How To Teach Your Dog Her Name

Because it doesn't always happen automatically 🐶

Teaching your dog to recognize and respond to a new name is an important step in making a companion animal part of your family. Whether your dog is a puppy or an adult, adjusting to a new home can take time, but there are some things you can do to make the transition a little easier on your pup.

Teaching a dog her name will be faster for some pet parents than others — it’s entirely up to the dog, explains Shelby Semel, a canine behavior expert and trainer. “It can take as little as a few days to as long as a few weeks,” Semel tells The Dodo.

Positive reinforcement, like treats and praise, along with saying her name in a happy, excited tone of voice, can make a dog more eager to associate herself with the new name.

But just because you say your dog’s name happily every day doesn’t mean your pup is always paying attention, and overdoing name training can backfire. “You want to avoid repeating the dog's name as they will begin to tune you out,” Semel says. “Another important thing to note, if you call the dog's name in a negative tone, they may begin to ignore you.”  

To help a dog learn her name, Semel recommends working with your pup when she’s calm — but not tired. To start, try calling your dog’s name, and if she responds excitedly, praise her and reward her with a favorite toy or treat.

“As with any tricks or behavior training, teaching your dog to recognize [her] name will take time and practice,” Semel adds. “Be sure to engage with your dog without any distraction and reward them with treats or other positive reinforcements and soon enough, they will begin to associate themselves with the new name you've given them!”

Once she has her name down you can work on attention and recall. To teach your new dog how to come when called, start with your hands at your waist, with treats hidden in both:

Terrier Darcy doing name training with owner
Lily Feinn

Watch your dog, and when she looks you in the eyes, say “Yes!” and give her a treat. To keep your dog’s interest, vary the kind of treat and how much you give each time.

Darcy making eye contact
Lily Feinn

Repeat the exercise until you have your dog’s undivided attention. Now, say your dog’s name instead of the “Yes!” cue, and reward her with a treat for eye contact. Repeat these steps between 10 and 20 times to build an association for your dog between her name, food and attention.

Darcy eating a treat
Lily Feinn

When your dog has become a pro at the exercise, add a new challenge. Wait for your dog to be mildly distracted, then say her name. If she looks at you, take a few quick steps backwards, call “Come!” and if she follows you, reward her with a "jackpot" of small treats.

Dog Darcy learning her name with owner Lily
Lily Feinn

You can feed your dog the equivalent of an entire meal while repeating these exercises, building name recognition. “Imagine instead of gobbling up kibble in two minutes, she receives her lunch as 50 rewards for attention to [her] name,” Semel adds. “This is the quickest way to strengthen your pup’s ability to pay attention to you even with distractions!”