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You may have heard the famous question "What's in a name?", written by William Shakespeare. What is in a name? Especially for a dog? Your dog's name is how you identify him for legal purposes, it's what you say when you want to get his attention, it might be what you say when you speak to him in a baby voice or scold him in an angry voice at times. Your puppy's name is personal and important. There is something very special and relational happening when you say your puppy's name and he responds. It's important for your dog to know his name for both practical reasons and for bonding reasons. There may be no command more foundational to dog training than a dog's name.
As a German Shepherd, your puppy is probably very focused on you. He is likely wanting and needing your communication and interaction. There will be many years of training and working together to come, and in order for your Shepherd to learn how to respond to you, he needs to know his name first. By using his name you will be able to get his attention for giving him directions, for expressing affection to him, and for offering rewards to him.
Many dogs are never directly taught their names. The dog's owner simply addresses her dog enough times, in enough different scenarios, that the dog eventually learns it over time. By intentionally teaching your dog his name, you can speed up the process quite significantly. You can also teach your dog not only that the name belongs to him, but also to like hearing it, and to respond to it.
Teaching your dog his name is fairly simple, and will typically only take between five and ten days to teach. Teaching your dog to respond to his name in the presence of distractions, rather than ignore you even though he understands the word, will take longer, however. How long it will take to teach your dog to respond while distracted depends on how focused your dog is on you in general, how consistent you are about going to him if he ignores you, and how consistent you are about only using your dog's name in a pleasant way, and not as a punishment.
When you use your dog's name, try to keep his name something pleasant that he associates with affection, treats, play, or something else good. Do this so that he will be eager to respond to you whenever you use his name to get his attention. When you need to reprimand your dog, rather than saying his name angrily, use another word like "Aha" or "No", or tell your dog what he should be doing instead. For example, if your dog picks up something that he should not have and is trying to get you to chase him, rather than yell his name and then punish him, tell him "no" and "drop it". Then when he drops it, offer him an acceptable toy instead. Use your dog's name as a way to get his attention before giving him another command, or as a way to get his attention in order to simply express affection toward him.
If you know that your dog completely understands his name after teaching this, but he is choosing to ignore it so that he can pay attention to something else, then go over to him and stand in front of him, so that you are blocking whatever is distracting him from his view. Say his name again, and when he looks up at you, praise him, and then move out of the way so that he can go back to what he was doing. By doing this you are teaching him that he must always pay attention to you, even when he does not want to, and that the quickest way to get back to what he wants to be doing is to acknowledge you first. It is extremely important that you are consistent about following through if he ignores you. Otherwise, he will learn that he does not always have to respond.
To get started you will need a calm location to practice this in while first teaching it. If you are using the 'Treat' method then you will also need lots of small, tasty treats. If your dog is very food motivated, for a healthy alternative, you can use your puppy's own dog food in place of the treats if you would like to. If you are using the 'Toy' method then you will also need at least three of your puppy's favorite toys. If your puppy has several different types of toys that he enjoys, then choose three different types, such as one ball, one tug toy, and one chew toy. If you are using the 'Praise' method then you will also need an enthusiastic voice, a little silliness for getting your dog's attention, and lots of praise and affection. With all of the methods, you will need a great attitude and a willingness to have fun and bond with your puppy. After all, a name should be a great thing!
The Treat Method
Choose a treat
To begin, find a type of treat that your puppy loves. If your puppy is very food motivated, then you can also use pieces of your puppy's own dog food as treats instead.
With your puppy facing you, say his name and then offer him a treat.
Repeat saying your puppy's name and offering him a treat at least twenty times.
After you have said your puppy's name twenty times and given him a treat each time, then say his name when he is not looking at you or expecting it. If he looks at you when he hears it, then give him a treat. If he does not look at you, and you are confident that he heard you, then go back a step, and practice saying his name and giving him a treat while he faces you, for longer. After a couple of days of practicing with him facing you, try saying his name when he is not looking again.
When your puppy will look at you when you say his name when he is not facing you or expecting it, then begin to say his name when he is distracted by something. Wait until he is distracted looking at something or sniffing something, then say his name loudly enough to get his attention. If he responds, praise him and offer him a treat. If he does not respond, then walk over to him and gently interrupt what he is doing by standing in front of him or making a noise. When he looks up, say his name again, and praise him and offer a treat while he is still looking at you. Practice this around different types of distractions until he begins to look up every time that he hears his name.
The Toy Method
To begin, choose three of your puppy's favorite toys. If your puppy enjoys playing with multiple types of toys, then choose three different types of toys, such as one tug toy, one chew toy, and one ball.
Say her name
Hide the toys somewhere close by, where your puppy cannot see them, such as behind your back or in your pocket. Stand or sit in front of your puppy, with her facing you. Say her name and immediately offer her a toy, then play with her with it for a few seconds.
Offer a new toy
Let your puppy keep the current toy for now, or if she offers it to you, set it aside. Say her name again and offer her a new toy. Play with her with that toy for a few seconds. While you are playing with her, hide the first toy again.
Repeat saying your puppy's name and offering her another toy at least twenty times throughout the week. If she becomes bored during a training session then either end that session and try again later or choose three new toys.
When you have said your puppy's name and played with her at least twenty times, say her name when she is not looking at you or expecting it. Do this when her environment is calm at first. If she looks at you when you say her name, then praise her, offer her a toy, and play with her. If she does not look at you, then practice saying her name with her facing you for longer. After two more days of practicing with her facing you, then try saying her name again when she is not looking at you. Repeat this every two days until she will look at you when you say her name.
When your puppy will consistently look at you when you say her name while in a calm environment, then add distractions. To add distractions, wait until she is looking at or sniffing something mildly distracting. While she is distracted, say her name. If she looks at you, then praise her, offer her a toy, and play with her if she wants to play. If she does not want to play, then allow her to go back to her distraction right away. If she does not look at you when you say her name, and you are confident that she heard you, then go over to her and get her attention by standing in front of her or making a noise. When she looks at you, say her name again, then praise her and reward her while she is looking at you. Practice this until she will consistently look up from her distraction when you say her name.
When your puppy will consistently look up from mild distractions to acknowledge you when you say her name, then practice around slightly harder distractions. Continue to gradually increase the difficulty of the distractions as she improves. It is important that you allow her to go back to the distraction after she has acknowledged you, most of the time, while you are teaching this. This is to prevent her from learning to ignore you, to keep you from ending her fun. It is equally as important that you go over to her every time that she ignores you, and that you insist that she look at you, so that she will learn that the quickest way to get back to what she was doing before is to pay attention to you.
The Praise Method
Choose the environment
To begin, go somewhere calm with your puppy to teach this. Stand or sit in front of your puppy, with him facing toward you.
Say his name
Say your puppy's name in an high pitched, excited voice, then praise him excitedly while he is looking at you. If he likes being petted, then pet him also while you praise him.
Repeat saying your puppy's name in an excited voice and praising him. Do this at least thirty times over a five day period in a calm environment.
After thirty repetitions of your puppy's name in a calm location, wait until your puppy looks away from you or begins to wander off. When your puppy stops looking at you, then say his name in an excited voice. If he looks at you again, then praise him and tell him how awesome he is for responding. If he does not look at you when you say it, immediately make noise by clapping your hands or jumping up and down until he looks at you. When he looks at you, praise him a lot. When you clap or jump up and down, be careful not to startle your puppy. You may need to decrease your enthusiasm if your puppy is easily frightened.
Repeat saying your puppy's name in a calm environment when he is not looking at you, until he will respond to it consistently by looking at you. When he is consistently responding to you, then choose an environment that is slightly more distracting than the current one, and practice there.
Practice with distractions
Practice in the more distracting environment until your puppy will consistently respond there also. If your puppy begins to ignore you when you say his name and even make noise, then after saying his name without him responding to it, go over to him, and get his attention by standing in front of him to block his view. With your body blocking his view, say his name again. When he looks at you this time, praise him, then tell him "OK", while you move away from him to allow him to go back to what he was doing before. By doing this, you are teaching him that the quickest way to get back to what he was doing is to acknowledge you when you say his name.
As your puppy masters responding to his name around moderately distracting things, then help him to improve by practicing around gradually more and more distracting things. Do this until your puppy will respond to his name well in all types of scenarios.
By Caitlin Crittenden
Published: 02/12/2018, edited: 01/08/2021