By Sherri Romig CPDT-KA
Practicing the Name Game for a Strong Recall Response
Step 1: Condition the Name Response – Begin by conditioning the dog’s name to be associated with wonderful things. Grab a handful of small, yummy treats and say your dog’s name, then immediately pop a treat into the dog’s mouth. The dog doesn’t have to do anything (like sit or look at you), just say their name and pop the treat into their mouth within one second. Do this 20 or 30 times consecutively. This procedure can be repeated periodically to ensure a strong association remains.
Step 2: Ask for Name Recognition – Once you have done this, you are ready to ask for a behavior in exchange for the treat. Say your dog’s name ONE time (do this when they are NOT distracted!) and say “Yes!” and deliver the treat the instant they offer any acknowledgement of their name whatsoever. This may be a glance, a quick turn of the head, a wag of the tail… ANYTHING that indicates that the dog heard you say his name.
If your dog does not offer any indication that they heard you, you may repeat their name after 15 seconds (ONE time!), again saying “Yes!” and delivering the treat as soon as you get a response. If you still get no response, go back to step one and practice again, or try moving to a less distracting location.
Step 3: Add Distraction – Through practice, your dog will begin turning immediately in eager anticipation of a reward as soon as you say their name. As you begin to get this fast and strong response, you can start practicing the game in increasingly distracting situations. The more you practice, the stronger and more reliable the dog’s response will become. If you get no response, go back to step two or try a less distracting location.
Step 4: Add Distance – Once you are confident that you have a strong Name Game, take your dog out on a 20ft line, allowing them to sniff, play, and explore. Periodically call your dog’s name, saying “Yes!” and delivering a high-value food reward (or throwing a ball, etc… anything super exciting). Immediately release your dog to continue sniffing and playing.
This game should be practiced regularly throughout the dog’s life to keep an immaculate response. When first training for a strong response, it is a good idea to put a handful of treats in your pocket each morning, delivering them randomly throughout the day in exchange for Name Game response.