Have you recently acquired a puppy or a dog either from a breeder or an animal shelter?
What is one of the first things you need to teach it? The answer: ITS NAME
“Of course,” I hear you say. “That’s obvious!”
You would think so wouldn’t you? However, I’m sure you have often heard an owner either calling a dog or trying to get the dog’s attention in order to give it a command, meanwhile the dog is looking anywhere except at its master.
“Jake” (no response). “Jake” (still nothing). “JAKE!!!” (no joy) The pitch and the volume are going up each time but the dog pays no attention.
The next step is: “Jake! JakeJakeJakeJakey!!”
The first problem here is that the dog has not been taught to respond 100% of the time to its name. Add to that the fact that the tone of voice changes with each call, that the dog can sense the mounting frustration and sometimes anger in its owner’s voice and there isn’t a hope in hell of getting it to respond. When the name is then called in rapid succession the sound changes completely so how could the dog possibly even recognise it.
Take human babies as an example, one of the first things they hear repeated over and over is their name, they learn to recognise this sound and to respond to it. As babies grow older they will learn that this sound is their name and as children they will be taught to spell and to write it.
A dog however will never know that the sound it hears is its name any more than it will ever be able to spell or write it. In fact when dogs change owners, often their name is also changed and they have to start again. Dogs have no problem with this as to them it’s just a word; the change may even be a positive thing, eradicating any bad association the dog had with its old name.
So, what to do? Well whether you are starting with a puppy, a dog new to you or you have a dog that pays no attention, you need to start at the very beginning and teach it the word that is its name. Not only that, you must also teach it that this word is associated with good things. This requires patience, a little bit of ‘dog know-how’ and time. How long it takes will depend on the age of the dog and how much time you are able to dedicate to the task, but if you are consistent and get it right the rewards will be enormous.
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