In orientation sessions in my classroom, I usually ask the new students what behaviors their dog already knows.Many say, “sit,” a few say “down,” and many say “come” (shortly before naming a reliable recall as one of their training goals). Nobody ever says, “Well, my dog knows her name really well.” In fact, I find very few people actually know how to go about teaching this critical life skill.
Essentially, a dog’s name should be a cue for eye contact. You don’t need to teach a “watch me” or “focus” cue, you need to teach your dog her name.You can even get away without teaching a separate “leave it” before if you have done your homework training a reliable name response.The end product is, hopefully, a rapid and reliable name response in any environment.
Once you have taught name recognition, it becomes an incredibly useful barometer for all future training sessions in new environments. If your dog won’t respond to her name in a new training situation, chances are good she also won’t sit, down, or recall when you ask her either.More on name response as a behavioral barometer later.
We’ll review two different techniques for teaching your dog a reliable name response.The first technique is classical conditioning, and the second is an operant method of conditioning based on capturing and reinforcing eye contact. These techniques are not intended to be mutually exclusive, and pet owners are encouraged to use a combination of both methods in short, separate training sessions for best results.
For both exercises, you will need the following:
* Wxceptionally delicious treats! This is literally a life-saving behavior, so be sure to bring your reinforcement “A game.”
* Safe, low distraction to start your training in
* One hungry dog
For the second exercise, we will be charging and using a clicker (or other marker) to train the behavior.
CLASSICAL CONDITIONING FOR NAME RESPONSE
OPERANT CONDITIONING FOR NAME RESPONSE
For this exercise you will need a clicker or other appropriate marker, delicious treats, and a safe, low distraction environment to work in.
A. Charge the clicker
B. Get the behavior
C. Add a cue
D. Proof for latency
A note about latency: Baseline will vary according to the distraction level of the environment, at least in the early stages of training. Do not be surprised (or disappointed in your dog) if your baseline is much lower in your living room than it is in the dog park. You can do a quick, five trial baseline assessment in a new environment, generally in less than a minute’s time.
E. Other relevant aspects of fluency:
Note about all relevant aspects of fluency – it is important to only work on one aspect of fluency per training session, at least in the early stages of training. When you begin combining multiple aspects of fluency in a single training session, it is important to temporarily reduce your criteria for both critical aspects.
Using both classical and operant conditioning training techniques to teach your dog her name will result in reliable, rapid name responses in a variety of environments. When you enter a new environment with your dog, the first cue response you should test is name recognition. If she can’t respond to her name, she likely can’t respond to other cues for known behaviors in that environment and efforts should be made to reduce the distraction level, criteria for performance, or increase the rate and quality of reinforcement to set the dog up for success.
To ruin a reliable name response, do any of the following:
* Use your dog’s name as a punishment (yelling at her when she is in trouble).
* Use your dog’s name to call her to something she doesn’t like (a bath, for instance).
* Say your dog’s name over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over again in environments that surpass your level of training while she ignores you.
Dogs should think responding to their name is absolutely the best thing in the world. I want my dogs’ faces to light up when they hear their names as if they were toddlers being offered a free trip to Disneyland. If we can manufacture that type of enthusiastic response to a name cue, why on earth wouldn’t our dogs respond?