WHAT'S IN A NAME? By Patricia Holden White (Secretary of the UK Registry of Canine Behaviourists)

The start of the new autumn term and a host of applications to join the new dog training classes, got me thinking about what we call dogs and how naming reflects on our expectations of them. Dog classes all have their share of Rottweilers called "Tyson" or Jack Russells called "Fang", and frequently they live up to their names. Or rather they live up to what their owners perceive their dogs to be and hence often, wittingly or not, train their dog to be. I am fond of saying to students that if you let a dog exhibit a particular behaviour, good or bad, you are actually teaching them to exhibit the behaviour.




"JO JO!"



The confusion we humans cause in dogs is breathtaking. Most dogs have many names, usually with the same derivation, but still different names. Perhaps the same name in different voices is actually different names to a dog. How well most of them cope. Except when the name is used instead of a command, or worse, in place of several different commands which the dog is supposed to be able to interpret accurately. Couple the multiplicity of names with the many tones of the human voice, and it is a wonder we communicate at all.


We overuse a dog's name perpetually, and that name is floating around the dog in human to human conversation to the point that the name means frequently nothing. It should mean "give me your attention, good things are about to happen." How many people call the dog back from something the dog finds really interesting and then don't even greet the dog. And they wonder why they have an erratic recall.


When was the last time you had a meaningful two-way verbal conversation with your dog? Our bodies are saying so much to each other, and that really is how we communicate with dogs. The dogs knows much more about body language that we humans will ever know. Their observation is quicker than ours, which coupled with their sense of smell and eyesight makes them fabulous communicators. They are the teachers and we the pupils, if only we knew it.


I heard a man in the park yesterday with a Staffie who was trying to submit to a randy Labrador say to his dog "Stand up, Nero, give him one back", as he was trying to drag the dog to its feet. All poor Nero wanted to do was avoid the issue - all his owner wanted was a macho dog, hence the name. Sad.



Gentle or benign names do not necessarily make gentle and benign dogs, but it may be a better commencement to the dog-human interface. That said, the fact that my dogs are named after old English fruit trees (Plum, Quince, Damson, Rowan, Medlar, Gage) proves nothing at all! Or maybe it does!


About the author of this article - Patricia Holden White

I grew up in the US, where my family owned a breeding, show and working dog kennel, specializing in gundogs, hounds and terriers. My stepfather was an international judge, one of the few to judge Best in Show at both Crufts and Westminster (USA). I served as his steward for many years before gaining professional handler and judge status myself.


I emigrated to England in the mid 1960's and have worked dogs in breed showing, racing, gundog trials, obedience, agility and working trials.

My primary concern is pet dogs, maximizing the dog's pleasure in its owner and the owner's pleasure in the dog. Rehoming dogs is a particular interest of mine. I teach at two large London based training clubs, maintain a thriving behavioural service through several vets, as well as being involved in dog rescue and welfare, work with disabled dog owners and as part of a hospital physio unit with my PAT dogs. I am the co-author, with Bruce Fogle, of the NEW Complete Dog Training Manual, as well as Training Advisor for his Dog Breed Handbook Series.


I am a member of the British Institute of Professional Dog Trainers, the UK Registry of Canine Behaviourists, Anglo-American Dog Training, Kennel Club Accreditation Scheme, Association of Pet Dog Trainers (No 392), Full member of the Pet Dog Trainers of Europe, US National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors (No 895), Kennel Club Good Citizen Test Trainer and Assessor, Dog Aid Trainer, and Bach Foundation Registered Practitioner.


This web site has been written by Sally Hopkins (unless the author of the web page is stated otherwise).


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