Dog training tip - what does your dog's name mean to him?

I was in the park with my client and we were working on off leash control strategies with his rambunctious one-year-old Border Collie mix. Jake was not too interested in anything at the moment besides the squirrel jumping from branch to branch in a big oak tree. My client was calling Jake repeatedly before I asked him what he wanted Jake to do when he called his name. My client told me that he wanted Jake to come to him when he called. I then asked him if he wanted him to come to him every time when he called him. "Yes, he said, but I sometimes want him to look at me when I say his name so I get his attention so then I can ask him to do something else."

"Jake!, Jake!, Jake!"

That is a problem. Using one cue for multiple meanings can be very confusing for dogs. These are contextual cues or cues that your dog has to think about the context of the cue based on the situation. To create snappy, reliable responses, teach one cue for a specific meaning and then condition that cue by practicing numerous repetitions until the cue and the resulting behavior are fixed in your dog's personality.

It is very common for people to use their dog's name in a variety of situations. The most common uses of meanings for a dog's name include "Don't jump on the guests", "come here", or "look at me."

Another common contextual cue is, "leave it". I frequently see people use "leave it" to mean both "leave that object alone" and "drop that object". Instead of using "leave it" for both meanings, you should separately teach "leave it" which means "do not go near that object or put it in your mouth" and "drop it" to mean "open your mouth".

So, the takeaway from all of this is to take a step back and make sure your dog understands exactly what each cue means that you are teaching. Do not expect your dog to understand different meanings of the cue based on the situation. Your dog's name might mean, Come, Leave It, or just meant get your dog's attention similar to a "Watch me" cue.

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