How To Teach A Dog Its Name
One of the first things you’ll want to do once you bring home your adorable new dog is teach it to respond to its name.
Whether or not dogs understand the concept of a name is still unclear – but what we do know is that dogs learn quickly to respond to certain sounds. As long as you follow the right steps in teaching your dog its name, you will soon reach a point where your pup reacts very reliably to being called.
Teaching your dog its name is an extremely important part of training, and it really establishes the foundation of your dog’s education. Grabbing your dog’s attention at critical moments could save his or her life.
And even in less dramatic situations, knowing that you can reliably get your dog to come to you, even amid a crowded dog park, just makes your life as a dog owner much easier.
In this article, we’ll discuss how dogs learn to react to sounds, and how exactly you should go about teaching your dog its name.
Part 1: PSYCHOLOGY
Do dogs understand their names?
Experts are divided on whether or not dogs understand the concept of a name.
Traditionally, it was believed that dogs simply learn that good or interesting things happen when their name is called. And that’s why they respond – because they think something positive is about to happen if they do.
Recent studies have shown, however, that dogs can identify hundreds of different objects by their names. It’s quite easy, for example, to teach a dog to grab a certain toy once you’ve taught it what the toy is called.
Dogs also appear to ‘eavesdrop’, picking up on and reacting to certain words that were not taught to them through training. I noticed that my own dog learned the word ‘squirrel’, not because I taught it to her, but because she overheard me explaining to people what she was fixated on while we were walking in the park.
If dogs can go beyond simply responding to sounds, and actually attach sounds to certain objects, then it seems at least somewhat possible that a dog could attach a certain name to its sense of self.This is more likely to happen over a longer period of time when it overhears you discussing your dog with other people.
But as far as basic recall is concerned, you can get the ball rolling from the very first day your puppy is with you. Let’s talk about how.
Part 2: TRAINING
How to teach a dog its name
1. Pick a dog-friendly name.
Teaching a dog its name is easier with certain names than others.
Experts recommend choosing a name with the following attributes in order to make it easier for your dog to recognize:
- One or two syllables. Two is ideal. This means your dog’s name is short enough to prompt a quick reaction but long enough to be distinctive amid other sounds.
- Sharp consonants. Certain consonants, like “k”, “p” and “d” can slice through other frequencies more easily.
- Ending with a vowel. Long vowel sounds are more powerful to dogs. Imagine calling your dog in strong winds. Having a long vowel sound at the end will help the sound to travel through the gusts.
- Avoid clashes with common commands. It seems pretty obvious that if your dog’s name rhymes with “no” or “sit”, it might get confused.
It goes without saying that there are thousands of names for you to look through on PupNames.com. And you can even see a detailed analysis of each name, so that you know how suitable it is for dogs. Have fun!
2. Start simple training immediately.
Your dog’s earliest days are a great opportunity to imprint his or her name firmly into mind. You should start basic name training as soon as your new pup is home – provided of course that you’ve made a firm decision on the name!
The first exercise is simple. All you need to do is say your pup’s name in an excited tone, and reward when he or she looks at you. Reward with a treat and lots of praise, including a “click” if you’ve decided to do clicker training. Do this exercise in a quiet area with as few distractions as possible.
You might need to repeat their name a few times to secure the glance at first. But if you can patiently repeat the process until your dog gets it, he or she will start to develop a reliable response pretty quickly.
If you’re really struggling to get your dog to look at you, you can try drawing the treat up their nose until they make eye contact. Once you do this a few times, your pup should start to learn that eye contact is what you’re looking for.
3. Try the same drill at a distance.
Once you’re confident that your dog responds well to hearing the name in close proximity, try putting some distance between the two of you.
Call your dog from the other side of the room, and usher him or her over to you. Only treat, click and praise your dog when they come over to you. Now they’re having to work a bit harder for the reward, they will really start to associate positive feelings towards the name you’ve given them.
4. Make the name game more challenging.
To make this exercise even more challenging, try it outside where there are more distractions. Your dog only really learns good recall in these distracting environments.
Of course, training your dog to come to you when called is a long process. So don’t feel discouraged if he or she doesn’t respond reliably when you’re outside together. It’s important not to get frustrated if your dog gets easily distracted outside. You should try to never use their name in connection with a scolding or reprimand. Keep it positive, always.
What matters is that by sowing the seeds of name recognition early in your pup’s life, you’ll be making the training journey that lies ahead much easier. And throwing a bit of challenge into the mix, even at this early stage, is important for your dog’s development.
5. Practice makes perfect.
Your dog’s response to hearing its name will improve in time if you keep repeating the above exercises.
Just like with any command, it takes time for your dog to learn the behaviour that you want. The more you practice this exercise with your dog, the sooner he or she will develop good recall skills.
Seeing your dog come trotting over the minute you call its name is a great feeling for a dog owner. Your pup has finally been christened and – whether they know it or not – they now have their own identity.
Part 3: DOS & DONTS
The dos and don’ts of teaching a dog its name
Hopefully the step-by-step guide above will help you on your way to giving your pup an adorable identity.
Here are some ground rules and recommendations for successfully teaching your dog its name.
- Don’t use your dog’s name when you’re disciplining him or her. The last thing you want is for your dog to have a negative association with its name. Over time, he or she will simply stop responding to the name, because they won’t anticipate anything nice coming their way as a result.
- Don’t repeat the name multiple times during training. If your pup doesn’t respond right away, give him or her some time before you repeat the name. You don’t want your dog to think that the repeated words are the name. And you certainly don’t want your dog to think that it can ignore your calls multiple times and only pay attention on its own terms. This is important for all dog training drills, in fact.
- Don’t delay with treats (in the beginning). As with any dog training exercise, you have to be extremely prompt with the treat in order to reinforce good behaviour. Otherwise, the dog doesn’t really know what it’s being rewarded for – especially when it’s young. Once you’re further forward in the training you can start to withdraw treats completely, but at the beginning it’s very important to dish them out fast.
- Don’t mix calling your dog’s name with other commands. You shouldn’t need to call your dog’s name every time you want them to sit, or stay. In fact, doing this will completely confuse them – they might end up just sitting when you call them, thinking that that’s the behaviour you want. Keep name training separate from other drills.
- Keep practising. Rewarding your dog for responding to its name is something you can continue to do for its entire life. Obviously you needn’t go overboard with the treats, but it’s still good to keep your dog on its toes, even later in life. Repetition is the key to success.
- Use better treats if you’re struggling. Sometimes dog training requires ‘high-value’ treats to really stick. If your pup isn’t responding to its name with the treats you’re using, try buying better ones or using something irresistible like cooked chicken. This goes for any dog training exercise.
- Keep it positive and enthusiastic. Remember that your dog needs to LOVE hearing his or her name being called! You have to keep things exciting, and ensure that your dog never gets bored or afraid when hearing its name. That’s why you should use your dog’s name with a positive inflection, and never use it for discipline or reprimand.
- Run short and sweet name training sessions. Do name training drills for a maximum of 5 to 10 minutes each time. Dogs don’t have the attention span to handle much more than that, particularly when they are toddlers.
Part 4: QUESTIONS
Common questions about dog name training
Still got questions about teaching a dog its name? Here are some of the most frequent questions answered.
How long does it take for a dog to learn its name?
Most dogs will learn their name within the first few days of arriving home. This depends, however, on the quality of your training and the intelligence of the breed.
For some dogs, it can take up to a few weeks for their name to stick. So if your new pup hasn’t figured it out after a few days, don’t panic.
Why doesn’t my dog answer to his name?
If you’ve just started name training with your dog, it might just take a little longer for his or her name to stick.
On the other hand, if you’ve had your dog for a while and it’s still refusing to come when you call its name, there might be a problem with the way you’re using your dog’s name. It’s possible that your dog has developed negative associations with the name and is choosing to ignore you for that reason.
What you can do in this situation is try teaching your dog its name from scratch. Only this time, take care to keep it positive and NEVER use your dog’s name with a negative tone!
How do you teach an old dog a new name?
If you’ve just adopted an older dog that had a different name previously, it might take a little more time for the new name to stick. But you should generally employ the same training strategy as above, using treats and praise when the dog responds to its name.
Renaming a dog can be powerfully beneficial, especially if the dog was abused by its previous owners, or if they used its name inappropriately. Changing the dog’s name gives it a fresh start, and gives you the opportunity to build a positive connection between the dog and his or her name.
Start training with treats and accept that you might have to be a bit more patient with an older dog. There’s absolutely no reason why your older dog shouldn’t be able to learn its new name within a week, as long as you are training it properly.
We hope this all helps. Contact us if you have any more questions about how to teach a dog its name!