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The Most Important Lesson: How To Train Your Dog to Come When Called

Whether or not your dog already understands his name, please don't bypass this lesson. We promise you'll learn something!

The first important item we all teach our dogs, even before we notice we're doing any training, is that when we make a targeted specific sound, we want their attention. This "sound" is their name. This is the first step in how to teach a dog to come.

That's all it is, and that's all it will be used for.

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Many pet owners tend to think of their dog's name as more than just that. They use it as a "catch-all" command with several meanings that vary depending on what they want their dog to do at the moment.

You're dog may be the most intelligent dog in the world, but he is not a mind reader.

You shouldn't use your dog's name any differently than a child's name. Prepare to use your dog's name in the same way you would when talking with a child - to get focus and attention. That's it. Right after that, use other sounds (commands) and actions to tell or demonstrate him what you hope for him to do.

Important dog training advice: Even after your dog understands his name, he may persist with doing whatever he was doing when he hears you use it. Don't get bothered or impatient. And don't repeat his name: "Max... Max!... MAX!!!" Doing this will only teach your dog to neglect you until he hears his name over and over. We'll give you more effective solutions.

So let's get started with the lesson.

Training your dog to come.

Check out this lesson first, and then apply it with your dog.
1. First, fill up your pocket (or a bag or pouch) with 20 or so dog bones.
2. Go with your dog to a spot where there won't be a lot of diversions.
3. Wait until your dog looks at something other than you, then call his name, but only once.
4. When he looks back at you, right away give him a treat and say "Good!" (Or whatever you have chosen as the primary reinforcing stimulus, term or clicker.)
5. Now move a few steps to another site and again wait for your dog to be looking away from you.
6. Call your dog's name again and quickly reward him again with the snack and give encouragement as soon as he looks at you.
7. Repeat this process five times. If your dog was particularly distracted before replying to his name, give him additional praise and treats.

If your dog doesn't do what you want

  • If you say his name and he doesn't look at you, he may be too distracted. Move him a few paces to a different location and try again.
  • Call his name. Use an enthusiastic tone of voice. Give immediate rewards if he looks at you.
  • If he still doesn't reply to his name, clap your hands, whistle or make another attention-getting sound. When he looks, say his name once again and immediately give the rewards. Do this as a final attempt. You want him to learn to respond to his name, not the other sounds.
  • Another approach: put the treat in your palm and let your dog sniff your enclosed fist so he'll know it's there. Remove your hand away and hold it until your dog looks away from you. Say his name and immediately reward his response.
  • If your dog continues to pay no attention to his name after many attempts, try moving to a less distracting location. (Distractions include smells, not just sights and sounds.)
    Keep trying, be patient, and remember not to repeat his name. Give immediate rewards when he responds.
  • During these sessions, you'll be training yourself as well as your dog. The meaningful lesson for you: Learn to say your dog's name only once. This is hard for most people.
    We rely on spoken dialogue. Dogs don't. So you'll have to train yourself not to do what may come naturally: reiterating yourself until you get a reply.
  • Rehearse this lesson a bunch of times each day during the week. Differ the time of day and location (both inside and outside). Do not, however, move to areas with greater distractions to challenge your dog with higher degrees of difficulty, even if he is a fast learner.
  • Focus on saying your dog's name only once.

Remember: do not use your dog's name as a "catch-all" command with multiple definitions. As your training progresses, you'll learn that each desired action will have it's own individual command (and it won't be your dog's name).

In Addition to Practicing This Lesson...

  • Learn the method of encourage that is the best motivation for your dog. Food treats can be kept fresh by placing them in sealable plastic bags and storing them in the fridge.
    Focus on positive reinforcement. You'll be teaching your dog that paying attention to you and learning are fun. Your goal is to have an excited student, eager for each training session.
  • Use treats your dog loves most, and give them immediately as swift reinforcers.
  • Remember to use a blend of primary (treats) and secondary (praise or clicker) reinforcers together.
  • When your dog responds accurately, immediately give the treat and say "Good!" Always use the same praise word/phrase.
  • Have fun playing with your dog! Don't focus all your time together on training. Spend lots of quality time just enjoying each other's company. Teaching your dog to come is only part of the battle - the rest is bonding and building trust between you and your dog.

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