Finally the day has come and your puppy or freshly adopted dog moves into your house! You have gone trough a long lists of „top dog names“ and after heated debates with other family members agreed upon a name you love. Now it’s time to teach your dog to love it too!
Educating your dog to listen to its name is the crucial first step in every obedience class and it’s not an easy but an important one. Once your dog reacts to its name, it will allow you to have much better communication and control of your dog, so you can guide it safely on your life journey together. Being able to gain your dog’s attention at any given time is very important, re-call a potential lifesaving skill and it can also be used as an attention-getter. You will be able to call your dog by its name to interrupt whatever it is doing and redirect its focus away from any behaviour that you might want to stop.
Please always remember that it is the first brick in a solid foundation for any further dog training to teach your dog its name by working together with your furry friend to create a positive association whenever it hears its name. For your dog hearing its own name is the best thing in the world to happen and it knows that it always leads to amazing experiences together with you.
Always connect your dogs name with positive associations. When you observe your untrained puppy or dog how it enjoys running around right now in this moment without leash and with no worry in the world, always remember that only because of the positive conditionings with which you have trained your dog, will make it listen to your call. You have to make your dog want to stop whatever it is doing and pay attention to you. The moment a well trained dog listens to its name, its mind goes: “Yes! Thats my name! Let’s have some fun time now!” and only the power of a wonderful reward awaiting your dog will make it stop in its tracks and listen attentively to what you want it to do.
One of the methods which proofed to very successful for me and has worked with a majority of dogs is the
1. If you train a puppy, a teenager or a senior dog, the easiest and most straightforward way to teach its new name, is to speak it out clearly with calmness and in a happy tone. „Benny!“
2. When your dog turns towards the sound, you immediately reward it with a tiny piece of its favourite high value treat, or a quick play session with its toy-buddy #1, or pour lots and lots of praise and affection over your beloved hairy friend.
3. Repeat, repeat, repeat…
this name exercise during the day in short training sessions of about three to five minutes. Make it super interesting for your dog by playing spontaneous rounds of the „Namegame“, so Fluffy never knows when the next round is on and is always attentively waiting for another fun-time to start.
„But that’s easy!“, you might say to yourself, looking proudly at little „Einstein“, who, so you think, had mastered the art of learning its name in just a few minutes. Then try this:
4. Play the „Namegame“ on different places which are not as distraction free as your livingroom and move the training session into your garden, your backyard, the kitchen while your mama is preparing an irresistible dinner feast.
5. Allow other humans to join the „Namegame“, outfit them with a bag of pea-sized magic treats and observe how it goes. How is little „Einstein“ doing now? Don’t increase the level of distractions and difficulty too early and too quickly, as you want to set up your dog for a win every time. Progressing in baby steps is how you move successfully forward together.
6. And of course back to repeat, repeat, repeat…
7. Now you want to increase the duration you require before rewarding, testing their attention span.
Call your dog’s name and when it turns to look at you, mark it immediately with a verbal praise but wait 2 seconds before giving the treat, to teach your dog to hold its attention on you longer. Gradually increase the time intervalls by a second until you can count to 5. Progress too quickly and your dog may not keep up and get disheartened at failure and soon looses interest. Always keep in mind that most dogs attention span is crazy small!
8. And now same as before repeat, repeat, repeat…
Once your dog can reliably give you 5 seconds of attention in a peaceful and calm environment, the time has come to step up the level of difficulty again, this time by adding some distractions. Maybe ask a friend or a neighbour your dog is not so familiar with to be with you in the room, or train while children are playing in the noisily background.
9. Or try to give your dog its favorite Cuddle-Bear or most favorite toy in the world and watch it enjoying a fabulous playtime. Trying now to get your dogs undivided attention is a completely different ballgame, as now you are asking your dog to turn away from something super exciting and pleasurable and focus onto someone as boring as yourself. You just can’t compete with Mr. Dino or the Happy Crocodile.
As you and your furry buddy are now practising something quite advanced, it might be a good idea to curb down the waiting time and go back to immediate praising and rewarding your dog. Keep your super special magic taste treat in your hand ready, be calm and focused and call „Fluffy!“ If he stops for a second biting his favorite monster in the ear and turns its head over to you, jackpot! Immediately reward him with his favorite treat, shower him with praise and treat him like a hero who has just saved the earth from certain devastation. He is indeed a hero for successfully completing a task which is very difficult as it goes against his instincts and thus deserves your jubilant praise. Well done Fluffy!
10. The ultimate level. You and your dog have nailed it, succeeded in getting your buddy’s attention and 5 second plus unwavering focus in every possible scenario, be it his top fluffy toy getting chewed or maybe there are dangerous workers with loud jackhammers rattling beside you… really, heartfelt congratulations to both of you, you have completed a first, huge milestone in your and your dogs learning career. Be proud of yourself and your dog and reward each other generously.
Repetition is key to make sure that your dog will never forget your bond by name. Regularly incorporate the „Namegame“ into your walks or wherever you go. It takes a minute of your time and is an unlimited amount of joy practising this exercise even while you are just queuing up or waiting for the bus.
Having your dog listen to its name and focus on you is the perfect foundation and starting point to begin your journey of co-evolution together.
Tips and Tricks
– Always make sure your training sessions are fun quality time for you and your dog. During your sometimes stressful day with lots of obligations and problems to handle, set aside a few minutes to spend together with your best friend in the here and now where only you and your dog exist. Forget all your problems, clear your mind and get ready for a rewarding training session together with your best friend ever. Always remember, its not just you training your dog, its always also your dog teaching you!
– Make sure you haven’t fed your dog right before the training session because usually around 20 minutes after dogs having enjoyed a delicious meal, it’s poop time for them and after they have relieved themselves, they mostly prefer a lazy nap to digest over an exhausting playsession.
– Shorter training sessions are better than marathon episodes in which your dog looses attention and gets bored. If you notice your dog’s attention starts to fade, switch it up and finish up with some playtime. Always end training on a fun note to keep your dog wanting to do more of it and looking forward to the next time.
– It’s very useful to have your dog, especially when it is still a puppy on a leash during the teaching session, so you can give it a gentle correction, not a punishment, just to refocus, if it starts to wander off or doesn’t pay attention.
– Make sure that you only call out your dog’s name once per exercise. If you repeat the name too often – “BennyBennyBenny!” – it will just diminish the effectiveness at getting its attention and your dog’s name looses it’s value.
– Same is true if you issue multiple repeated commands: Your dog might think e.g. that not “Sit!” is the command to get rewarded if it moves it’s ass down to the ground, but is waiting until you finally shout out what it thinks is the right command “SIT! SIT! SIT!” and only now its majesty the dog is willing to obey.
– Use your ‘happy voice’ when you speak to your dogs and never use your dogs’s name in an angry or agitated state of mind as dogs can pick up on our mood and emotions just by the tone of your voice.
– If your dog doesn’t respond immediately, don’t start shouting out its name like you would cheer and fire up your football team, instead, try luring it away to a different area with fewer distractions. Always remember that you set up your dog for success, so please go slow on it before introducing more and more distracting environments.
– Your dog is not a robot and has good and not so good days, same as we humans do. Enjoy the experience together without only focussing on a successful outcome. Instead do it as dogs do, live in the moment and even it seems on a certain day that your dog might have forgotten everything it has ever learned from you, laugh about it and just declare it a cheat day, only to resume training the following day with a bit less distractions. Sometimes a small step backwards might lead to a huge jump forward. Never give up, nor will your dog ever give up on you.
– Every dog-parent knows that once you have built up a strong bond between you and your dog, you will start to be connected on an almost telepathic level. You and your dog are so well tuned into each other that you can simply read the other in an instant and communicate with just one look.
– When new owners adopt a dog from a shelter, they sometimes don’t like the dog’s name it has been given and ask themselves if it would be a bad idea to change its name? No, of course not, you can change the name of a newly welcomed dog into your family, as long as you associate the new name with positive attention, and patiently repeat it in a happy, loving tone of voice. Eventually, your dog will respond to its new name.
– On a final note, don’t use your dog’s name to call it over for unpleasant surprises like ending an awesome walk, getting him into a shower or having it’s nails trimmed. Of course sometimes emergency situations require that you re-call your dog when it is racing high-speed after a rabbit towards a busy road. Thats what the emergency recall is meant for. Call your dog, get its attention and then command it to come back to you. When it obeys and arrives make a huge fuss, a reward it like it achieved a gold medal in obedience. You averted a potential life threatening accident and your dog showed you how much it trusts your leadership. Awesome!