Your puppy is soon to become your partner in crime, your BFF, the one you tell all your secrets to, and most importantly, a beloved member of the family. But before you get to any of that, what will their name be?
Teaching your pup their name is one of the first things you’ll do as a new pooch parent, you might even have it decided weeks before they’re set to be welcomed into their new home. Your dog’s name is what you’re going to call them for the rest of their life, and what you’re going to be shouting out in public, so it needs to feel right and your dog needs to actually respond to it.
But how do you teach your puppy their name?
Let’s learn all about teaching your dog their name, why it’s so important and how it’ll help you massively in the long run if your pooch cracks the name game quickly.
It’s essential that your dog both knows and responds to their name, however it can be tricky and take a fair bit of time to build up this level of focus and responsiveness. Especially in young puppies who are intrigued by anything and everything in their environment.
Your dog’s name is a way of getting their attention, whether that be in an emergency where your dog needs to come back instantly when called, as a part of obedience training or to interrupt and distract them from something, like chewing on your coffee table and to get them to come to you instead.
Although, when you’re using your dog’s name as an interruption, always make sure to keep your tone cheerful and rewarding, you want your dog to see the use of their name as exciting.
Nobody wants a poorly-behaved pooch, so getting your dog to respond to their name when you call them is a fundamental building block of having an obedient canine. Also, it’s the first significant step towards creating that unconditional bond with your pup.
For your dog to learn their name, you’ll want to use positive reinforcement training, which is essentially the act of rewarding your dog every time they do something you like, so you can reinforce that behaviour and get them to repeat it as a result.
All that being said, here’s our step-by-step guide to teaching your dog their name through the use of positive reinforcement. Away are the days of shouting ‘Alfie, Alfie, Alfieeee, come here, Alfie!’ over and over again, with just a little bit of practice your pooch will come running at the first call of their name.
This is probably the trickiest step of them all, what are you going to name your dog? You need to like it, it needs to be catchy and easy to say, and never anything that you’ll be embarrassed to shout out in public, say in the dog park. The name needs to stick for life.
Before you start training, and this goes for any kind of training, you need to check your environment. Your initial training won’t work in an environment full of interesting sights, smells, people and distractions, even more so with a young pooch who’ll be excited and intrigued about everything around them.
Therefore, you need to start training somewhere calm, quiet, familiar and distraction free. Also, make sure that you and your pooch are both in a good mood, your dog feeds from your emotions so training isn’t going to work if you’re feeling frustrated and stressed. Be cheerful and calm and you’re more likely to be successful.
You’ll also need to have lots of treats on hand, seriously, we do mean a lot! However, in these early stages of training make sure to keep them small, you don’t want to overdo it.
If you’ve just brought home a new puppy, begin your training right from the very first day as most puppies actually pick up on their name fairly quickly. However, make sure you save the nicknames for a later date, you don’t want to overwhelm and confuse your pup.
At this stage, you don’t even need to say your dog’s name, you just want to reward them for showing you their attention and engaging with you. Any time your dog looks at you or even comes to you, you want to mark and reward this behaviour. Mark it either using a clicker, or just with a simple word such as ‘yes’ or ‘good’, and then reward with food, play or loads of praise.
This can be done constantly, any time your dog is just doing what dogs do, pottering around, playing with their toys or chilling on the sofa, if they give you a glance, give them a reward in return! This way, your dog will begin to understand that checking in on you is a good idea that gets them good things.
Now that your pup knows that looking at you is an act that brings them good things (a treat, play, praise, etc), now’s the time to introduce their name. So, stand a few steps away from your dog and grab their attention using their name, if they give you their attention immediately by looking at you or even coming to you, reward them. Keep repeating this multiple times a day.
Essentially, this is the fundamentals of teaching your dog their name. It’ll take a little bit of practice but soon enough your pooch will have it mastered.
Make sure that these training sessions happen little and often, if you go on for too long your pup might get super bored and frustrated, which will make them unwilling to learn. It’s easy for new owners to get overenthusiastic and try and teach their young puppy too much all too soon, remember, puppies have a very short attention span!
Ensure that your training sessions always end on a high note with something fun, exciting and simple. This ensures that your dog will be inclined to want to learn more in the future.
When teaching your dog their name, you want to make sure they know exactly what they’re getting rewarded for. So, when you shout your dog’s name, don’t ask them to sit, lie down, give you their paw or anything else before you give them their treat.
Your pooch needs to know that the treat is for responding to their name, not for the other command you asked for.
Practice in various locations, such as the garden. Gradually increase how distracting the environment is, always making sure you’re cheerful, positive and full of rewards.
Soon enough with plenty of practice, you’ll start to see your dog glancing at you and coming your way without any prompt. Make sure you’re always ready to offer a reward or loads of praise to continue encouraging this. This is especially important when you start going out on walks.
If your pooch knows that checking in with you is the way to get good things, like a tasty treat, they’re more likely to stick close by when off lead instead of pulling away and running off to chase various distractions.
Training doesn’t need to be a boring slog, have some fun with it. Shout your dog’s name and then throw their treat in different directions every time so they have to either catch it or run for it. This keeps your pooch engaged and guessing at where the treat is going to go next.
Or you can call their name, and when they look at you, run backwards. This makes the name game a bit of a chase.
Don’t get into the habit of repeating their name multiple times, as shouting ‘Charliecharliecharlie, Charlie, Charlieee!’, will just become confusing and your dog will learn to ignore it all together. Or, they’ll only respond to that repetition in the future.
Make sure you’re always rewarding, praising and giving attention to the good behaviours, don’t get into the habit of only giving your pooch attention when they’re being naughty. Otherwise, they won’t know what behaviours you desire.
Avoid using your pup’s name when you’re reprimanding them, for example saying, ‘Bella, stop!’, ‘No Bella!’. You want every association with their name to be positive. Owners make the mistake of punishing their dog with their name and this just means many dogs start to dislike the sound of their own name. Only use their name as an attention-grabber to interrupt a behaviour you dislike, don’t pair it with negative words.
If your dog isn’t responding, try leading them away from whatever is distracting them and try again, or practice in a less distracting environment. High distraction areas should only be introduced when your dog’s response is absolutely perfect in areas with little distraction.
Never use your dog’s name to call them for something negative, such as putting them in a crate, trimming their nails or getting them in the bath. They’ll just start to ignore you if they know coming to their name is paired with a negative consequence.
When adopting an adult rescue dog, the new owner might want to change the dog’s name. However, many are wary of changing the name in case it confuses the dog.
But don’t worry, it’s still very much possible to switch up your adult dog’s name, it’ll just take a bit of patience.
Follow the same steps as we detailed earlier, and be very, very patient with your pooch. Make sure your voice is as cheerful as can be and eventually they’ll respond.
Teaching your puppy their name won’t be too tricky, you just need to make sure you’ve got plenty of treats to hand to make it work. Soon enough your puppy will be bouncing and bounding over to you with just one call of their new name.