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Teaching Your Puppy his Name – August 20, 2013

Most new puppy owners use their puppy’s name as affectionate communication and don’t focus on teaching it as an actual command. Your puppy’s name should mean something to him – ie, turning his attention to you when he hears his name. Many people focus initially on trying to teach their puppy to come when called. In reality, coming when called starts with a solid name response and your time is better spent on building this behavior.

The foundation of everything you need to teach your puppy starts with him responding to his name. When your puppy hears his name, no matter where he is or what he’s doing, we want him to turn and look at you as if to ask, ‘what do you want’? If you teach your puppy nothing else, no matter where he is or what he’s doing or how far away you are, if you can say his name and he’ll turn to look at you, you’ll always be able to call him away from trouble or prevent from doing something you don’t want him to do.

Start by sitting on the floor next to your puppy in a quiet room with no distractions. Say his name in a happy voice. If there are no distractions, the sound of your voice should get him to turn his head. The second he does, say “Yes” and give him a treat. Repeat this a few times. Then say his name again. Praise him when he turns his head but put the treat near his nose and move it slowly up to your face to get eye contact. Say YES and give him the treat.

Make sure you say his name only once. Don’t repeat his name over and over if he’s not looking at you. If he doesn’t look at you, say his name, then immediately put the treat to his nose, wiggle it to get his attention, and then move it slowly up to your face so he does looks at you. Then say YES and give him the treat. Make sure to say YES the moment he looks at you. This helps him understand exactly what he did to earn the treat and it’s faster and easier than saying good boy or good girl.

Practice often so your puppy starts turning his head to you whenever you say his name. Then slowly start to add difficulty. Work in different rooms. Put a toy on the floor as a distraction. Have one person petting your puppy while you call his name. Then add some distance – say his name when you’re standing 3-4 feet away. Then add longer eye contact. Praise him as he’s looking at you and delay giving him the treat for a few seconds.

Next, start working outside. This is a lot harder for your puppy. You’ll probably need to use a food treat at his nose when you first try this outside. That’s ok. The key is to help your puppy understand what you want from him. Adding difficulty as you practice is like teaching the behavior from kindergarten to college. Add difficulty slowly while keeping your puppy successful.

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