When you call your dog’s name what happens? Does it turn its head to you without hesitation? Or do you have to repeat it?
When I ask my clients this question the answer is usually that it depends on where they are. If they are at home their dog will usually respond the first time, however, if outside the home usually their dog takes a few more calls. Often the owner will say that their dog is just being disobedient or naughty … but is it?
Most (*) of the time it is purely down to the fact that the dog has never been taught to have value for its name. Yes, the dog has a basic association with its name, but it has no value.
So what is name value? Name value is teaching the dog that it is rewarding to respond to their name.
I bet I could change your name to “Bob” (assuming that is not your name), so much so that you would respond to “Bob” even when with a group of your friends or business colleagues, simply by pairing it with something you like and have value for… by rewarding you for responding to it. Simple!
Picture it; I say “Bob”, you look at me, I mark the moment you look at me, then give you a $20 note. I continue to repeat this until you have a really nice pile of $20 notes … you are now “Bob”!
But why do our dogs need such great name value? Safety! Having a dog that responds to their name the first time when out and about is essential for safety and effective control. If your dog can’t respond to its name then how on earth do you call it to come to you?
Do you call your dog to “come” or do you say their name followed by the cue “come”? My bet is you call their name first.
Calling your dog’s name should have the same response that calling my name would have; I would look at you and prepare myself for a second ‘cue’. I would not, however, come running to you!
So how do we teach name value? Easy!
Begin with your dog in a low distraction environment.
- Call your dog’s name and as soon as your dog looks at you mark (verbal marker or clicker) and toss your dog a motivating food reward. Tossing the food reward to your dog is really important as it teaches the dog to just turn its head and look at you, not to come to you on its name. There may be times when you do not want your dog to come to you, but instead, lay down on the spot or stay. If you want it to come then call its name then add the cue “come”.
- Repeat the above game in all areas of your home, then gradually increase the distractions and train in your backyard then front yard. Add further distractions by having someone playing ball, mowing the lawn, running around, clapping their hands, etc.
- Once you are certain that your dog has value for its name in the home and in your backyard and front yard then take it on the road and practice outside your home!
- Even once you are certain your dog knows its name it is important that you continue to reward the behaviour occasionally to maintain value. If you stop rewarding then your dog stops having value. Same as with me; I love my job and my boss, however, if she stops paying me then I stop coming to work 🙂