Do you ever feel like your dogs aren’t really listening to you?
For a while, I thought this was fine. It was fine if my dogs generally recalled when I said anything like “MATILDACOW” or “DOGS!” or “COWANDMATILDAITSTIMEFORBREAKFASTWE’REHAVINGFISH.”
But I hadn’t really taught my dogs their names. I hadn’t taught them to use their listening skills to absorb what I was saying so they could actually do what I asked, instead of just hearing my voice and quickly guessing what I wanted.
I also wanted to teach them their names so I could call them individually. Cow tends to trample Matilda, and while Matilda has learned to stay out of her way, it would be nice if Cow could wait her turn, instead of bulldozing through in a rush to be first all of the time.
It’s also times like these when I wonder if dogs are really, truly “people.”
Do they realize they have names, identities, or do they just learn to react to a specific combination of sounds? Does Cow know that Matilda is Matilda, and vice versa?
To help my dogs listen better, learn to wait their turn, and possibly develop a higher level of self-awareness, I played a few games with their Portable Cot from Carlson Pet Products to teach them their names.
I worked with Carlson Pet Products to bring you this post, and like always, I only feature products that I absolutely love and recommend. I used their cot at the dog beach to create a home base where we would rest and snack on fruits, so they already know that good things happen when they hop into their cot. Matilda loves it so much that she dives onto it.
Name Game #1 – Just Your Name, Please
For the first name game I played with the dogs, I worked with them individually. It’s fun to train them together, but when it comes to new concepts, it’s easier to work with one at a time.
I started with Cow. I had her sit on the cot just a foot away from me.
I had her stay, come, and sit on the cot again. Then, I started to call out random names and words instead of her name. At first, I only said one random name before actually calling her. I praised her and rewarded her heavily when she stayed still until I called her.
If she came when I said anything else, I did not give her a treat, I just asked her to sit up on the cot again. Then, I made the exercise easier by calling out fewer names. Pretty soon, she started to listen intently for her own name.
I did the same exercise with Matilda. So, now my dogs were a bit more careful about listening for their names.
To make this even harder, I called out Matilda’s name – while Matilda was not present – and taught Cow not to respond to it. Oops – my dogs had thought, for some time, that they were each both Cow AND Matilda. Or, they may have realized that the sound of either name meant something good was about to happen, and didn’t want to risk missing out on a treat.
Name Game #2 – Just You, Please
Next, I brought my dogs together on the cot.
I called Matilda. Cow usually still followed behind her, so I just asked Cow to step back up on the cot, and gave her a treat when she got there.
At first, I had to be very quick about catching my dogs responding to the same call with separate actions. I needed to both reward Matilda for coming, and Cow for staying. To make it easier, I stayed very close to the cot, and tossed a treat onto it, or into Cow’s mouth, if she managed to stay still for just a moment after I called Matilda. Treating Matilda was secondary because she was already very good at coming to me.
I practiced this a few times without switching dogs. I focused on teaching Cow to stay while I called Matilda. Cow soon realized that it was very rewarding to stay on the cot and gobble up treats as they were delivered to her.
After Cow seemed to get the hang of this, I switched dogs. At first, Matilda kept coming, even though I was now calling Cow. I simply guided Matilda back to the cot and gave her a treat, then rewarded her quickly if she managed to not move when I called Cow. I didn’t allow enough time for her to step off. I didn’t worry as much about what Cow was doing until I was sure Matilda was staying on the cot.
Name Game #3 – Me After You
Now that both dogs had gotten a chance to learn to stay when her sister’s name was called, I was able to try calling both of them, to see if they would wait their turn.
Like the other games, this took some practice to get right. I started in a specific order – Matilda, then Cow, and then switched it up only after they got the hang of the first order.
Then I started adding random names and words to make it more challenging.
You may have seen videos online of people calling large groups of dogs, one by one, by name. In some of these videos, the dogs seem oddly timid. They walk forward slowly, with their heads down, then shuffle by quickly once they’ve crossed the barrier.
I can only suspect that these dogs may have been punished whenever they responded to a name that wasn’t their own. This is an advanced skill; when taught, there’s a strong chance that your dog will make mistakes. You don’t need to punish those mistakes to create quick, precise advancement. It’s totally unnecessary.
Dogs are clever. If you simply as the “wrong” dog to step back into the designated waiting area (in my case, clearly marked with the elevated cot), and only reward them when they make the right choices, they’ll enjoy these games much, much more, and they’ll be eager to learn.
Dogs will never gain a humanlike sense of self-awareness. Names are never going to mean much to them. And this game is not truly important; it’s not worth making your dog anxious if they are getting frustrated and keep making mistakes, even if that just means missing out on a treat.
To make name games easier, stay close to your dogs, and shorten your timing. If your dog makes a mistake, set them up to succeed, even if they don’t understand the concept yet.
Portable Cot Giveaway From Carlson Pet Products
Ready to teach your dogs the name game? You can win a portable cot like ours from Carlson Pet. Must be 18+ and live in the USA to win. Buy yours today from Carlson Pet Products.