the box labeled “Sounds this flaky human makes that have no meaning”.
Think about it, digest it, and make the necessary changes to your communication with your dog. Both of you will enjoy the outcome.