Monday, August 29, 2011

What's in a Name?

When I started my agility career with Max, my instructor stressed using our dog's name rather than "come" or "here."  I've only half-heeded that advice over the years, but this weekend I ran two courses that reinforced the importance of opting for "Belle" over "come."

Black line = handler's path; blue line=dog's path.
The first was Saturday's Jumpers course.  We had a beautiful run going.  I got in a nice front cross at 18 and took off for the home stretch.  I made two mistakes at this point.  First I didn't realize that Belle's momentum over 17-20 would very likely carry her to the #2 jump.  I assumed my change in direction would be sufficient to indicate where we were going after #20.  

However, I did realize #21 wasn't a given when I walked the course, so I remembered to say "come" as Belle went over #20.  She did come, but unfortunately it was after she took the off-course jump.  I don't know for sure, but I think if I had said "Belle," she would have looked at me and that would have brought the correct jump into her line of sight.

The other course was Sunday's tunnelers course.
I opted for a front cross from 3 to 4 so no verbal was really needed.  After that I very thoughtfully planned where I would be saying "Belle" to achieve the tightest lines we could.  As Belle came out of 4, I tried to say her name soon enough to achieve an efficient turn to 5.  Once Belle makes the curve in 6, she is staring at an inviting line of tunnels, so I used her name here to bring 7 into her line of sight.  I expected Belle to build up a full head of steam while running through 7, and I also thought the off-course red tunnel will be very, very inviting.  A sharp "Belle" as she exits helps to redirect her attention to the correct tunnel.  (Turns out it really didn't have to be all that sharp, but it would have been nice to be a stride earlier with it.)  Lastly, a quieter "Belle" to get from 9 to 10.  (Lots of dogs wouldn't need this many verbal cues to get through this course.  But this was our first tunnelers run since March, and I was hoping to have a fast and clean run.)

In all these examples, I wanted to bring the correct obstacle into Belle's line of sight, since like most dogs she tends to move in the direction she is looking.  I know some dogs are capable of looking back over their shoulder and running more or less forward, but by and large, dogs, like people, move in the direction they are facing.

But why use the Belle's name instead of "come" or "here"?  What happens when you are in a group of people and someone has the same name as yours?  My name is uncommon enough that I turn my head toward the speaker--no thought required.  It's my name.  I'm used to looking up when someone uses it.  But I suspect that even if your name is Tom or Sue, you have the same reaction.  Heck, it was years before I stopped looking around every time I heard some kid say "Mom." :-)

By using my dog's name instead of "come" or "here," I'm tapping into to a whole bunch of training that I've done without even thinking about it.  My dogs respond to their names because they have learned that there's a high probability that something (hopefully something good) is going to happen that concerns them--walks, meals, cookies, belly rubs, or just being let out the door for a potty break.  For most dogs, there is a long history of positive reinforcement connected to their name.

1 comment:

  1. I took a lesson last winter and if I got nothing else out of it, it was using their name instead of "here." It was something I'd never even noticed that I do, but if you go to a trial at the facility where I began my training you'll understand why. The trainer and all of her students are word-vomiting "HERE" all over the place.

    I used the word so much in training and every day life that it had completely lost its meaning to my dogs. Sure they would come, eventually, when they got around to it -- And in agility, that could easily mean "after I take this tunnel right here."

    I immediately began implementing the use of their names. It was harder than I anticipated, as using "here" had become quite the habit over the years. I enlisted the help of a couple of friends to yell at me. :o)

    I have completely banished "here" from my agility commands. I use their names for most everything -- volume tends to dictate how tight of a turn I need (lol), although coming out of tunnels I do use a "tight" command. I do also use "come" when working big distance with Luke, but don't tend to use it otherwise.

    I wouldn't be so anti-"Here!" if I hadn't noticed such an amazing difference in my dogs. Their response when using their names is SO MUCH BETTER. It's one of those agility tips I can't believe nobody told me about sooner.