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The Right Way to Use Your Dog's Name

By: Dennis Fetko, Ph.D., “Dr. Dog”

How you use your dog's name can cause him much confusion. Your dog will associate related events and see a relationship between contiguous impressions. He gets excited when you get the leash out, right? Sure, because the leash means a walk--a fun event. When you know very well that your dog forms many strong associations, why believe or assume he won't make similar assumptions and learn similar things regarding his name?

For example, I say: "Rover, Come!" and "Rover, Stay!" away from me. The next time I say Rover, do I expect him to break towards me or run away? Because I was just silly enough to teach him it means both! Look at how silly I can be: "Rover, Shut Up!" "Get Down, Rover!" "Rover, NO!"

These are great ways to teach him that the word Rover means a reprimand. I then say: "Honey, Rover was so cute today! When Sam visited, Rover played so nicely! Even Carl liked Rover!" Rover just got ignored for paying attention to his name three times because I wasn't talking to him!

What have I done wrong so far here? First, I taught Rover that his name doesn't mean him, so he can ignore it. Second, I taught him it means punishment. Third, I taught him it means to stay away from me. But if he doesn't come to me EVERY time I call him, I'll rip his lips off! Do you see how we confuse our dogs?

One of the most common desires of dog owners is to have their dog come when they call him. This is much easier and more reliably successful if you first remove any reason he has NOT to come when called. If the name means reprimands or to stay away from you, you sure gave him reasons not to come when called!

Here's the answer: Use a dog's name only when you are directly addressing that dog in a positive way. Say it when giving the dog meals, treats, love, massages, petting, walks and whatever he really likes.

And the ONLY command you say it with is "Come!" because coming to you should be among your dog's greatest joys, so that's consistent with all the other positive things his name is linked with. If the ONLY times your dog hears his name is "Yes, Rover! Good Rover! Rover, here's a treat! Have a massage, Rover!" how does he NOT come when you call him?

A very effective way to verbally correct a dog and avoid his name is to use specific words. "Off!" means stay on the floor or get off of whatever he's on. "Quiet!" means to be silent, not be bark or howl. "Drop!" means to leave something alone or drop it from his mouth. So now you don't need a name! If one or two dogs is/are barking, "Quiet!" not only tells them what to do, it tells all of them exactly who you're addressing! The quiet dogs know you mean the loudmouths! Same with Off, Drop, Back, Out or whatever direction you say.

The point is very simple: Don't use your dog's name to mean contradictory or diametrically opposed things. Use it to mean only good things directed to that dog, and make coming to you a very good thing. I've done this for decades with dozens of my own and thousands of client dogs all over the world. I KNOW it works very well!
Given what I hear about training today, the dogs aren't the only ones confused!

The author, Dr. Dennis Fetko, “Dr. Dog” is a world-renowned animal behaviorist who has appeared on the 20/20 television show, managed the reintroduction of captive-bred Arabian Oryx into the Saudi Arabian National Wildlife Research Center, and made a presentation at the South American Veterinary Congress. His ebook, Dr. Dog’s FAST, EASY FUN Behavior Solutions, reveals his proven methods for eliminating barking, jumping, chewing, digging, pulling and his puppy housetraining methods. Click Here for more information.