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New puppies, as well as adult dogs who are new to your home, require lots of training before they become valued members of your household. And training requires attention. How do you get someone’s attention? You call their name.

Your puppy or new adult dog does not enter your home knowing his new name. The dog needs to learn that when you say his name, it means he should pay attention to you. And the best way to do this is to teach him to associate his name with something positive.

What’s In a Name? Only Good Things

Whatever you’ve decided to call your dog – whether it’s Shadow, Stella, or Spike – you can use positive reinforcement training to teach him to respond to it by associating the name with something pleasant. Get a handful of small, soft treats that your dog can quickly and easily chew and swallow. You may also want to have a clicker handy. Start in a quiet, enclosed area such as your living room.

Do:

  • Wait until your dog is not looking at you and then say the name in a very bright and happy tone. As soon as your dog turns to look at you, mark this with a clicker or a word to let the dog know this is the right reaction, a word like “yes” or “good,” and then immediately give your dog a treat. Repeat this process several times throughout the day, and soon your new family member will whirl around every time he hears his name.
  • If you’re having trouble getting your pup to respond, move to a less distracting and smaller area or try changing treats to something of higher value to the dog – such as small pieces of cooked chicken or turkey meatball – always praising, as well as giving a treat.
  • Once your dog responds to his name consistently, try upping the ante. Move across the room and say his name. Or say his name and wait until he looks at your face, rather than just turning toward you, before giving the treat. When you get the attention you want every time, try intermittent treats but always give verbal praise. Add distractions and move the lessons outside.
  • You can play the name game any time. It’s easy to do, even when you are watching television or cooking dinner and your dog is hanging out with you. When you take him for a walk, call your pup’s name and expect his attention.
  • Consistency is important, so you want to reinforce this behavior many times – first every time and then intermittently – until you get an automatic, solid reaction. Eventually, your dog will respond to his name for the praise and love you give – and treats won’t be necessary.

Vizsla puppy head portrait outdoors.

No Negative Associations Allowed

Avoid combining your dog’s name with negative verbiage, which can change the positive association with his name to a negative reaction. Many dogs don’t like the sound of their own name because owners often combine their dog’s name with verbal corrections. They constantly hear: “Ginger, quiet!” “Rover, down!” What you really want is for your dog to associate something good with the sound of his name.

Don’t:

  • Don’t practice off-leash in a large area (like a fenced yard) where your dog can drift off and become distracted; better to keep the pup on leash. It’s probably best to start inside where there are fewer distractions.
  • Don’t say the dog’s name multiple times – MollyMollyMollyMolly – or she will begin to require that repetition before she’ll give you the time of day. Say her name once, and when she responds quickly, give her the treat.
  • If your pup doesn’t respond immediately, don’t start shouting her name. Instead, try walking with her away from whatever is distracting and try again, or move to a completely different area with fewer distractions. Introduce the training in more distracting areas only when you get a perfect response consistently.
  • Don’t say your dog’s name before every command you teach her. You should be able to say, “sit,” “stay,” or “down” without repeating the name before every command.
  • When the dog responds quickly, don’t delay at giving her the treat. Mark the behavior immediately.

When new owners adopt an adult dog, they sometimes don’t like the dog’s name. Is it a bad idea to change the name? Not if you associate the new name with positive attention, and patiently repeat it in a happy, loving tone of voice. Eventually, your dog should respond to the new name.

Related article: The Top 100 Boy Dog Names
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