How to Teach a Dog Their Name

person sitting next to black-and-white dog

Teaching a dog their name is a great way to help socialize a dog and start a personal relationship with them. It can help the dog listen to you when you call their name, which can be convenient and very practical in many situations. Use the following tips for how to teach a dog their name — including how to choose dog names and how to teach an older dog their name.

Choosing dog names

What should you name your dog? Many people try a variety of names before settling on one. And some dogs even have first, middle, and last names.

Choose a dog name that’s easy to call and doesn’t sound too similar to other words you’ll be using as cues for your dog. Keep in mind that long dog names often are eventually shortened or replaced by nicknames. If you have nicknames for your dog, be sure to teach those, too.

What is the value in a dog loving their name?

  • It can be used as an attention-getter and to teach your dog to come. Your dog will run, not walk, to you when they hear the name.
  • You can use the name to interrupt and distract from any behavior that you want to stop (e.g., barking or chewing inappropriate items). But remember to keep your tone happy; you don’t want the dog to associate the name with a reprimand.
  • You can use a dog’s name and the positive associations they have with it to help the dog become more comfortable in scary situations. For example, you can say the name and consequently have the dog focus on you when walking by something that makes the dog fearful or anxious. If they’re relaxed and distracted until you pass the scary situation, they will realize that it wasn’t as frightening as in the past.
  • If your dog knows their name and has good recall, you can call the dog away from a potentially dangerous situation. 

Steps to teach a dog their name

The goal when you teach a dog their name is to have the dog look at you when you say the name. Always say the name in a positive, happy tone. That way, your dog will learn that good things happen when they hear their name, and they’ll respond enthusiastically to it.

Follow these basic steps for how to teach a dog their name:

Step 1: Start with your dog on leash in a place with few distractions. Say the dog’s name, click a clicker, and then quickly give the dog a treat. Repeat 10 times. Give the dog a treat regardless of whether they're looking at you.

Step 2: Wait until the dog looks away from you, and then say the name. When the dog looks at you, click and reward with a treat (C&R). Repeat until the dog looks at you four or five out of five times when you say the name.

  • Tip: If the dog doesn’t look at you, repeat step 1, making sure that you are saying the name in an excited tone to get your dog’s attention.  

Step 3: In this step, your dog will learn to respond to the name when there are more distractions. With the dog on leash, go to a place that has a bit more distractions. Whenever the dog is not looking at you, say the name. When the dog turns to look at you, C&R.

Step 4: In this step, your dog will learn to respond to the name at a greater distance. Go to a place with few distractions. Wait until the dog is a few feet away from you, and then say the name. When the dog looks at you, click and give the dog a treat when they come to you.

  • Tip: If your dog doesn’t come to you, that’s OK. Toss the treat to them. Remember, you want the dog to learn it’s good to look at you when you say the name.

You can also practice this without a clicker. When you are hanging out around the house or on walks, practice saying your dog’s name. If they respond, give them a soft “yes,” followed by praise and/or petting.

Practicing name recognition with dogs

Practice name recognition often and everywhere. Practice when your dog is right next to you and when they're several feet away. You’ll also want to practice inside and outside, with cars going by, around other dogs, and around other people.  

Plus, enlist other people to play the “name game” with your dog. Have someone say your dog’s name, and when the dog looks at the person, they should offer the dog a treat.

Changing a dog's name

Some people worry about changing a dog’s name after adoption. Will the dog be confused? Can you teach an older dog a new name? Of course you can! Think of how many nicknames you’ve given your pets over the months and years. Follow the steps above and work on name recognition with the new name you’ve selected, and they’ll be responding to it in no time.