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Name: The Ideal Connection Getter

Before a dog can respond to his name, he must recognize it. Charge him up by combining a treat with his name: name-treat, name-treat…

Next, say his name and withhold the treat for a split second. Does he look at you? Great, hand it over, but combine the release with the word take. That accomplishes two things: The pup learns not to take food unless he hears the release command, and he learns that another cue always follows the name.

If he doesn’t look at you, you can either lure eye contact by holding the treat between your eyes, or backtrack to the name-treat, name-treat for a few more times.

Once you get reliable eye contact, outstretch your treat hand a little, and when your dog looks at you when you say his name instead of the hand, release the treat.

Step by step, extend your arm farther, and move your hand behind your back.

A question that typically comes up is if you should prolong the lapse between name and treat release to teach the dog to stay plugged in. You could, but a couple of seconds is enough, because the end game is not sustained attention with nothing to do, but to hold attention long enough until another cue follows. In other words, some sort of action, cued by you momentarily, always follows when the dog’s name is said. 

Exactly because name attention is just the beginning of something and not a fleeting glance in your direction, I don’t click or verbally mark it. Think how you use a name in your interactions with people. We don’t call someone, and when she shifts her attention our way hand over a piece of chocolate, but otherwise keep her in mental limbo. We engage. Would we not, what are the chances our partner would be irritated and eventually tune us out despite the chocolate? It is much the same with dogs.

Once your dog ignores the treat hand completely, toss one and tell him to get it, and after he gobbled it up say his name again and when he pays attention toss one the other direction, and gradually raise the bar: toss 2, 3, 4 or more treats.

And then comes the fun part: Call your dog, and then cue him to do whatever it is you’re enjoying together: Chase, Fetch, Ball, Find-it, Sniff, Play. Make yourself interesting. If you do it right, the interaction with you becomes the primary reinforcement, not the treat. Of course food can always be a part, but many dogs are more motivated by action than a treat shoved into their mouth.

So, keep that in mind and be creative, and impress your dog when he chooses to connect with you instead of doing a number of other things he finds interesting. That builds solid name attention, and when you have it you can get it even when your dog is tantalized by an über-interesting distraction out there.

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