Name recognition is one of the most important commands to teach your dog, if not the most important. It is not only necessary for their safety but just imagine how hard it would be to handle every day if your dog would not respond to your "come" cue. Quite a nightmare, wouldn’t you agree? Luckily, your dog responds immediately and consistently whenever you call him, whether indoors or outside. Have you ever wondered if dogs actually understand their own name, since they always react this way? Let’s find out more about why dogs come when you call their name and if they have the ability to recognize it as their own?
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The Root of the Behavior
Dogs are verbal animal as they communicate with each other and with us through a variety of body language signs and have the ability to understand some basic human words. However, they are equally varied when it comes to understanding the human language, which means that some dogs are more verbal than others. How is that possible?
Dogs respond to habit, food, or tone of voice. They learn words through a combination of deductive reasoning and positive reinforcement. This is why they respond to your commands and perform tricks. The idea is to teach your dog that by calling their name, something wonderful is about to happen. Animals learn their names through classical conditioning, which can be achieved through positive reinforcement, but they will not recognize themselves as such. In other words, they learn to respond to their name, but not identify themselves with it.
Much like in a lot of previous cases, this behavior has sparked numerous debates about whether or not dogs are really able to recognize themselves as the ones who are being called. It is possible that dogs learn to map their names onto this body concept of self or maybe they simply learn their own names without having a full awareness of self. Whatever the case may be, dogs respond to recall because they can read context and body language, and there are plenty of ways to help your furry companion understand when you are talking to them.
The most important thing is that your dog acknowledges that coming to you is the best thing he can do. Whether they are playing in the dog run, hiking with you in a leash-free park, or sneaking through an open door, having a dog come when you call their name can save their lives and protect everyone around them at the same time.
Encouraging the Behavior
We have already established that teaching your dog to come when he is called is the most important lesson you can impart to him. But what if he just does not comply? First of all, you should not take this as simple misbehavior but rather a lack of successful training. If you want to encourage your dog to come when you call his name, forget about punishing him. Instead, focus on consistent teaching, patient repetition, and positive reinforcement. Start with short, five-minute training sessions every day and begin by saying your dog’s name, making eye contact, saying “yes,” and following up with a treat. After doing this several times, increase the distance between you and your dog, using the same positive tone. This will teach your pup to stop what he is doing and look to you for direction and positive reinforcement when you call his name.
Make sure you do not use your dog’s name for punishment or when you are frustrated, otherwise your pup will associate his name with a negative feeling or action, and thus he will not be eager to come. Do not establish this vital command as a negative one because it will give your pup a sense of fear whenever he hears it, and that is exactly what you don’t want.
Other Solutions and Considerations
When you are at the park, never allow your pup to be off the leash until you have taught him the recall command and do not forget about those tasty treats. This is a great safety net not only for themselves but also for everyone else around you. If your pup is busy sniffing a particularly enticing smell, saying hello to another dog, or playing with some leaves, wait until you gain their attention back and after that… call him. More so, while at the park, remember to always take the leash with you so that you can prevent any unwanted behaviors such as leaving or jumping.
If you want to know whether or not your dog knows his or her name, simply call them and see how they respond. If they turn to you and look you in the eye, the answer is yes, if not… you will have to work your way there. With just a little bit of daily training, consistency, and positive reinforcement, you will be able to talk to them just like you would your own best friend.