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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 doesn’t enter your home knowing their new name. Your dog needs to learn that when you say their name, it means they should pay attention to you. And the best way to do this is to teach them to associate their 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 them 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.

Wait until your dog isn’t 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 they hears their name.

If you’re having trouble getting your pup to respond, move to a less distracting and smaller area or try using something of higher value to the dog – such as small pieces of cooked chicken or turkey meatball. Remember to always pair this with praising, as well as giving a treat.

Australian Shepherd puppy laying down in a bed.
©thejokercze -

Consistency is Key

Once your dog responds to their name consistently, try upping the ante. Move across the room and say their name. Or say their name and wait until they look 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. Then, add distractions and move the lessons outside.

You can play the “name game” any time. It’s easy to do, even when you’re watching television or cooking dinner and your dog is hanging out with you. When you take them for a walk, call your dog’s name and expect their 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 their name for the praise and love you give, and treats won’t be necessary.

German Wirehaired Pointer being trained with a clicker.
©rodimovpavel -

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.

Avoid practicing off-leash in a large area (like a fenced yard) where your dog can drift off and become distracted. It’s better to keep your dog on leash and inside where there are fewer distractions.


Say your dog’s name once, and when they respond quickly, give them a treat. Try not to say your dog’s name multiple times in a row or they may begin to require that repetition before they’ll give you the time of day.

Welsh Springer Spaniel puppy sitting on command indoors.
Rosanne de Vries/Shutterstock

If your dog doesn’t respond immediately when you call, don’t start shouting their name. Instead, try walking with them away from whatever is distracting and try again. You can also move to a completely different area with fewer distractions. Introduce the training in more distracting areas only when you get a perfect response consistently.

Avoid saying your dog’s name before every command you teach them. You should be able to say, “sit,” “stay,” or “down” without repeating the name before every command.

Changing a Dog’s Name

When new owners get 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: Most Popular Boy Dog Names
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