Because dog confusion is a major obstacle to training success, what you name your dog and how you use that name can determine your success in its training and behavior.
Dogs are vocal, not verbal. How words sound is important to them, so consider that then choosing names and commands. To your dog, the words "No," "Know," "Beau" and "Joe" are the same sound; the dog will have trouble knowing which you mean. If you name him "Beau" and use "No!" as a reprimand, saying: "Beau, you know what I want!" reprimands him twice although you didn't intend a single one! You always want your dog to come to you when you call it, so how much sense does it make to name your dog "Beau" and use "NO!" as your reprimand? It'll have trouble knowing whether you called it or yelled at it.
I like to have a dog choose its name. There are two ways to do this. First, spend enough time with the dog to really get to know its personality and select a suitable name. For example, when new to us my Husky-mix not only jumped on me, he pinned me to the wall and took stuff out of my shirt pocket! I said to my wife: "Look at this! I'm getting mugged!" Naturally, he became Mugger! A client had a very rambunctious Great Dane pup and I love the name she chose: Chaos! Let the dog earn its name!
Another way is to make a list of your favorite names and, in a playful and animated voice, try them on the dog. The one to which the dog reacts best is IT! And it WILL react differently to different names! Try it!
Contrary to popular belief, a dog's name should change with every new owner. The old thought was that once a dog recognized its name you couldn't or shouldn't change it. Wrong. Since many owners make the mistake of using the name with a reprimand, or even AS the reprimand, if you keep the old name you tell the dog you're one of THEM - the former crew. If the dog is now yours, you can't presume former owners did everything right. If they did, you probably wouldn't have it. And you're trying to tell the dog this is a new start in a new home, right? Then why use the old name - especially when it was likely used negatively in the past?
Some say changing a dog's name just confuses the dog. HAH! Every dog I know has about ten names now! Depending upon my mood, it may be Mugger, Muggs, Muggsie, Muggeroo, The Mug, Boy-o, Big Guy, Mug-Shot, Handsome, or some other spur-of-the-moment endearment! Just TRY to tell me your dog only hears ONE name EVER from EVERYONE! And no matter what I call Mugger, he has never seemed confused! If you aren't wild about your dog's name or you've thought of a great new one, you can change it now!
Now that we've all named our dogs so appropriately, next we'll talk about how to USE those names correctly. Be prepared for some surprises!
Many pet owners go through the upsetting experience of having their dog suddenly, with no warning, bite or attack them or another family member. It often happens to a person whom the dog knows well and loves deeply. The first questions they ask me: "Why would he DO such a thing, and to ME of all people?" Good questions.
Upon detailed investigation I often learn that the dog indeed gave no discernible warnings. The bite came totally "out of the blue" and the dog is often upset, solicitous or submissively "apologetic" immediately afterward. Such behaviors only add to owner confusion.
An important tip: Sudden, dramatic behavior changes most often have a physical motive. A dog that always tolerated anyone approaching or even touching its food dish during meals but suddenly bites you for reaching for it may suffer from hypoglycemia – low blood sugar. Many food-protective dogs bite due to hypoglycemia. Although it is often successfully treated, it is very difficult to predict.
Another possible physicogenic motive is a seizure. A seizure can show different signs depending upon where in the brain it occurs. If it occurs in the frontal lobe, the dog will likely show typical grand mal signs of severe trembling, loss of balance and muscle control and possible oral foaming. If the same seizure occurs in the temporal lobe, the overt sign may be an attack. Clinical hyperkinesis may also result in aggression, as can hypothyroidism.
The point is that if your dog suddenly attacks you out of the blue, especially for no apparent reason, don’t overlook a possible physical or medical motive. Behavior normally changes in gradual, progressive steps. Sudden, dramatic changes, especially seemingly beyond the dog’s control, may have a physical or medical motive. Since you cannot control an act the dog cannot control, always consider a physical motive before punishing any behavior. Not only can your active punitive response cause further aggression, even if it doesn’t, it makes no sense to punish an act the dog cannot stop. If you suspect a physical motive, contact me or have your veterinarian or local qualified behaviorist check out and factor for the possibility.