How to Teach a Dog its Name

By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. August 1, 2017
How to Teach a Dog its Name

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Teaching a dog to recognize their name is vital so they can respond correctly to our signals. It is a basic exercise to be able to train other canine obedience exercises, and to capture their attention in different circumstances. If you cannot catch your dog's attention you will not be able to teach them any command - which is why this is the first exercise in dog obedience training.

In this AnimalWised article, we will help you choose a good name, attract the attention of the dog, prolong their attention and give you useful tips to respond positively in different circumstances which you may encounter.

Remember that teaching the dog to recognize their own name is a very important task that any owner should keep in mind. All this will help you strengthen your bond, avoid them running off on walks and create the base to build their obedience upon.

You may also be interested in: How to Teach a Cat its Name

Choose an appropriate name

Choosing an appropriate name for your dog is crucial. You should know that excessively long names, with difficult pronunciation or those that may be confused with other commands, should be discarded immediately.

Your dog must have a special and pleasant name, but at the same time be easy to relate to. AnimalWised offer you a complete list of unique names for dogs or a list of short names for dogs. This detail is very important to keep in mind.

We have an infinite list of name suggestions on our site, so have a browse! How about Disney names, Zulu names, Scottish names or names of famous dogs?

How to Teach a Dog its Name - Choose an appropriate name

Capture their attention

Our first objective will be to catch the dog's attention. With this criterion, you are looking for a basic behavior, which is that your dog looks at you for a moment. They do not really need to look at you in the eye, but this will mean they are paying attention. And, this will make it easier for you to communicate with them after saying their name. However, most dogs end up looking into your eyes.

If your dog is a furry breed and their fur covers their eyes, you will not know where they are really looking. In this case, the criterion will be for your dog to point their face toward yours, as if they were looking into your eyes, although you do not know if they are actually doing so.

To get your dog to pay attention, use appetizing food, whether it be sweets, snacks or pieces of sausage. Show them a piece of food and then close your hand, protecting the food. Keep your fist closed, and wait. Your dog will try to take the food in different ways. They will strike your hand with their paw, lick your hand, nibble or do anything else. Ignore all those behaviors and just keep your hand closed. If your dog hits you or pushes your hand hard, keep it against your thigh. This will prevent your hand from moving.

At some point, your dog will get tired of trying to do gestures that do not work. Say their name and when they look at you, congratulate them with a "very good" or click ( sound clicker ), then give the food.

During the first few repetitions do not worry if your dog does not seem to relate the process properly. It is normal. Repeat this exercise and click or praise them when they pay attention and respond to their name by looking at you. It is important not to reward them if they do not do it properly.

Repetitions required

It will depend on the mental ability of the dog to learn to properly relate their name to the treat they receive later. Do not worry if they do not seem to understand it, some dogs will need up to 40 reps and others will have enough with 10.

Ideally, repeat this exercise on a daily basis for about 5 or 10 minutes. Prolonging a training session can overwhelm your dog by demotivating them from their training.

On the other hand, highlight the importance of carrying out the training in a quiet, free from distractions area, so that our dog can fully concentrate on us.

How to Teach a Dog its Name - Capture their attention

Maintain their attention

This procedure is very similar to the one detailed in the previous point, with the intention of increasing the duration of the behavior up to three seconds. Start the first session of this criterion by doing two or three repetitions of the previous exercise, so that your dog enters the game.

The next step will be (as in the previous process) to have a treat, close it in a fist, pronounce their name and wait. Count three seconds and click or congratulate them, then give them the food. If your dog did not maintain gaze you can try again by moving the dog to keep their attention on you. They will probably follow you. Do the same procedure again but wait for a shorter time before rewarding. Gradually increase the time your dog looks into your eyes until you get at least three seconds in five successive repetitions.

Make the necessary number of sessions until you get your dog to look you in the eyes for three seconds in five consecutive repetitions. The duration of these repetitions will continue to increase, even if it exceeds three seconds. The intention is that the dog is attentive for a decent amount of time. But we are not talking anything longer than 20 seconds!

As we have said before, the ideal is not to overwhelm the dog so they dedicate a little time to training but at an intense level.

How to Teach a Dog its Name - Maintain their attention

Keep their attention as you move

Usually dogs tend to give us more attention when we are on the move, but not all respond in the same way. Once our dog is relating the treats to the name and having to look at us, we must go a step further by exercising when we are on the move.

So that the exercise can be easily related you must start with slight movements that you will increase gradually. You can start by moving the arm in which you hold the treats and then moving away a step or two.

How to Teach a Dog its Name - Keep their attention as you move

Increase difficulty

After devoting between 3 and 10 days to the repetition of this exercise your dog should be able to relate their name as a call for their attention. However, it may not work as well at home as it does on the outside.

That is because the dog, in front of different stimuli, cannot avoid deconcentration. However, we must work actively so that the dog responds equally well wherever they are. Remember that teaching basic obedience to a dog is a great help for your safety and theirs.

As in all learning processes, we must practice with our dog in different situations that increase difficulty gradually. You can start practicing the answer to the call in your garden or in an empty dog park. But, progressively, you must instruct them in places with elements that can distract them.

How to Teach a Dog its Name - Increase difficulty

Possible problems when teaching your dog its name

Some problems that may occur when teaching your dog to recognize its name are:

  • Your dog injures your hand when trying to take the food: Some dogs bite or hit hard the hand that holds the food, and can hurt the trainer. If your dog hurts when trying to take food, hold the snack at your shoulder and away from your dog. When they cannot reach the food, your dog will look at you and you can begin to reinforce the desired behavior. In each repetition lower your hand a little more until you can have the arm extended down without your dog trying to take the food out of your hand. Another option that some trainers use, but which I do not like much, is to use thick gloves to protect your hand from scratches and bites from the dog.
  • Your dog is very distracted: If your dog is distracted it may be because they have recently eaten or that the training place is not calm enough. Look for a different place to train and hold sessions on a different schedule. It can also happen that the treat you offer is not appetizing enough, you better get bits of sausage or something meaty. If you think the place and time are right, have a quick sequence of handing out food to your dog before starting the session. Simply give them five pieces of food quickly (as if you were loading the clicker but at the fastest speed possible) and the training session begins.
  • Your dog will not stop looking at you for a second: If your dog does not stop looking at you for a moment, you will find it difficult to commence the command. To distract your dog and use their name, you can throw the food to the ground after each click. This way, you will have an occasion to say their name right after they have taken the food, but before they look at you spontaneously.
How to Teach a Dog its Name - Possible problems when teaching your dog its name


Do not use your dog's name in vain. If you say it without reinforcing their behavior when they look at you, you will be undoing your hard work and your dog will stop paying attention when you say their name intentionally. Rewarding and congratulating them whenever they respond positively to the call is fundamental.

How to Teach a Dog its Name - Precautions...

If you want to read similar articles to How to Teach a Dog its Name, we recommend you visit our Basic education category.

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