What’s in a dog’s name

Nov 11 2014 : Mirror (Bangalore)

I lazily rubbed Nishi’s belly with my foot, as she slept curled up near my foot. “Nishi“, I whispered. She cocked her ears. “Tigger“ I said and Tiggy looked at me with one eye open and went back to bed. So…they know who was who. I mean, they knew their names. Their names were just that ­ a way to address them. They were not commands. Just a way of addressing them and it’s important to keep it that way.

Name recall is very different from name recognition.Name recall aims to convert the name of a dog to a command that means “come here and sit down“. When done that way, who would feel good when their name is called?
For this reason, I rely on sound recall instead. A sound recall is building recall to a unique sound that your dog responds to. It’s an emotional-less sound.
Name recognition, on the other hand, is a way to address your dog in a very pleasant way. When you say his name, he should feel joy that he is being addressed. So the first thing to do is to do away with expectations of what the dog should do when his name is called. The question is, what can we do to build positive associations with his name.
Of course, the standard first step is to use your dog’s favourite treats and say the dog’s name and . But over time, it can be used in several fun situations. It can be used to tell a night-time story to the dog. Just find many many ways of saying the dog’s name in a positive situation.
The biggest roadblock to this is nicknames. We tend to give nicknames to dogs. That’s okay. Nishi’s nickname is Barbie and Tigger’s is Blue. It’s quite natural to use a dog’s nickname when we are happy with them and shower them with love. But when there is a transgression of any kind, it’s natural to use their actual name. Over time, the dog comes to realise that when called by their real name, they are in trouble. That’s ok too if we maintain consistency. After having taught the dog that his real name means trouble, you cannot take your dog to a social gathering and introduce him by his real name. He is likely to be on edge the whole evening, wondering what he did wrong.
The best way to handle this is avoid teaching name recall and stick to name recognition. Secondly, avoid yelling at your dog. If your dog is doing something naughty, just go calmly up to the dog and take away what is keeping him busy and just ignore him. Have fun with nicknames, but after you have taught your dog his real name and it’s well ingrained in him. Don’t convert his name to a command.Let it just be his name. It’s his one thing. A source of joy when called, when he knows someone is thinking of him and that there could be something fun coming up for him.
A final word of warning. Please don’t go straight from home to a crowded place and call his name out and expect him to bound back. No such thing is going to happen. Using name to recall a dog requires separate training and even then should be rarely used in crowded places. Let the notion of the perfect recall go and work on management, use of good equipment like the right leash for the right place and a harness.
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