What’s in a Name?

“Rugby! Rugby! RUGBY!

We’ve all been there. Yelling our dog’s name in an attempt to stop or create a behavior. But, what’s really in a name? Is there some inherent all-encompassing meaning behind “Rugby”?

In other words, does “Rugby!” mean “Rugby, leave it and come here”? or “Drop it”?
Afraid not. A dog’s name is merely that. His name. It should be used to get his attention. If trained properly it can eventually mean “Look at me.”

Rugby looks at me when he hears his name
Rugby looks at me when he hears his name

To accomplish this, your dog’s name should always be used in a positive manner. It should be paired with some pretty great stuff: treats, attention, toys, affection. That way, it can be effectively used to get their attention in even the most tempting of situations (like chasing a squirrel, etc). Don’t forget, following the name call should be a command, even if you haven’t yet acquired his eye contact. Providing direction via a clear command will increase your chances of getting his attention. Keep in mind that we use dogs’ names all the time, even when we don’t need their eye contact. Therefore, learning that their name means “look at me!” can be challenging.

Ideally, the conversation should go a little something like this:
“Rocco! Leave it. Good! Come!”


If adopting a new companion from a shelter, trainers will often advise you to change the name. This is because that name could have been used for all sorts of punishment or may have been paired with loud and angry tones. Your new rescue dog might even experience anxiety every time he hears his own name. Renaming a dog is always something to consider if his behavior suggests fear of his name. If you strongly wish to keep the name (as I did with Rugby) just make sure to pair it with lots of great things so he can learn to associate his name with love and compassion, rather than frustration and punishment.

If your dog doesn’t respond instantaneously to his name, try playing the name game! Say his name (once) and wait for the desired response (looking at you) then reward with a timely treat or a good! or lots of petting. Repeat that as often as you can and eventually your dog will without fail look at you when you call his name. Have fun!

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