How many times have you said your dog’s name, and nothing else, when you wanted her to come, or sit, or stop jumping up, or . . . ? It seems to be universal, this tendency to say a dog’s name, and then assume they know what we want them to do without any more information. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone say “Butch!” or “Blackie!” and then wait for the dog to do something, I’d be a wealthy woman today. Literally.
Ah but, I’ve done it too. Not very often, quite rarely actually now, but on occasion it still happens. But I hear it all the time, because it seems to be something we humans do around our dogs, until we learn not to. We don’t do it with our human friends, at least, not very often. (There’s a great comedy skit in there somewhere.) Given that mind reading is not well developed in the skill set of the domestic dog, it’s surprising that saying a dog’s name, and nothing else, is so common.
If you know my work you know I love analyzing how we communicate, and miscommunicate, with our dogs. Which is why I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, especially after hearing a dog’s name said over and over again recently, while the owner got frustrated because the dog wasn’t doing what he wanted. (Coming when called.)
This brings up the question of how we use a dog’s name, and I’d love to have a conversation with you about it. Ideally, I think a dog’s name should be used exactly as we use it with people. Usually, if I say someone’s name, I am telling them that I want their attention, and I would appreciate some sign that I have it. Perhaps they might turn their head toward me, or keep looking away but saying “Yes?” However, I don’t necessarily expect that from a dog, in part because a dog might twitch an ear, or do something more subtle that signifies attention that I might not notice. (Someday our dogs are going to turn around and say “WHAT?” I just hope I am alive to see it.)
Mostly, then I’ll say the name, and then an action, like “Skip, that’ll do,” (stop working sheep and come to me), or “Maggie, lie down.” But as I think about it, I often use a dog’s name said twice as a recall. “Skip Skip!”, often followed by hand claps, is one of my recalls. As I write this, I realize that I also use a name said twice as a release, for example, at the door. Interesting… not ideal to use the same cue for different actions. But I don’t see any sign that it confuses the dogs, so I assume it’s context related.
What I don’t do, at least do very rarely, is use a dog’s name as a correction. I’ll admit to having done so on occasion, when I’m tired and hangry and being all primate-ish and Maggie has a huge piece of cat poop in her mouth after having diarrhea all night long and . . . You get the idea. I am sure that there are those reading this post that have never used their dog’s name as a correction in their lives. My hat is off to you, but the rest of us mortals do have a bad moment or two in life. I say we should forgive ourselves for it, note the circumstances in which it happened and guard against it happening again. Agree?
I’d love to hear how and when you use your dog’s name to communicate. How many different meanings does it have, depending on the tone? What do you expect your dog to do when you say it? Are there times you avoid using your dog’s name? I’m all ears . . .
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: We had mixed results at the Cedar Stone Sheepdog Trial last weekend. (I’m going to write more about that next week, and will include videos of some of the runs.) Skip and I had some good runs, and it feels like we are starting to work together as a team. He did some really nice work, I made some good decisions and some not so good ones, but overall I’m happy with how it went. Most of our lost points were simply from my lack of making the right split-second decision. Not so with my Maggie girl, who yet again got beaten by this particular flock of sheep. Lots more to come on that next week.
We’re at peak color here in southern Wisconsin, and it’s just gorgeous. We don’t have the electric color of our northern forests, which are full of maples glowing with their boisterous red, orange and salmon pinks. But it’s still gorgeous here, and I’m soaking it up as much as I can, as if one could store colors in their soul like a brown bear stores fish fat for the winter.
Here are a few from the Maple in our yard:
Here’s the same tree in front of the barn in different light and a few days ago:
I love the carpet of color it leaves (leafs?):
There’s not a lot prettier than Polly having deep cat thoughts on a fall day:
Far less pretty is the invasion of the Asian Lady Beetle. (A non-native, NOT a lady bug, who was brought over in one of those badly-thought out attempts to fight another pest, aphids.) This photo doesn’t begin to show how thick they were, and how horror movie-like it is when they are when they are in full force. Jim and I were outside working on one of the worst days, and you had to be covered up completely (on a hot day) because they bite. They also smell horrific, and can be so thick they fly into your mouth, nose, etc. They make cloudy and rainy days extra nice!
Here’s hoping your only invasions were of only good things this week.
If it is confession time, I suppose I often use his name to get his attention when he’s doing something I do not want him to do. He’s a wonderful dog, but he can explode with excitement at inopportune times. When this occurs, his name can often be the first thing that blurts from my mouth….loudly from my mouth, which I am sure adds to his excitement. (I need to work on that) His name is followed by a command. Usually “come” or “sit” (if he did respond quickly to me and I think I have a chance), or “get over here” (if he looks ready to ignore me completely). He’s praised for responding to come or sit, so not sure if his name is used as a correction in these instances.
His name is used positively as well. He’s “Dog Number One” – a phrase used after his name when we announce him every morning and a phrase I am sure he associates with breakfast – so good things! He runs down the hall into the kitchen while we applaud him. ….hmmmm wonder if we are contributing to his excitement issue…but it’s fun for all in this instance!
And if I have his attention, no need for his name to be used – a request (command) is all that I use.
Those lady beetles look huge!
We do it with our children. We shouldn’t, but we do. It’s because they’re either doing something we want them to stop doing or not doing something we want them to do. So if I’m in the supermarket and my kid isn’t paying attention to the fact that I’m moving to another aisle or they’re touching something they shouldn’t, just saying their name is often enough to get what I want.
I find that I use the cue “come on” to mean “do what I want you to do” without being specific enough. I’m working hard to stop
Wendy S. Katz says
Being a Crazy Dog Lady who lives alone, I suspect my fault tends more toward chattering to my dogs than to saying their name with no followup. I do have a substitute name (MADAM! for the girls and BUSTER! for the boys) for those moments when emotion overrides best practice.
Trisha, I have to thank you for writing about drying tomatoes in the oven (was it last summer? Two years ago?). I tried it this year with a variety that is prolific but not that tasty when raw. Now 4 trays of them are bagged in the freezer. They are divine on sandwiches!
I started trying to count how many ways I use my dogs’ names, and rapidly came to the conclusion the number is as near infinite as makes no difference. And I am guilty of using it as an interruptor, especially under the circumstances you mention – Poppy has liver failure, which causes diarrhoea, and on steroids for it, which causes ravenous scavenging. After a few nights broken by trips up and down the stairs, scrubbing floors when I am too late, and cradling her in the one position that eases her discomfort, I lose the ability to avoid yelling her name in tones of fury when I spot her sneaking off towards the neighbour’s bird table…
But mostly I use names as an attention grabber, or request for a check in when the dogs are out of sight. Sophy is particularly good at understanding the difference between a long drawn out “Ser-HO-phy” meaning “Where are you?” and “Sophy, come!”. On the whole I think they take more information from tone and context than specific words, even their names – just as well as I frequently call them by each other’s name, or even get them mixed up with the cats. I am reminded of my father reciting all the family’s names in order to eventually hit on the right one!
I have a habit of saying my dog’s name excitedly when we’re out walking. As soon as they look up at me, I praise the dog. I usually try to get to all the dogs that I’m walking at least once. To me, saying their name is my way of asking them to look at me. If I have further instruction, I’ll give it, but if I don’t, simply looking is how they get rewarded/praised.
Lynn Ungar says
I do use my dogs names as a recall cue, saving “come” for a formal obedience recall with a sit in front. And I do use it to have them orient to me. I have certainly been known to use a name as a correction (Tesla! Get your paws of the counter!) But mostly they have “bad dog” names for that (Missy! Sir!). And, of course, “Dude!”
Vickie Julka says
Ha! That reminds me of when I asked our 4 year old grandson whether he liked being called Jasper or JJ. His response was JJ and then followed up with, “But I don’t like Jasper Joseph!”
You can imagine when that comes out!! Have a wonderful, autumn day!
Terri Jambor says
We do speak to our dogs, using their names as we would if we were speaking to a human being. But I have to admit, that my voice gets higher and louder when I catch Barclay with cat poop in his mouth!!!! I feel that our dogs’ command of the English language is superior because we are constantly talking to them, especially during the Pandemic, when we are at home all the time. Barclay & Dotti both love it when I use an excited voice saying their names, such as “Let’s go to the Dog Park, Barclay & Dotti. But I think the words Dog Park are the key words, versus their names. Having two dogs, it is almost imperative to use their names so that they know which one we are addressing. How lonely and empty life would be without them.
TERRI OPGENORTH says
We are TOTALLY guilty of using our dogs’ names as a correction! I do agree with the above poster though that they seem to know what we mean anyhow!
I will work on it…my husband, not so much!
I just wish he would quit yelling. My Crazy BC was actually shaking this morning because he yeslled at the other two for a skirmish.
Anne Johnson says
I have learned that using my dog’s name to recall when I really want him to come (because it may be he might get into trouble, like when he was barking at a spraying skunk last week) pairing it with a happy voice and asking him to run with me does work. It isn’t my first instinct, but I have rewired my brain to do the recall this way. I have a reactive Aussie. He is a challenge at times. But thank my lucky stars he does well when called away. He even picked up something the crows dropped in the yard yesterday and went after it. I called him back to me. The darn crow never thanked me, but did come back to retrieve what it had dropped. And Tank did not get to chow down on whatever it was, saving me much grief! Yes, happy recall is better than the angry tone, which often they will ignore because they are thinking, “oh boy, I’m in trouble again.” Dr. London helped me practice this, by the way.
carolyn grodinsky says
Calling my dog’s name, Elsie, always means good things and usually I just use her name to get her attention to look at me, come in the kitchen for a treat, come and stop barking (all inside). When I’m outside with more distractions, I’ll add come or whatever I want her to do.
Ronda Warywoda says
I never realized how important their name was until we named a new dane puppy Jinkies (from Scooby Doo). She came with a multitude of physical and behavior challenges but no matter how frustrated we were we could not help but smile when we said her name, which helped keep us from showing her how frustrated we were. All of my behavior and training sessions start with Name Game as I explain that this should simply be a way to ask for your dog’s attention. It should not mean “you did wrong” “don’t do that” “do this” because dogs are not psychic. They may be able to guess what we mean based on tone, inflection, surroundings but it should be on us to give them that context and it should always be a positive that they are responding to their name.
I tend to follow up my dog’s name with what I want him to do, BUT… big exception: I just realized that when I want him to come to me (generally in from the yard), I “stretch out” his name and use an intonation pattern a lot like the traditional “ding-dong” of a doorbell. In this situation, if calling his name in that specific way doesn’t work, I’ll add the verbal cue: an excited, “Front!” and often the traffic-cop visual cue. And if NONE of that works (true confessions: neither of us is perfect), I’ll make a big deal of pretending I’m digging a treat out of my back pocket. My last-ditch attempt (LOL) is to say, “Oops! I dropped it!” and point at the ground near me. Sounds silly, but it hasn’t failed me yet. He’s 3.5 years old, and it amazes me that I can now stand at the kitchen sink and call him in from clear out in the yard, and he comes running–at which point we throw a giant “praise party” either with or without a tasty morsel or two.
I try really hard to only use my dogs’ names to get their attention. BUT chaos sometimes only allowes my brain one syllable! Plus, they’re just so darn smart that they can usually tell by my tone when I mean “Rey, leave it.” Or “Jax, come” having said only their name. This is a great reminder to be more mindful about that. Thank you! Also thanks for the photos of Fall. It’s still 88 degree-shorts weather in Louisiana, so I can only dream…
So yes! I do use my old girl’s name as a correction in a sharpish voice. Ivy! Coming up high on the Y. This is followed by a knock on the window. The situation always is around her poop issues. She wants privacy while out in the yard doing her duty. But I can spot her from the kitchen window, when she thinks she’s out there all alone, she will do the deed and then take a sneaky bite or two if I don’t catch her. She is 12 now, and has done this all of her life. Even though I do use her name in a different tone than usual, I am hoping she will lift her head, drop the poop, and feel a little guilty and shuffle away. It works for us. The other thing my agility instructor said I do all the time is call my boy: Pan here! and pull him toward me and off a jump. It’s good to have someone video you while training because you will hear and see cues that you are giving your dog which may be confusing him.
I’m with Diane. I have often used my dog’s name to mean “Stop doing whatever it is you’re doing and pay attention to me.” For instance, one dog compulsively licks the other dog, which prompts a “Maisie!” to get her to cut it out and come over to me if she needs something to do.
I say their names all the time, but I would think each time sounds very different to them. There is a marked difference in how their name sounds when I’m calling them to come (rising up at the end, almost melodic) to when I’m annoyed (lower tone and going down). And sometimes I just call their name to see if their head will turn toward me and it never does, but if I ask a question (“Do you wanna…”) then their head will whip around. They seem so tuned into how you say something, that it’s almost like a different word to them. Beautiful fall photos!
Cathy Balliu says
I know I overuse the dog’s name on the trial field. Usually I’m trying to get their attention so I can give instructions. So “BEN!!!!!” can be followed by, “come by” or even”WHATAREYOUDOINGLISTENTOME!!!” I guess I’m hoping that the tone of voice conveys the message although I’m certainly leaving a lot up to the dog’s interpretation. Kinda like “NO” which may let the dog know you’re unhappy but not what you’re unhappy about. There was a tendency for quite a while in sheepdog training to let your dog perform an action and then correct them with a “Hey” or “Ah” or “No”. Now I try to interrupt and then give information. But there is still the ubiquitous “Get out of that!” Whatever that means lol
Debby Gray says
I also use my dog’s name as a way of interrogating an unwanted behavior. When I call him to come I say his name twice. But of course I’m also confusing because I’m not consistent and sometimes call “Monty man” instead of “Monty Monty”
I want to continue the theme of thanking you for a previous blog post. A couple of years ago you wrote about the high suicide rate of veterinarians. You suggested doing something for them and their office staffs to let them know how much they were appreciated. I just returned from a trip to my vets’ office after bringing them bagels and spreads from a local restaurant. This is Vet Tech week and I’ve done this every year since your blog post. Thank you for the great idea!
I do say “Olive” to get her attention and then I say what I’d like her to do. I can’t remember if it was your book or this blog (or both) that warned of the name-only vocalization without any other information being a good way to train your dog to ignore you or worse have a negative response to her name. It stuck in my head as very good advice.
I do admit when I am irritated with her, I will sometimes let out an “Olive Freeman!” (Freeman being my partner’s last name 😉
We also have a dozen nicknames that we will spew out randomly. I put this in a different category because they are usually said as a term of affection or play or goofiness and are not linked to a request or correction. (I imagine it sounds more like the teacher in Peanuts to her: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q_BU5hR9gXE
Diana Booth says
I use 2 names. Started accidently with using silly nicknames to talk about the puppy, but discovered not using the name added value and better compliance to the other name.
Last dog’s registered name was Camelot. When I spoke about her she was Cami. When I wanted her to do something she was Lotti. I teach *look at me* as a command. If I mistakenly say the command name I can always give the command *look at me* .
D’Artagnan came to us with a reputation as an escape artist and the very first thing he did when allowed off leash in the yard was to patrol the entire fence and take note of any place there was a weakness. He has never tried to escape and even now that he’s earned the privilege of being unsupervised in the yard he hasn’t tried to escape but I retain a lingering fear that he’ll decide to go walk about if the temptation strikes. When I go outside and don’t see him I’ll call his name with an under current of fear in my voice. He’s learned that this means he needs to show himself to me. If he’s just sleeping in his bush cave he’ll pop his head out so I can see it; if he’s around on the other side of the house he’ll come around to where I can see him. If I want him for something, we’re going to go somewhere or I have something for him I’ll call his name in a different tone and he knows that one means to come to me. I use his name a lot but in different tones and the tone tells him what I want him to do.
My dogs all learn a cue that I joke means ‘read my mind.’ I tend to be a person of few spoken words which I suspect my dogs appreciate. They know that if I’m making mouth noises at them it’s probably relevant and they should pay attention. They also learn that if I say their name followed by a chirp they should read my face to figure out what I want. People who don’t know much about dogs find it very impressive since it looks like the only cue I use for most things is the dog’s name. In fact their name coupled with a chirp means pay attention and the eyes, eyebrows, and slight gestures of my head indicate what I want them to do. So “D’Artagnan, chirp, eyes to his back end, chin up then down” and he sits. We train verbal cues as well but I’m more likely to use the non-verbal. It works for us.
Glorious fall color photos. My maples are still more green than gold but I’ll take it.
I have a bad habit of using my dog’s name too often when doing agility training, and I am sure when we are at a trial. In agility saying a dog’s name makes the dog shift from “object focus” looking at the next obstacle to “handler focus” looking at the handler and tends to make the dog move toward the handler. I need a shock collar that will give me a jolt anytime I say her name at the wrong time.
Jenny Haskins says
I think that we convey and great deal from our tone of voice.
And I think dogs are more attuned to this than humans are.
“Body Language” Allan Pease
“Albert Mehrabian found that the total impact of a message is about 7 percent verbal (words only) and 38 percent vocal (including tone of voice, inflection and other sounds) and 55 percent non-verbal.”
Or in other words, we can convey a great deal to our dogs merely using nothing by their name. Of course we do this also with our partners, children, as well as strangers.
Jenny Haskins says
Sallee! means ‘we are working, so listen!’
SallEEEE! means ‘stop whatever you are doing , and come back here to me!!
Sal, means ‘come to me for a smooch’. So does poppet, sweetie.
Sallee means Sallee, n0t you Ironbark or Millie!
My Love means ‘come here and let be kiss it better’ 🙂
Lynn Reeve says
my dogs are trained that their name means eye contact. if that is all i want the next thing they hear is good girl. if i want more, i tell them more …. sit, come, out, off, etc. but i do use the name as a warning too … but in a less happy tone. don’t know how often i said vic-tor-ia a bit disapprovingly when she was growing up!!
I am terribly guilty with this “name as correction” both with my dogs and with my child. I’ve gotten better about it over the years, but it has taken work (and humility and kicking myself).
I do do exercises with my dogs asking them to sit and watch me, then say a name and gently give a verbal ‘uh’ or gently guide them back to where they were and treat a LOT for just sitting as I say their name. I do this around meal time, in the car before going out or in, and on the trials. Then I will use their name with a pause and say ‘sit’ or ‘down or ‘come’ or ‘back up’ or ‘OK’ (that is about our limit). I can say that even with my BIG slip ups of an exaggerated “Heidi!” or “Jippy”… well they do seem to know that their name is a “tune into me for further direction”. I even sometimes just say their name and as they look at me in anticipation I say, “you are such a good dog…” and I swear they smile and wag their tail.
“Dog number one” getting announced and applauded every morning- now that is fabulous!
I definitely “try not to wear it out” but, while I started by trying to never say a dog’s name without a cue, the longer I have lived with dogs the less important that has become to me. As I was lying in bed typing this on my phone, my partner used Crackers’s name once for attention, then perfectly imitated the specific pitch interval and syllabic length I developed for his recall to get him to come the two feet closer to get him into his sleeping spot so he could help him with his blanket. We have never discussed this. It’s not that I never use a recall cue, but my dogs develop enough of an understanding of the situational context and vocal undertones in routine situations that we have what’s effectively a contraction in our cue lexicon. It hasn’t seemed to make behaviors at a distance much more difficult although we mostly work pretty close. And mostly one dog at a time too. I don’t teach it or demonstrate it for clients because that subtlety is a distraction from the more important core concepts. I wonder how many trainers fully practice what they teach?
My partner and I do, on the other hand, talk about the dogs a great deal and use Mr. C, Mr. Z, or Ms. H if we aren’t talking to them directly. Very rarely one of us catches the other addressing one by their 3rd person title and then we are very embarrassed. But I think it’s paid off with great name response (and more chill down time, important for the anxiety-prone).
As for scolding, sometimes a name in horrified tones is better than a very loud NO in horrified tones when only one dog is doing the appalling thing. But I don’t tend to be easily horrified so the occasional honest slip up on my side will stop a dog in its tracks, which is kinda what I want if the occasion is so extreme as to elicit that kind of response from me. If it happens, it’s a spot we will spend lots of future positive training time on; not just for the dog’s sake, but so that I can develop a better reaction myself.
I think we learn name-scolding, with many other correction techniques, as children from our parents. Those family-of-origin parenting techniques have a way of creeping up on one as an adult, especially under stress. I just hate the thought of me saying their names being scary, so we work hard at making our words and voices as positive as we can!
I’m in Northwest Wisconsin and I have to agree on two things…. the Fall colors here are amazing and the Asian beetles are horrible! We live near soybean fields where the aphids are so it’s doubly bad in warmer days. They definitely make you appreciate the cooler weather!
Thanks for all your posts!
Barbara Brebner says
I doubt that you remember a letter I sent to you and Larry maybe nine or ten years ago. I was a at my wits end with the most challenging puppy ever, and I was about to give up. All I can say is that I am so very happy I never gaveup on my Monkey. He ended up being the finest, most easily trained dog, ever. He was willing to do anything I asked, and he would do things in the most remarkable ways. I never heard back from you but we found our way to a brilliant connection and had a world of love and communication.
Don’t leave anyone without a response, even if it is just a “don’t give up” or any other words of encouragement. I was certain I had somehow broken my dog and was on my own trying to glue him back together. I know now that Monkey was on his own schedule, and we really can’t rush greatness.
He died very young and every single day my heart aches for his love and devotion.
I will measure every dog against him (not fair, I know) and I will never love this Border Collie in quite the same way, I guess that love is reserved for my Monkey.
Everyone looks for a response from someone we hope can help.
Sometimes it just doesn’t happen. When you are hurting it is easy not to understand that that person who you sought to respond to your needs may have had other things going on with their lives. In the end you resolved your issue with your wonderful dog, who you now miss so much. Now try to understand that your new dog needs you, just as much as you needed advice and comfort. You will always hold a special place for that special dog….but try to make room for others that need care and love.
Kelly Schlesinger says
Speaking of bears getting ready for winter, have you seen this?
Sadly, it is too late to vote, but it seems writers, readers, and bears had a good time with this contest.
Karol Butcher says
I’m working with a 10 month old Spinone. On a good day he’s a lemon brain and I try to remember that he’s not as mature as he looks. On a bad day it’s practically impossible to get his attention. I’m currently training him to sit next to me after a recall. He’s great with the recall but wants to get back out into the field pronto so focusing on me is a challenge – even with beef liver treats in my hand. I admit that I overuse his name under those circumstances. What I’m teaching myself to do instead is to lightly touch or tap his head as I say his name. That gets his attention long enough to follow the next command. To be fair to the pup, this is done while we’re out with other people & dogs so it’s a swirl of distractions.
I’ve really tried to always be consistent, with name, the cue, then a yes (assuming I’ve set them up for success to respond!). I think also many of us have oodles I’d nicknames for our dogs and they seem to respond to those just as well. If Emmie is eating her poop and I’ve not gotten to it yet it’s her full name, Emerson!, in a tone that is desperate for her to stop. On the other hand, I use her full name or Apache’s (mostly will call him Pitch) if they’ve done something really well and I’m praising the heck out of them. Apache has also though heard his “full name” when he’s been rude, like pushing our senior out of the way sometimes. He’s soft though, so I try not to do this but I’m human and it happens.
Madison Finley says
Most of the time I call my dog’s name when I want his attention, otherwise he’d be doing his rounds around the house. ha Your farm looks pretty awesome, it makes the fall season even more welcoming.