Teaching Your Dog: The Meaning of Language

Teaching your dog the meaning of language

Teaching Your Dog: The Meaning of Language

My name is not a command!

Teaching your dog the meaning of language and commands is a major part of owner and dog communication. You can train your dog using his name before a command as in “Joe Come” or even use his name as encouragement after calling him but his name itself should never be used alone as the command.

Say for instance, you always call your dog’s name, “Joe”, to get him to come to you. The word “Joe” has now taken on the meaning of the command “Come”. Likewise, if you yell the dog’s name when he’s snooping through the trash can or about to steal your lunch off the kitchen table, the dog learns that his name means 1) he’s in trouble or 2) he should get away from something. This can be very confusing for dogs after a while they become desensitized to their name.

Now imagine how confusing it would for the dog if he learned to come only to his name and now you want him to learn Sit and Stay. As the dog is sitting you must be very careful to not say his name. Even in encouraging ways. “Good boy Joe”. To your dog “Joe” means “Come”. He cannot sit/stay and come at the same time.

Teaching your dog the correct language for the command you want to achieve requires clear communication. He needs to learn “Joe” what? “Joe” followed by a command tells him what you want him to do. “Joe sit”. “Joe come”. “Joe out”. This way he learns each individual command and that his name is to get his attention and get ready to respond.

Give it a name.

Dogs have the ability to learn or recognize hundreds of words. We all use Sit, Down, Come or variations of these and other commands. We do this by associating a word with an action to get across what we want the dog to do. You can do the same with everyday words using consistency, patients and enough practice to build a clear association between the word and the action.

Name it!

  • “Kennel” as your dog is entering his kennel/crate.
  • “House” as your dog is on his way into the house.
  • “Outside” as your dog passes through the threshold of the doorway.
  • “ByeBye” as you gather the leash for a walk.
  • “Potty” as the dog is begining to urinate.


The opportunities are endless. Just be sure to use simple commands and use them each time your dog is doing the action you want to name. Use tiny treats to motivate your dog if needed and have fun with word play too. Just because a word means something in English doesn’t mean it has to to your dog. It is just as easy to teach a dog to lift his paw and associate the word “Pony” instead of “Paw” as the dog lifts his foot.

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