How to teach a puppy their name – and how you should use it

How to teach a puppy its name: 3 chocolate labs on a sofa

Photo credit: © / grase

Get a new puppy, give it a name, everyone uses it and sooner or later your puppy just gets used to it right? That’s how to teach a puppy their name.

Well, there’s some truth in that but you could do so much better!

Spending dedicated time to teach your Labrador puppy their name and having everybody only use it in a particular way can be an incredibly important and useful tool if you choose to make it that way.

By following the advice in this article, you can teach your puppy their name and use it in such a way that all future training will be easier and more effective, and their name will also become a useful tool for their safety!

At any time he’s about to wander into danger, if you can call his name and he reliably turns his attention to you, you can prevent many imminent disasters. But only if he turns to you reliably and every time.

Contents & Quick Navigation

  • 5 Additional Tips
  • 6 VIDEO: A Nice Summary Of The Above In Action
  • 7 Conclusion
  • 8 Feedback and Comments
  • How a Dog’s Name Should Be Used

    To make best use of your Labradors name, you have to use it to mean: “I’m talking to you and I want you to listen and pay attention.” It must mean this and nothing else, used for no other reason.

    When you call your Labs name, it should be a cue for them to stop, turn toward and acknowledge you, give you their undivided attention and wait for further instruction.

    The ability to attract your dogs attention reliably will form a solid foundation for greater success in training later on because it’s far easier to ask a dog to do something when it’s concentrated on you. It’s very hard to command a dog that doesn’t even acknowledge you when called.

    Secondly, it can be great for safety when your Lab is heading toward trouble. As an example, if he was chasing a ball about to bounce into a busy road, if you could call his name and stop him in his tracks to pay you attention, well, it could even save his life.

    So how do you achieve this?

    You need to condition your dog so the very sound of their name causes them to pay you attention and sparks joy and excitement within them as a natural response.

    To do this, you must only use your puppies name in a positive way, reward him massively when he pays you attention for calling his name and NEVER use his name for anything else.

    And this is where a lot of people make mistakes…

    Common Mistakes Made Using a Dog’s Name

    A lot of people use their dog’s name as a correction, shouting it angrily as a punishment. The dog does something undesirable and the owner shouts angrily: “MONTY! STOP THAT! BAD DOG MONTY!! And now of course Monty starts to associate his name with negative things. He learns when his name is called, he’s being told off and this is something you DO NOT want to happen.

    He will begin to ignore your calls and will not stop and turn to give you attention. Why would your Labrador stop chasing a squirrel, just because you call his name when he knows he’s going to be told off? In this moment, right now, he’s free and having fun and won’t feel the urge to stop to pay you attention if he’s learnt you’ll tell him off. You have to make him WANT to stop and pay you attention

    On top of this, a lot of people tend to use their dog’s name as a recall command, to get their dog to come, shouting: “Monty…MONTY! COME! MONTYYYY!

    This is plain wrong. For the best results you must use your dog’s name only to get attention. It’s a command and cannot have two meanings. Call your dog’s name positively and calmly, then pause, then issue a second command: “Monty…(pause)…come!’ His name is not a command to come to you, you have another command for that.

    Finally, try not to nickname your dog or use multiple names. Although they will eventually learn to respond to multiple names, you are again watering down the effectiveness of having just one and can confuse your puppy.

    Colby Morita, a trainer of puppy’s for guide dogs of America, has an article titled “How to teach your puppy his name” over at puppyintraining.com that re-iterates these points and is well worth a read.

    Many Dogs Get Confused At What Their Name Means

    If you’re guilty of the above mistakes when you call your dog’s name, to them it could have three meanings:

    1. Stop and give me your attention
    2. You’re being naughty, I’m telling you off
    3. Come to me. No? Now come, I’m angry

    So their name has three meanings?! No other word we use with our dog has this so the dog gets confused and the power of what their name should mean gets lost.

    We need to eliminate using it for numbers 2 and 3 that associate their name with negative things. And we need to concentrate on number 1, using it only for attention and only in a calm, positive voice, always following it with a desirable and rewarding experience.

    We want them to know their name has this one meaning, hear their name and think: “YES! My name! Something good’s about to happen!” and have them reliably and consistently stop what they’re doing and turn to us.

    How to Teach a Puppy Their Name In 10 Steps

    Side view of a choc lab puppy on white background

    Photo credit: © / eriklam

    Your puppy will learn its name naturally with little effort from you if you speak and use it often enough.

    But for the reasons above it’s of huge benefit to both you and your Lab that you go about it in a properly structured way with clear goals in mind.

    Following is a 10 step process you can follow to teach your Labrador puppy its name and have it reliably stop what it’s doing to pay you attention in almost any situation.

    Step 1: First Get Their Attention

    Be sure to start the process when it’s just you and your puppy, at home alone, with no distractions and a bag of treats to use as a reward. Don’t start if your puppy’s tired, over-excited or heavily distracted by anything and start at a time when you already have your puppy’s attention.

    Say your puppy’s name just once in a warm and happy voice, hoping to get its attention. If you don’t get it’s attention (after all, it doesn’t yet know its name) try again after a small pause but make a sharp clap with your hands or a kissing noise to help get their attention.

    Step 2: Immediately Mark and Reward

    As soon as your puppy looks to you and gives you his attention, IMMEDIATELY mark the behavior with a word (YES!, GOOD!) or a click if you’re using a clicker. Then give a small food reward and lots of praise. Initially this food treat and praise is what encourages your puppy to look at you when you call.

    Step 3: Lose Their Attention, Then Try Again

    Now allow your puppy to turn their attention away from you and then repeat their name once more. As soon as they look at you and you have their attention, mark it again and give a food treat and praise.

    Step 4: Repetition

    Repeat steps 1 to 3 a good 8 to 10 times over the course of a couple of minutes. More than this and your puppy will get bored with it all and the training will lose its effectiveness.

    Video: How to Teach Your Puppy His Name | Puppy Care

    Repeat steps 1 to 4 every couple of hours for a few days. Your puppy will soon learn his name means a treat and some praise and will learn to readily turn to you when you call his name.

    Step 5: Vary The Training Location

    Mix up the places where you teach your puppy its name. As it’s still early days, only do so when alone and distractions are minimal as we need to set our puppy up to win. Their attention span is crazy small! Practice in different rooms of your house and your back yard for now.

    Repeat the training, steps 1 to 5 all around your home and back yard until you can reliably get your puppy’s attention.

    Step 6: Increase The Time You Require Their Attention Before Rewarding

    You should now try to increase the time your puppy gives attention before you offer a reward.

    Start calling your puppy’s name and when he turns to look at you, mark immediately but leave it 2 seconds before giving the treat so he has to hold his attention on you longer. Do a few sessions at 2 seconds, then 3 seconds, then 4…try to eventually get your puppy to pay attention to you for at least 5 seconds before rewarding.

    If your puppy cannot keep his attention on you at any stage, say the 3 second stage, drop back to 2 or even 1 second for the rest of the session.

    There’s a chance you may have increased the time too soon so make sure you’ve proved they’re very good at giving 2 seconds of attention before again moving to 3 seconds, proving it, then 4 etc.

    Progress too soon and your puppy may not keep up and get disheartened at failure, soon losing interest.

    Video: How To Teach A Dog Its Name How Do You Train Dogs

    Black labrador puppy sitting on grass barking to camera

    Photo credit: © / Alexx60

    Step 7: Add Distractions

    Once your puppy can reliably give you 5 seconds of attention around the home and back yard, it’s time to step up the difficulty again, this time by adding in some distractions.

    Have another person in the room, a child playing, or give him a toy, something fun that will grip your puppy’s attention. Now, when your puppy is fully distracted, call his name.

    Because we’re now asking our puppy to turn away from something exciting to pay attention to us, it’s a good idea to go back to immediate praise and reward, not ask for 5 seconds. We want to set our puppy up to succeed.

    It’s useful to have your puppy on a leash at this stage so you can give a gentle correction if he starts to wander off or doesn’t pay you attention. If you call their name and your puppy ignores you, gently pull them over toward you and call their name again. Immediately when they pay you attention, mark the behavior and give a reward and praise.

    Because you want attention to you being more rewarding than whatever it is he was previously engaged in, you ‘ll have to step up the reward. Some chicken, liver, whatever is his absolute favorite treat. You want to pay a jackpot if he turns his attention from a chew toy or another person to you when his name is called.

    Remember, you’re trying to be more fun and rewarding in his eyes than whatever it is you’ve taken him away from. This means a high value treat and massive praise and fun.

    Step 8: Increase Time Required And Level Of Distraction

    Once your puppy is able to turn to you and pay you attention even when distracted, start to increase the desired attention time to 2 secs, then 3 etc. again aiming to eventually reach 5 secs+.

    Step 9: Moving It Outside

    Now you can get your puppy’s attention in the home and back yard, even when distracted, it’s time to step it up and try it outside.

    Start somewhere quiet, perhaps somewhere he’s been before, and go back to the simple exercise of just the smallest attention earning him a treat. Then gradually increase how much time you ask for, but slowly. Again, remember to try and set your puppy up to succeed.

    Step 10: We’re There! But Don’t Stop!

    You should by now be able to get your puppy’s attention quite easily. Your puppy has been conditioned to associate his name with a rewarding treat and praise. He will want to give you attention when you call him as it’s always exciting, rewarding and fun.

    Now you need to really hammer it home by going through the exercise regularly throughout the day in every type of environment and when your puppy is engrossed in every kind of distraction.

    This isn’t a one and done strategy, repetition is key. By regularly incorporating this exercise into your walks, in parks, gardens, the pet store, other people’s houses, at your own home, everywhere…you should soon be able to get your puppy’s attention no matter what the circumstances.

    It’s now that your puppy’s name becomes a very useful tool to get his attention before giving him other commands. This is a good foundation to start from for other training and you can hopefully keep him out of trouble, stopping him in his tracks to turn to you by merely calling his name. He will want to stop and turn to you, because it always means reward by way of a treat or high praise and fun.

    Additional Tips

    For the above training, always end the session before your puppy feels tired and loses interest. You want him looking forward to your training sessions together. Training is more fun and effective if they’re keen and looking forward to it.

    Secondly, I cannot stress the importance of only ever calling your dog’s name in a happy, high-pitched voice so he knows you’re happy and will want to pay you attention. Try your best to never call your dog’s name angrily.

    Third, try not to use your dog’s name to call him over for anything unpleasant such as ending a walk, having his nails trimmed or crating him. You have to call him of course, but don’t give a negative experience immediately after calling his name. Instead, call him, ask him to come and when he arrives, make a fuss and let some time pass so he forgets and then perform your task. We don’t ever want him to think calling his name can end with something unpleasant.

    Fourth, try not to overuse your dog’s name for fear it becomes just noise to him and he starts to ignore it. When you command your dog, if you already have their attention, you don’t need to use their name, just the command will do.

    If you don’t have your dogs attention, separate his name and the command as they are two separate commands, the name is a command itself, asking for attention. So say his name: ‘Monty!’ Then pause a second or two and then issue the command: ‘Monty!…(dog gives you his attention, pause)…sit!’. This helps your dog to keep the commands separate so they don’t lose their individual meanings.

    VIDEO: A Nice Summary Of The Above In Action

    To support the above article I’ve found a nice video on how to teach a puppy their name, number 6 in a series of 25 from Dogtrust.org.uk, titled ‘Dog Training Made Easy‘ which does a good job of summarizing the benefits of training your puppy its name and using it effectively. It’s well worth 2.5 minutes of your time:

    Dog Training Made Easy: Teach your dog to know their name:

    Conclusion

    This may seem like a lot of work just to teach your puppy his name, but you’re not using your dog’s name like most others, you’re going to use it properly and as an effective tool.

    Your puppy’s name is to get its attention and you can condition it to give attention no matter the situation. This will allow you to have better control of your dog and be able to train it and guide it through life much more safely.

    Do not use your dog’s name as a recall command. Do not use your dog’s name as a correction to tell him off. Do not use your dog’s name to call him over before doing something unpleasant.

    Only ever use the name in a single way that you train him to understand. That you want his attention and you’re talking to him. And that when you call his name, it always ends with a reward of a treat, some praise or a high reward game and play.

    Video: Pup Blog 3 - Teaching your dog his name

    In this way, he’ll be conditioned to think that you calling him is the best thing in the world and always leads to amazing things with you! With this you can get him to stop and pay attention to you at any time you wish. During training, when you need to issue a command, and even when chasing that squirrel into a dangerous road.

    Feedback and Comments

    As always, we’d really appreciate any feedback you have on the article. Or if you have any questions regarding how to teach a puppy their name, please ask in the comments section below and we’ll be happy to answer.

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