We often forget about it, but using your dog’s name and having them immediately look at you for direction is what you want, but you need to officially reinforce that now and again! You probably say your dog’s name a thousand times a day, but is he looking at you each time? If not… brush up on this one! This is a super easy one to work on in the quiet time of the morning, in the evening when you are sitting down watching TV etc.
This is best practiced inside in a distraction free environment. Practice focus games that give your dog an opportunity to choose you and his favorite reward. Reward your dog each time he focuses on you. I usually start with a “watch me” command. As soon as my dog makes eye contact, I will mark the behavior with a “yes!” or a click of the clicker and reward my dog. Once he is solid on this, I will stop asking and just slightly turn away from my dog and then reward when he comes around to make eye contact again. I follow the same steps of reinforcement and rewards when I call his name. As soon as I say it and he looks, I click/mark and reward.
This practice reinforces two things: 1) your dog responding to his name and 2) your dog looking to you for direction or "checking in".
In their heart of hearts, your dog wants to please you. So often, we don’t ask enough of our dogs and just let them have everything. When we do this, we take away the opportunity for them to do something to please us!
Set your dog up for success by asking them to make a choice and then rewarding them for it.
Here are some easy ones to start practicing that easily fit into a daily routine:
- Waiting to go out to play
- Sitting and waiting for a release before eating
- Waiting for a release before coming out of the crate
- Sitting and waiting for a release when getting ready for a leash walk
Interrupting free play for a come when called/collar grab and reward
Waiting to Play: Waiting to play is an easy one to practice when you let your dog outside in the yard. Usually, your dog will go to the door, you open the door and out flies your dog into the yard. Change it up and ask your dog for a choice, and the reward is going out into the yard to play.
Ask for a “sit and wait” at the door, then a release to the yard to play. You have now asked your dog for a behavior (a sit, wait and focus) and then upon release to the yard given them the reward.
Waiting to Eat: The same is true at meal times. Instead of just setting the bowl down and letting your dog eat, ask for a behavior. If I am feeding from the bowl, I always ask for a sit and focus on me, then a release word to begin eating. At feeding time I no longer need to ask, I have three dogs each sitting in their designated spot waiting for their food. No one moves until they are released to eat, even if the bowl is right in front of them.
Play Break and Release: When my dogs are out playing I usually keep a few pieces of food or treats in my pocket. I periodically call one over for a quick sit, focus and reward. It is a way for me to regularly reinforce behavior that I want. Coming when I call your name. Sometimes it is a food reward, sometimes it is just a quick pet and yes! and then released to go back and play.
Be purposeful with your interactions with your dog. They LOVE it! I love the look on each of my dogs’ faces when I ask them to do something. Their little faces say “Game On!” and they are all lit up and bright. Don’t let your dog (or yourself) just go through the motions each day. Be fully engaged and purposeful… your dog will love you for it!
If you have stopped asking your dog for behaviors… it is time to hit YOUR re-set button. It takes practice on a regular basis, but generally speaking, dogs love games and rewards. Engaging your dog and making them work for everyday things is fun for your dog, improves his behavior and strengthens the bond between you and your dog.
This post was previously published by Kathryn Durno on 4 Knines Blog