How to Teach a Dog Their Name in 4 Easy Steps

By: Irith Bloom, CPDT-KSAUpdated:

How to Teach a Dog Their Name in 4 Easy Steps
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How to Teach a Dog Their Name in 4 Easy Steps

So, you just brought home a new dog and have the perfect name picked out. But how do you clue your pup in on their new name? Fortunately, teaching a dog their name is actually very easy! Whether you just got a new puppy or recently adopted an older dog whose original name isn’t your favorite, you can quickly and easily teach the dog’s name (and even add nicknames) using positive reinforcement.

How to Teach Your Dog Their Name: A Step-By-Step Guide

The key to name recognition for your dog, whether you’re doing adult dog training or puppy training, is creating a positive association with the name. It usually only takes a few training sessions. Here are the steps.
Photo of a hand holding a small amount of dog treatsPhoto of a hand holding a small amount of dog treats

1Gather Your Supplies

To start, you’ll need 10 tasty treats the size of your thumbnail. (Dog training treats are typically small and work great for this task.)
American Journey Peanut Butter Dog Treats
American Journey Salmon Training Bits Dog Treats
Bring your dog to a quiet area with few distractions. Make sure other household pets are shut away from where you and your dog are, too. This helps prevent competition for treats.
Photo of a woman calling to her dogPhoto of a woman calling to her dog

2Say Your Dog’s Name—Then Treat Them

Say your dog’s name exactly once, then feed them a treat.

That’s it. That’s the whole step.

It doesn’t matter how your dog reacts when you say their name—they don’t have to look at you, sit, come to you or do, well, anything. Feed the treat after you say the name, no matter what. All your dog has to do is exist and hear their name.

Photo of a woman giving her dog a treatPhoto of a woman giving her dog a treat

3Repeat Until Your 10 Treats Are Gone

Repeat the above step nine more times, until your treat hand is empty. Congrats—you’ve just gone through all the dog training steps for a single session of how to teach a dog their name!

Take a break for at least 30 minutes before doing another session the same way.

Do a training session at least once a day (twice a day is even better) every day for a few days. If your dog is particularly distractible (like a new puppy or even some adult dogs), you may need to do this daily for a week or two to cement the learning. In time, your dog will start looking to you whenever they hear their name. After all, it means a treat is coming!

Photo of a woman sitting beside her dog on a couchPhoto of a woman sitting beside her dog on a couch

4Switch Things Up

Want to up your game to professional dog trainer level, so your dog’s name recognition is extra strong? Try the following suggestions:

  • Say your dog’s name in different tones of voice. Ideally, you’d always address your pooch in a happy tone of voice. But in reality, there may be times when you use a different tone because you’re upset, scared or distracted. Prepare your dog for those situations by varying your tone of voice as you practice name recognition.
  • Train in lots of different places. You started your training in a quiet place with few distractions, but ultimately, you want them to know the new name here, there and everywhere. After a few training sessions, try the training in other locations. Pick quiet places at first, and gradually work your way up to more and more exciting situations.
  • Practice from different body positions or at different distances. It’s best to start name recognition training very close to your dog, but as they get better at it, you can try facing away—they may walk around to the front of you to see what’s up—or standing a few steps away when you say their name. You can also train while seated, lying down, in another room…the sky’s the limit!

Whenever you make things more challenging, pay attention to your dog’s behavior. If they don’t respond to their name right away, make things a little easier and try again.

3 Training Tips for Teaching a Dog Their Name

Dog parents need to ensure a dog’s name continues to have a positive association and gets the dog’s attention. To make sure your dog responds to their name the first time, every time, keep these three tips in mind:

  1. Do extra practice even after your dog knows their name. To keep the behavior strong, even after your dog knows their name, do occasional training sessions where you simply say your pup’s name and give them treats.
  2. Always follow your dog’s name with nice things. If you call your dog, and then yell at them—or do something else they don’t like, such as trimming their nails—they may associate their name with unpleasantness. This will make them slower to respond the next time. Keep their name associated with good stuff.
  3. Only say your dog’s name once at a time. If you say the dog’s name and they don’t respond, wait 30 seconds before trying again. Why? You want your pup to respond the first time you ask for their attention. If you keep repeating their name, they’re likely to either tune you out or learn that their name doesn’t mean anything until they’ve heard it several times.

Why Teach a Dog Their Name?

Dogs need to know their names for a variety of reasons. Here are just a few:

  • Dogs are not naturally great at words, so they often tune out a lot of human speech. That’s fine unless we’re talking to the dog. Teaching your pooch their name helps them figure out when they need to pay attention to what you’re saying.
  • Dogs have a pretty short attention span. This is especially true if you have a puppy. You can use your dog’s name to get your dog’s attention.
  • If you have more than one dog, your pup’s name can help them understand who you’re talking to. For example, “Fido, come!” lets Fido know to pay attention, and also lets Fifi, Spot, and Rover know they are not needed at the moment.

What to Do When Your Dog Is Afraid of Their Name

If your dog shies away or displays other stressed body language when you say their name, you may have accidentally created a negative association with their name. Use the steps below to help your pup feel better about their name.

  • Step 1: Get 10 treats, and go to where your dog is.
  • Step 2: Say your dog’s name just once, then wait quietly.
  • Step 3: As soon as your dog looks in your direction, praise and feed them a treat.
  • Step 4: Repeat until you are out of treats.
Pro Tip: If you are using clicker training with your dog, click the clicker as soon as they look at you, then feed the treat.
Whether you have a new puppy or a rescue dog, start name recognition training right away. Teaching your dog their name is a great way to strengthen your relationship with your dog. It’s also a great way to jumpstart your dog training. Win-win!


By: Irith Bloom, CPDT-KSAUpdated: