I start playing the ‘name game’ as soon as I bring them home at 8 to 9 weeks old. A handful of soft small bites of something tasty (I like to use tiny bits of skinless, boneless roast chicken or cooked roast beef cut into very tiny pieces, enough for a little bite, so the puppy doesn’t have to stop and chew, or choke on it if they swallow it whole). Puppy is on a leash or line, so they can’t wander away! I like to have the puppy in front of me, (doesn’t have to be sitting, I like to sit on the floor with the pup in front of me. I use a clicker to teach this ‘game’. (You need to ‘charge the clicker prior to using it on a new pup, that’s a different lesson!)
To start, I don’t say anything but wait for the puppy to glance/look at me (looking at me for a nano second is great to start, or even if they look in my direction I will treat them in the beginning). As soon as they do, I click and treat. I do that a few times, just ‘catching’ the pup engaging in the behaviour I’m trying to shape to start. And then I say the pup’s name, (most pups will look at you when they hear your voice, the pup should be in very close proximity to you, and as mentioned, on a leash/line to make sure they don’t wander away while you’re teaching this exercise). Say the pup’s name, when they look at you or in your direction, click and treat! That’s it….do it 10 times and then play with your puppy. You can play this game a few times a day, but do not do it until the pup is bored, and make sure you end your ‘lesson’ with a good game of play, tug, something the puppy loves to do with you. Tell them ‘what a good pup they are, make them feel they are the most special, smartest pup in the whole world, and that YOU are the most fun thing in the room.
As you progress and your pup ‘learns the game’ you can up the ante, just a tiny bit to start, asking for them to hold the eye contact for a second, then two, three up to five and so on as they get really good at the game. You can train your puppy to respond to its name AND develop focus on you as his/her handler skills at the same time in a very fun way. IF the puppy makes a mistake, or you are asking for too much too soon, make sure you back things up, make it easier for the pup to succeed so you can reward and have a big party! Remember, this is not a time to correct the puppy. Just say, ‘ok, let’s try that again’, and give it another go. Be positive and happy and upbeat with your puppy at all times when you are teaching your pup anything. And always have the reward ready to go. As a young pup, you want to teach your pup that training is fun, not boring, and not mechanical, and a little unpredictable. Make sure, and especially as your pup really understand what you are asking of them, to be a little unpredictable, sometimes giving the reward for making eye contact when you say its name, other times, asking for them to hold their gaze on you for a few seconds. That will also keep things fun for your pup, and keep them guessing as to what mom/dad is going to do next!world, above all other dogs and people. This is a fundamental exercise that can be taught right away when you bring your puppy home. Not only are you teaching the foundation for focus on you, you are teaching them that you are the source of all fun things! That is why the play session after each session is so very important in conveying this to your new puppy!)
Have fun, and happy training!