Using your dog’s name in agility training

name-tagI had (what some would call) a true “blond moment” the other day, when I was waiting at the hospital to get some blood drawn. The woman came out with her clip board and called ‘Pamela’. I looked at her. She looked at her clipboard again and called my name again. I looked at her intently, and asked, ‘What did you say?’. She said “Pamela’. It then hit me, she was talking about me! I laughed and said, “I was expecting you to call out last names. So when you said Pamela, my first thought was ‘Isn’t that funny? Someone has a last name the same as my first name!'”.

Okay, you can laugh at me. But it WAS early in the morning, and I hadn’t had my coffee yet. Plus, the brain can be a funny thing. Sometimes it gets stuck on something and it can impair our thinking, all but briefly!

I was thinking of this in relation to agility training. It’s very tempting to use our dog’s names a lot when trying to get their attention and do the obstacles we desire them to do. But its not a recommended practice. Dogs primarily associate their names to the activity of “coming”. Or at least, to give YOU focus, including looking into your eyes. Now, this may be fitting if your dog is running away from you, in an opposite direction, to call his name. It also can be useful if your dog has to make a sharp turn, and you are afraid he might run the wrong direction. But generally, you want your dog focused on the path ahead, and watching for your general body language cues. Not disrupted by having to give you a more full glance because you carelessly called his name at a time that really wasn’t necessary. This can slow up his speed and accuracy, and if overused, you will wear out the effectiveness of using his name when you really need it.

Now, if you do have to call your dog’s name, and he looks at you funny, be forgiving, okay? I can certainly understand what its like to have a mental block! 🙂

2 Comments on “Using your dog’s name in agility training

  1. I teach agility part-time whenever I don’t have to be at that other job (you know, the one that actually paid for all the equipment, shoes, traveling expenses,etc.). It has always been a challenge to get students to stop calling their dog’s name. One thing that I do with people whose dog has grasped the concept already, is to have them run silently. Even if the dog starts to leave the desired course, students are charged with having to retrieve their dog’s attention without talking to them.
    Another training tip that I have done is, on the first visit to the agility field, I take the student (minus the dog) out onto the field and we walk around talking about the dog, what treats he likes, what his home life is like etc., as we roam aimlessly around the field. I then explain to the student what I have been doing. They, believeing I know where I am going, followed me, turned when I turned, stopped when I stopped and looked at me when I said their name. I tell them that their dog will do this same thing, will follow them, will stop when they stop and will look at them when they say their name. Then I walk them up to the raised end of the see-saw and without saying anything motion for them to walk on the other side with a slight wave of my hand. “What might have happened if I had distracted you by saying your name just as you walked right up to that board?” Saying the dog’s name distracts them from the course ahead.

    • Suzette,

      I think every trainer can take a lesson from your example. I just read this quote today that says, “The best leaders…almost without exception and at every level, are master users of stories and symbols” (by Tom Peters, business writer). That’s what you are employing, to drive home the importance of owners thinking like their dog thinks, concerning over-using their dog’s names.

      Thanks for sharing this!