That’s my name. Don’t wear it out.


How many of you have heard, or said the following phrase, “That’s my name. Don’t wear it out.”

I recall hearing the above phrase in my childhood. I remember thinking how it seemed like an odd saying, however I now refer to it when consulting with dog owners and helping them train their dog – funny how things change. And how a simple saying can mean so much in terms of dog training.

It’s not whether your dog knows his/her name or not. It’s whether they consider it valuable to respond and are conditioned to do so in different situations. The same applies to any another command/cue/signal.

Commands are directives with a “do it or else” kind of intent. Sure, compliance can be forced but usually a dog will only respond with the very minimum required to avoid displeasure, aversive, correction, etc. Using force, pain or intimidation to train your dog can work, but that is no way to treat a best friend and partner especially when there are better ways!

On the other hand/paw a “cue” is an opportunity to do something. Usually something that one looks forward to if given the chance.  When you train your dog using positive methods they look forward to opportunities to participate in activities with you when you give them a cue.

That’s My Name

Now think – it’s time to train!
First step is to set up the learning environment for success. Start in a low distraction environment where it is easy to teach your dog the right thing, as well as get a pattern of good responses started. Ensure you only say your dog’s name if you think they will hear, and when they do, then make something good happen…errrr, we mean something GREAT happen! They don’t have to respond before getting a reward. Their name predicts a reward! Every time! Meaning, they see you as reliable.

Don’t Wear it Out

Never let your dog learn that they should second-guess you and decide whether or not to respond. Figure out what motivates your particular dog and show them that you will always make it worthwhile to respond when you call their name. Ensure the name has value in different situations. Rewards must trump the environment or the environment may win! Eg. “Rover” means turn your attention towards me, and after that comes…. A car ride, a bike ride, a liver treat… you decide!

Just because your dog knows its name, does not mean they will respond to it. Follow your dog’s name with something good every time. Yes, every time! The something good could be a yummy food tidbit, a toy, a jingle of the car keys promising a ride to the park, and sometimes even a further cue, such as come or sit and THEN the treat, toy, ride….

Keep the Results

Take care to avoid following your dog’s name with something unpleasant. Keep striving to be the kind of person your dog thinks you are. Promise to fulfil your part of the partnership. Be partners through engagement, trust and being a provider of good things in life. Side by side and paw in hand.