Even if your dog already knows his/her name, I promise you can still learn something new here!
The first thing we typically teach our dogs, even before we realize we’re doing any training, is that when we make a certain specific sound, we want their attention. This “sound” is their name. That’s all it is, and that’s all it should be used for.
Many dog owners tend to think of their dog’s name as more than that. They use it as a “catch-all” command with multiple definitions that vary depending on what they want their dog to do at the moment. Let’s say for example your dog’s name is Max, you may unknowingly be using the name Max in a number of different scenarios like:
- “Max!” – meaning “Come here, Max!”
- “Max!” – meaning “Stop what you are doing Max!”
- “Max!” – meaning “Get down, Max!”
- “Max!” – meaning “Stop barking Max!”
You get the idea. Your dog may be the smartest dog in the world, but he is not a mind reader. You shouldn’t use your dog’s name any differently than a child’s name. For example, if you call a child’s name, they may acknowledge that they hear you (if you’re lucky), but their likely response will be to reply “What?”
They probably won’t even look up from the video game or whatever else they were doing when you call their name. You’ll need to follow up with an instruction; tell them what you want them to do. For example, “Bobby, stop playing that game and do your homework!”
The point is, plan to use your dog’s name in the same way – to get their attention. Period. Then use other sounds (commands) and actions to tell or show your dog what you want them to do.
Please note: Even after your dog learns their name, they may continue doing whatever they were doing when they hear you use it (just like Bobby did in the example above).
Don’t get upset or impatient. And don’t continue to repeat their name: “Max… Max!… MAX!!!” This will only teach your dog to ignore you until they hear you call their name over and over. Below you’ll find some alternative solutions for dealing with this issue.
Teaching Your Dog Their Name
Step # 1: Treats
First, load up your pocket (or a bag or pouch) with 20 or so treats.
Step # 2: Location
Take your dog to an area where there won’t be a lot of distractions.
Step # 3: Timing
Wait for your dog to look at something other than you, then say their name ONCE.
Step # 4: Rewards
When your dog looks at you, immediately give them a treat and say, “Good!” (or whatever you’ve chosen as the primary reinforce phrase or clicker.) For the purpose of this training we’re going to just use the word “Good!” in the remaining training examples.
Step # 5: Relocate
Now move a few steps to another location and again wait for your dog to look away from you.
Step # 6: It’s All About Timing
Similar to step #3, say your dog’s name again and immediately reward them with a treat and praise when they look at you.
Step # 7: Repetition
Repeat steps 1-6 above, five times. If your dog was particularly distracted before responding to their name, give them extra praise and treats.
Alternative Method # 1
If you say your dog’s name and they don’t look at you, it may be because they are too distracted. Move them a few paces away to a different location and try again.
Say their name. Use an enthusiastic tone of voice. Give immediate rewards if they look at you.
If your dog still doesn’t respond to their name, clap your hands, whistle or make some other attention-grabbing sound. When they look, say their name again and immediately give a reward. Do this last method as a last resort. You want your dog to learn to respond to their name, not the other sounds.
If your dog does not show any response to the alternative attention-grabbing sounds, you may want to get your dog’s hearing checked. Just to be on the safe side! Some breeds, such as Dalmatians, are prone to hearing problems.
Alternative Method # 2
Another tactic is to put the treat in your hand and let your dog sniff your closed fist so they know it’s there.
Pull your hand away and wait until your dog looks away from you. Say their name and immediately reward their response.
If your dog continues to ignore their name after several attempts, try moving to a less distracting location. Note, distractions can include smells, not just sights and sounds.
No matter what, keep trying, be patient, and remember not to repeat your dog’s name. Give immediate rewards when they respond.
- Practice this lesson several times each day over the course of a week .
- Learn to say your dog’s name only once.
- Vary the time of day and location (both inside and outside) when you do your training.
- Do five repetitions during each lesson.
- Remember – do not use your dog’s name as a “catch-all” command with multiple definitions.
- While you practice this lesson, learn the type of reward that is the best motivator for your dog.
- Focus on positive reinforcement. You’ll be teaching your dog that listening to you and learning are fun.
- Always use the same praise word/phrase.
Most importantly, have fun playing with your dog! Don’t focus all your time together on training. Spend lots of quality time just enjoying each other’s company.
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