Statue of Ramona in Grant Park
Statue of Ramona in Grant Park in Portland, OR. (Photo: Orange Suede Sofa CC-BY-SA)

With the recent hubbub over Beverly Cleary’s 100th birthday, I have been spending a lot of time lately thinking about Ramona Quimby. Does anyone else remember the scene (in Ramona the Pest, if you’re wondering) where she arrives for the first day of school and is told to “Sit here for the present”? She thinks she is getting a gift, and she stays sitting in her chair for hours, waiting.

All right, I may not tell that story as well as Cleary does, but my point is that instructions are only valuable if the recipient understands what is intended. Unfortunately, we often ask our dogs (cats and other pets too!) to follow instructions that they have not been prepared to understand.

With that in mind, this seems like a good moment to review some basics. We’ll start this week with two games I usually teach to my students as “Attention” and the “Name Game.”

These are not only great exercises for starting training, but they are also great exercises to use throughout your training life, especially when confronting a new challenge.

Training in a new location or one that is particularly distracting? Start with these exercises.

Someone new working on training? Ditto.

Need your pet’s attention in the face of lots of distractions? You guess it, try these out.

Attention

  1. Toss a treat on the ground. Don’t toss too far, or your dog is likely to wander off. For a puppy, drop very close to the dog’s nose.
  2. Once your dog has eaten the treat, wait for him to turn back towards you. If necessary, whistle, clap softly, or make encouraging sounds like “puppy, puppy, puppy.” If necessary, place a treat in front of her nose and use it to lure her attention back to you.
  3. As soon as your dog turns towards you (eye contact is not necessary), mark (CLICK!) and reward by throwing another treat on the ground.

Name Game

Once your dog has begun to look at you after getting the treat, it’s time to add his name.

  1. Toss a treat on the ground.
  2. Immediately after your dog eats the treat, say his or her name once.
  3. If your dog does not look at you, do not repeat his or her name. Try the attention-getting activities mentioned in step 2, above.
  4. As soon as your dog turns to look at you, mark (click) and reward by throwing another treat on the ground.
  5. Keep playing! You can’t get too much attention. It is the foundation for everything else you will train with your pet.

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