Whether you carefully chose your dog’s name yourself or bought or adopted a dog that already had a name and stuck with it, the chances are that you use your dog’s name several times a day, as part of normal conversation and to directly speak to your dog, catching their attention and as a precursor to commands.
However, if your dog doesn’t seem to recognise their name or only responds to it when it suits them, there are a multitude of different reasons for why this might be. This can in turn lead to a whole range of problems, including being unable to catch and keep your dog’s attention, deliver effective commands, and otherwise, not be able to communicate with them as effectively as you need to.
This means that you will need to work with your dog to improve their recognition of and compliance with the use of their name – which means first, working out what is going on and why your dog doesn’t seem to register the use of their name.
In this article, we will look at the reasons behind why a dog might not recognise or respond to the use of their name, and how you can tackle the issue from there. Read on to learn more.
The first step is to work out whether or not your dog actually recognises their name as their name and is just ignoring it when it suits them, or if they genuinely don’t associate their name with themselves.
If your dog looks to you or responds when you use their name at some points, then they do know what it is – but if your dog doesn’t raise an ear, turn their head or look at you in any situation that you might call their name, they may not – or can pick out the sound of their name, but don’t assign any meaning to it.
If you are sure that your dog doesn’t recognise their name or doesn’t assign any meaning to it, consider why this might be.
Do you only use your dog’s name when you are telling them off, or recalling them to go home? If your dog associates their name with only negative situations, they will be keen to avoid and ignore it, because it doesn’t mean anything good for them. However, if you use your dog’s name now and then to get their attention to give them a treat or other form of reward, your dog will be much more likely to listen and look to you.
Is your dog’s name short, clear and distinct? If their name is very long or confusing, without a distinct sound to it, or a sound that sounds similar to other words they might know, they will not necessarily recognise the meaning of the name itself.
Similarly, if you also use nicknames or short forms of their name commonly, your dog is very likely to react with confusion due to a lack of consistency, or think that a different word is their name.
If you use your dog’s name too often, this can lead to a form of learned irrelevance – your dog will be so used to hearing their name spoken in all manner of tones of voice and different contexts that it becomes meaningless to them, and so they tune it out.
On the other hand, if you don’t use your dog’s name enough, they will not hear it enough to assign meaning to it, and know that it is their moniker and form of address.
If your dog will respond to their name when only certain people say it, but not others, this may be because they recognise a specific handler and their working methods, but another member of the family that is largely ignored or uses the dog’s name differently may not register. This comes down to a combination of the meaning the dog assigns to their name in different scenarios, and also, their relationship with the respective people they deal with.
Many working dogs that are used to working with one handler or a set of handlers that all work in the same way – like farm Border collies – might not take commands or respond to their names when given by someone else!
These are just a few of the most common reasons behind why your dog might not recognise or respond to the use of their name, and if you can work out which one is in play with your own dog, you will have a head start on resolving the issue.
If your dog’s name is too long, complicated or unclear, they might never recognise and respond to it, which means you may need to use a shorter form of their name or give them another name entirely. The same is true if the name word is too similar to another word your dog knows, such as the word for a certain command – you will have to change one of the words in question.
When you can use your dog’s name and get their attention, you can consider them to know and respond to their name – and so being careful to use your dog’s name regularly when speaking to them but avoiding using their name as part of a background stream of chatter is important.
Also, use treats to incentivise response to the name – and don’t use your dog’s name solely or mainly to recall them or put an end to their fun.