How to Get Your Dog to Do As You Ask
o your dog is not obeying your instructions. She has clearly learned the basic commands of “sit,” “down,” and “come,” but sometimes when you issue those instructions she obeys and sometimes she acts completely clueless and does not respond. This problem is not unique to you and your dog—it is even a concern for expert dog trainers who compete at the highest levels of obedience competition. Fortunately science has an answer that might help you to get your dog to more reliably react to your commands.
I was recently at a dog-training seminar. During one of the breaks, a small group of highly respected dog trainers and dog obedience competitors had gathered together, cardboard coffee cups in hand. They were doing what dog handlers often do when they get together, namely discussing how best to get dogs to do what you want them to do. It was a rather vigorous debate, and this time the issue in dispute was whether or not to use your dog's name as part of the command. The group was all in agreement that it was critical that the dog must be paying attention to the handler in order to get a reliable response, but whether the dog's name was needed to capture that attention was up for debate.
One highly successful dog obedience competitor insisted that if the dog is already paying attention to its handler then using his name as part of the command is not only unneeded, but might actually be a distraction. He argued that the using the dog’s name merely provides the dog with a sound that conveys no additional information in this situation. In fact, this dog trainer suggested that giving the dog's name simply delayed the processing of the actual command and might be a meaningless distraction.
A second member of the group pointed out that dogs live in a sea of human verbal sounds and the dog's name serves to alert the dog to the fact that the next set of sounds coming from the handler's mouth is directed at them, rather than being part of a conversation that you might be having with another human being. She suggested, “If I say ‘Come here!’ how does the dog know who I am talking to? It could be that I was speaking to the person next to me, or perhaps to someone across the room, or if I am in the show ring I could be talking to the judge rather than specifically issuing an instruction to my dog. However, if I say ‘Lassie come here!’ there is no ambiguity and the dog immediately knows that the command was directed at her.”
The third trainer insisted that using the dog’s name was an opportunity to capture the dog’s attention before issuing the obedience command. She said that, especially in compe-