How to Teach Your Dog Their Name
Brought to you by the AKC GoodDog! Helpline – the AKC’s 7-day-a-week training support service
By Hilarie Erb, AKC GoodDog! Helpline Trainer
Names are very important to humans. We attach important meaning to them, whether our own names or the names of our dogs. But to a dog, a name is just a sound – and it’s up to the owner to make it a sound that the dog likes to hear.
It’s easy to teach a puppy her name – play the “Name Game.” Do this in a non-distracting place, like your kitchen. If it’s a bigger area, have the puppy on a leash so she can’t head off if she sees something more exciting. Start when the puppy is not too distracted and have a handful of tiny soft treats. Say the name, cheerfully, and when she looks at you immediately say “yes!” and give a treat. The “yes” is a marker word that you will use to let your puppy know she’s done the right thing. You can use a clicker too. Wait a few seconds and repeat, five or six times.
Do this routine several times each day. It’s fun, and you can do it any time your dog is hanging out with you. Before you know it, your puppy will associate hearing his name with tasty treats.
When you are having consistent success at this level, try it when the puppy is not paying attention to you. You should still be in a non-distracting place. When she isn’t looking at you, say her name. When she looks at you, mark and reward! Again, wait a few seconds and repeat a few more times. If she doesn’t look at you, try a kissing noise to get her attention. You don’t want to make a habit of this, but it’s okay to help her out a little at this stage. If you need to do it more than one or two times, go back to a less distracting environment. As the puppy gets better at responding to the name, gradually increase the distraction level.
If you use the dog’s name too often, it will just become meaningless noise. And never use it to scold your dog, or in combination with negative words. You want your dog to love her name and eagerly come to you when she hears it. If you combine your dog’s name with a negative word, like “no,” often, your dog will learn to avoid her name.
It is not unusual for rescued dogs to dislike their names since they may often have heard them used in an unpleasant tone or associated with punishment. So, it’s a good idea to start with a fresh, new name that will have happy connotations! The good news is that it is just as easy to teach an adult dog a new name as it is a puppy. In either case, it’s a small part of adjusting to a new home.
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For more tips and advice on training your dog, join the AKC GoodDog! Helpline, a seven-day-a-week telephone support service staffed by experienced dog trainers: www.akcgooddoghelpline.org.
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