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Teaching Your Dog to Come When Called

The Name Game

Your dog can’t have a good recall if your dog doesn’t recognize her own name. You might think, “But of course my dog knows her name. We use it all the time!” Many dogs, though, actually learn to tune out their name because they hear it all the time and it doesn’t lead to anything. Instead, you want your dog to learn that whenever you say her name, she’s supposed to turn and look at you—and then she’ll get good things.

  • Step 1 Begin training at home while you’re reading the paper or watching TV. Be sure there are no distractions to compete for your dog’s attention. Say her name in a clear voice and, immediately afterwards, give her a treat or toss her a toy. Wait five minutes or so and then do this again. Repeat 10 to 20 times, not right in a row but with pauses of varying short lengths in between each repetition.
  • Step 2 Wait until your dog is looking away from you. Say her name. If she turns to look at you, say “Yes!” and give her several tasty treats or play with her. Continue to make a fuss over her for a minute or so. Then ignore her until she loses interest in you. Say your dog’s name again. If she doesn’t turn and look when you say it, resist repeating it. Instead, turn and leave the room for a few seconds, or go to a corner and play with the toy yourself (turn away so that she can’t get involved in the play), or make a display of eating her treat yourself. (Choose your treats wisely! Cheese or hot dogs are best.)

Repeat the exercise three to five times in a row, and practice it many times over the course of a few days. Gradually introduce distractions: practice in different rooms in the house, in the yard, on walks and at the park. Practice while your dog is playing, chewing, grooming herself, sleeping, etc. She’ll learn that when you say her name, something fun is going to happen. She’ll also learn that if she doesn’t pay attention to her name, she’s missing out on something good. Once you can get your dog’s attention by calling her name, then you’re ready to start training the recall.

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