Molly the Goldendoodle puppy has been with me for ten days now. Over the past several days I have been working on teaching her to come when her name is called.
Coming when called is a progressive thing, taught over a series of stages, and it is very important that it not be combined with any punishment. I also do not approve of having the puppy “sit” or do any extra behaviors when learning to come when called. Tacking on an extra task just makes the behavior a chore, and that is the last thing you want.
Once the “recall” as we in the dog world refer to it, is firmly established, then other things can start to be included. But with a puppy, coming when called is all fun, all a celebration, all good stuff.
In some of these videos you will see me addressing her by name before asking her for a trick, but that is different from calling her in from a distance and then withholding a treat while expecting her to do something else. In each exercise, there is only one behavior required to get the reward.
I made a series of videos to show how the process began a few days ago. Here Molly is first introduced to her name.
Here Molly is learning that her name means something. All I am asking her to do is look at me when I say it. Notice that I only say the name once, and if she ignores me, I wait a good twenty seconds or longer before I call her again.
For this reason, I ask my students not to say their dog’s name for the first week when we start training. Most of them are very surprised when they hear this request. I do it not so much to condition the dog, but to make the owners aware of how many times a day they are saturating the puppy with its name. THIS is why your dog ignores you! We are constantly spewing verbal noise. In order to have a dog come when you call it, you have to use a verbal cue that means something. And the “something” had better be good.
Dogs are really language savvy. They are smart. They probably understand more language than we are aware of. It doesn’t take much for a dog to learn what its name is, but it takes some effort to make it a word that is worth responding to.
Once Molly is responding pretty reliably to these simple attention exercises, I begin to complicate matters by getting other dogs involved. With this exercise, I tag the name on to a simple trick. Every dog gets a turn. This exercise really clues the dog in to his identity. It has a couple of other advantages, too. The puppy learns that other dogs have names, and who’s who. The puppy learns that other dogs get treats too, and just like little kids, you have to be patient and take turns.
Patience at this point is not Molly’s strong suit! This exercise is an excellent one for her. The worse the dog behaves, the more they should practice whatever is stimulating them to be naughty.
Then I up the ante in the name recognition exercise, by calling her from a short distance when she is distracted.
I dropped a few pieces of food in the grass and then moved away from her.
We ended our lesson on a good note, with a couple of little tricks.
Good girl, Molly.