In order to teach a dog a new command, you must have his undivided attention. Otherwise, he will most likely find something more interesting than you, like a squirrel or some food lying around on the ground. In order to get his attention you will need to teach him to know and respond to his name every time you say it. If you have a dog, then chances are he is responding to his name a percentage of the time, but what we want here is for him to respond 100% in every situation.
Dog’s have no concept of what a “name” is.
A name is something that humans invented in order to categorize ourselves. In your dog’s eyes, “Rover” is just a word, and could mean absolutely anything. What we want is for “Rover” to be the greatest word in the world for your dog, because it’s followed by so many good things. This is why we reward him with food and praise after he responds to his name.
There is a simple exercise that you can do in order to teach your dog to respond to his name. For this exercise you’re going to use a clicker and some food treats, so you’ll need to check out our videos on positive reinforcement and clicker training in order to know the basics of how to use these tools.
- Start with your dog on a leash, with no distractions around you. In a pleasant voice, call his name, and when he turns his head to look at you, click the clicker, and reward.
It’s very important to say your dog’s name in a nice, happy voice for this exercise. Many people will default to saying their dogs name in a frustrated tone, which makes the dog hesitant to respond because it thinks that it will get in trouble. Nobody wants to be around someone who seems angry with them. You need to use a pleasant tone because you want your dog to genuinely be excited to come to you.
- If your dog doesn’t turn his head right away, don’t repeat his name over and over again, because he’s going to start to realize that his name means nothing, and he will ignore it. Instead, make noises to get his attention, like kiss noises, whistling, or “ba ba ba”
- When your dog is consistently responding to his name you can start adding in some distractions. Have another person around with a toy in hand, making noises to distract the dog. Say your dog’s name, and when he turns to look at you, click and reward. You can also try bringing your dog outside where there are lots of distractions, or trying this exercise around another dog. Make sure that you don’t push your dog further than he’s ready to go. If he seems to be struggling, take a step back.
Make sure that you don’t click and reward until AFTER he turns to look at you. You want him to turn to you as if to say “yes, what would you like me to do now?”.
Remember, dog’s learn through repetition, so you want to do this exercise as often as you can, and in as many different situations and locations as you can. Once your dog has become proficient in this you can begin phasing out the treats, but in the beginning you will need to use treats often so that your dog will begin to associate his name with yummy things.
Once you call your dog’s name and he’s giving you his undivided attention, you can follow the name with a command. Now that you have his attention, it will be much easier, and quicker, for him to pick up on commands.
Good luck, and let me know how it goes!