Let’s Play the Name Game

When it comes to dog training obtaining and holding your dog’s attention is critical to success. Teaching your dog to respond to their name is a key foundational step in dog training. You need to be the most interesting thing in your dog’s life. Not the squirrel. Not the other dog. You. So before you go any further with your obedience training – let’s play the name game.

What is the name game? It’s basically you saying your dog’s name and rewarding her with delicious treats for looking at you. We don’t want the dog to jump, sit, speak, nothing except look at us. Sounds easy right? That’s because it is! This is a great way to teach your dog their name (if they don’t know it yet) and also teach her to pay attention to you.

To play follow these steps:

  1. Say the dog’s name.
  2. When they look at you give them a high reward treat and praise them.
  3. Repeat.

The first few time you play this game be sure you’re in a quiet spot, such as a living room or kitchen. Plan on playing for 3-5 minutes so you don’t lose the dog’s interest. Have a bag/handful of high-reward treats ready – such as hotdogs or cheese.

Wait for her to look away and then say her name. If she looks at you – give her a treat. If she doesn’t then wait her out and treat her when she does look at you. Eye contact is key here, no treats for looking at your legs or shoes. We also don’t want to repeat her name over and over. Repeating = nagging and it can teach the dog that ignoring you is ok. If she doesn’t look, give her a few seconds then make a clicking noise to get her attention and treat her if she looks. If she still doesn’t look, when you’ve said her name and then clicked, give her a soft tap, to get her attention, and then treat her when she looks. Repeat this for 3-5 minutes. You can easily play this short game daily.

After playing a few times you should be seeing quicker, more consistent eye contact when you say her name. Now it’s time to add distractions. Try playing the game outside or with a few other people around. Let someone or something distract her and pull her attention back by saying her name and treating her. We want success so if she’s having trouble with this move back to a quieter, calmer space.

Once she’s successful with a few distractions try the game with a treat in each hand. Hold your hands out at your sides at arms length. Make sure your dog can see the treats in your hands. Say her name. If she looks you in the eye bring a hand to your face and then give her the treat. If she continues to look at the treats in your hand(s) wait her out. She’ll look you in the eye eventually and then you will reward her. Always reward from by your face. This tells her looking at your face = treats. Also remember we want to pair treats with praise. Pick a positive “marker word” to use whenever she does something right. For instance my marker word is a simple “good.” Another popular marker is saying “yes.”

The name game is a great foundation tool when beginning basic dog training. Once your dog learns to look at you when you say their name you’re ready to move on to more fun, rewarding exercises!