If I had a dollar for every time a dog training client insisted, “Oh, he knows his name!”, and then proceeded to demonstrate by calling her dog repeatedly while the pooch is busily sniffing the ground in front of him — I’d have enough money to buy all my readers an ice cream (or beer, your choice).
When and how these dogs “learned” their names is a mystery — mine weren’t born knowing theirs, nor did a few repetitions during puppyhood do the trick. Let’s dispense with wishful thinking and get busy teaching our German Shepherds the most important word they’ll ever hear: their names. The good news is, this simple, life-saving word can be taught in literally a matter of minutes.
All you’ll need to do is grab your dog, a leash (if you need it to keep him nearby), and 50 or so really, really good treats. I’m not talking about dog biscuits or those pre-packaged, food coloring-filled store-bought treats — we mean business here. I’m talking about hot dogs, chicken, turkey, pieces of salami, roast beef, and the like. The good stuff. The stuff you were always told not to feed your dog from the table. Anything your dog would love to get his little paws on counts. (Obviously, check with your vet if your dog has dietary or medical issues.)
You don’t need to use big treats — slices or bits the size of your pinky nail work just fine for even the largest dogs. This is a treat your dog loves, remember?
If you want to go high-tech with your training, get a clicker as well. Remember to condition your dog to the clicker before getting started, if it’s your first time using one. If you don’t have a clicker, no worries — with this exercise, you can simply skip that step in the following instructions:
- Place the treats within easy reach for you, but where your dog cannot get them.
- Say the dog’s name, click the clicker and feed a treat. Do not ask for a sit, do not call the dog from a distance, and do not repeat the dog’s name. Click as soon as you say the dog’s name and feed a treat.
- If your dog isn’t paying attention, move backwards with the leash in your hand. Wait for the dog to look at you, say his name, then click and treat.
- Repeat with all treats. Do this exercise at least twice a day in different locations.
Once you’ve done this exercise for a couple of sessions, test its effectiveness by saying your dog’s name while he’s not looking. His head should snap up and he should focus his big greedy brown eyes on you in hopes of getting a treat. If he does, congratulations! You’re ready to move him outside and repeat the process. If not, check that you’re still using a super-yummy treat in a non-distracting environment and repeat the exercise a few times before testing it again.