I say his name once as he's exploring the living room at the end of his leash. I wait. If he doesn't look at me, I poke his side with my finger to get his attention. As soon as his eyes meet mine, I slip him a morsel of his breakfast (I always set aside a bit of food from each meal to use as treats throughout the day).
Good boy, Mike! I let him go back to exploring.
Mike. His head whips around. Treat. And repeat.
We call this game "name recognition," a nifty technique to catch your puppy's attention in distracting situations. As with any command you teach your puppy, success depends on repetition and consistency, with broad and progressive application.
Start indoors with no distractions with your puppy on-leash. It is important that you only say your puppy's name ONCE; if you say the name over and over you are teaching your puppy to NOT LISTEN to you. If he or she does not respond promptly, give the leash an easy tug and/or touch your puppy with your finger--be ready to offer a treat as soon as your puppy looks at you. Timing is everything--it won't take long for your puppy to figure out what to do to get that treat!
HINTS (for training any command)
- Puppies have short attention spans, so only work him or her for 10 to 15 minutes at a time.
- End the session on a positive when your puppy does the right thing.
- Remember to give the release command, "OK," when you are finished. Your puppy needs to learn when he or she is expected to "work" and when it is "ok" to play.
- Give your puppy at least a one-hour break between sessions--otherwise you can work him or her as much as you want. Sometimes, when it seems your puppy just isn't "getting it," a break helps; when you return to the command, your puppy will have had time to process what he or she has learned.
- Puppies do not generalize. This means that just because your puppy can follow the command in your living room, it does not mean that your puppy can do so in the kitchen. Practice in different settings.
- Practice progressively. By this I mean to practice the command in different settings at similar distraction levels, working up to higher-level distractions. Begin with low-level distractions (none); when your puppy is reliable with no distractions in various settings, add some medium-level distractions (other people in the room, someone knocking on the door, etc.) in those settings. Expect to backtrack until your puppy refigures the game; then up the ante by adding high-level distractions. Expand into more distracting settings, such as outside, or in public places.
The name recognition game can be expanded off-leash. Again, start indoors with little distractions--have someone hold your puppy while you hide from view. Call your puppy's name and have the handler let him or her go. When your puppy finds you, make it a "party" and present a treat. Or, let someone else call your puppy. My nieces played this game with FLD Mike when he was just a couple of months old. What a riot watching him zoom around the house trying to find them!