Name Recognition


People often think that they should use their dog’s name as a replacement for the “eye contact” cue, such as “look” or “watch me”. We try to discourage that because every cue is sacred and has a chance of becoming “poisoned” as we say. How does this happen? Picture this: you’re at the dog park and you’re ready to go home so you call your dog – “Fido – come!” Fido doesn’t even look at you. “Fido – COME!” you holler a little louder. Nothing. “COME! COME! COME HERE. NOW! COME!!!” Finally, your dog saunters over looking for a drink of water and you leash up and leave frustrated. You’ve poisoned the cue. You have repeated and nothing good has followed – not good behaviour, not good consequences. The word “come” means little to nothing to your dog now.

Now change gears and picture this – you have trained your dog to look at you when you say their name. It’s working quite well and they’re even coming toward you, anticipating a goodie. You take them for a walk and you meet some people who love dogs and want to say hi to your puppy. “What your dog’s name?”, they ask. “Gonzo”, you reply. Your dog looks at you but you don’t notice as you’re having a conversation. The dog-lovers start cooing your dog’s name as they pet and cuddle and interact. “Gonzo! What a cute name! Hi Gonzo! Gonzo, here! Come here, Gonzo! Gonzo, Gonzo, Gonzo.” The name is repeated, and while your dog may or may not be enjoying this interaction, it’s not helpful for your training. It becomes background noise – something else for Gonzo to ignore.

Your dog’s name is a type of attention-based behaviour, but we don’t recommend that it’s the cue you choose for when you need eye contact urgently. You want them to recognize their name but realistically know that their name is going to get poisoned (turned into background noise) by perfect strangers with good intentions. And that’s okay!

What can you do? The best you can do is to teach your dog to recognise their name and have a separate cue for other behaviours that you can truly rely on.

A good reminder: Try to avoid using your dog’s name when you are upset with them or about to scold them. Bite your tongue and save the happy association your dog should have with their name. 

Check out our Live Training replay video from July 22, 2020 :