How to teach a dog its name

There are lots of exciting things in the world for a dog which can make them easily distracted, so gaining your dog’s attention is the basis to all obedience training.

Why should I teach my dog to respond to their name?

It is a legal requirement to keep your dog under control at all times. The basis of this is teaching your dog to respond to their name when called. Whether in an emergency situation, around other dogs or distractions it’s important that your dog finds it rewarding to respond to their name and seek your interaction.

This can be done using a variety of attention and focus exercises to teach your dog that when they hear their name and they look at you there is a reward which will follow.

Here are a few tips on how to teach your dog its name.

Basic things to start with

Set up the environment for your dog to succeed by beginning to train in a calm, quiet environment, with no distractions.

Practice makes perfect

Practice a minimum of 10 times per day, say the dog’s name (from 2 to 6 feet away) and as soon as the dog looks at you, mark this behaviour with a marker word such as “yes” or a clicker and reward with food or play while giving lots of praise.

Maintain Focus

Do not ask the dog to sit or do anything else before giving the dog the treat, as the reward is for looking at you when you say their name, not for any other behaviour.

You will soon notice your dog starting to offer attention without being prompted; be prepared to reinforce this with a reward to encourage your dog to regularly check in with you.

Orientation game

  1. Start in a place where there is least potential for distraction and where your dog is used to playing with you.
  2. Throw a piece of your dog’s daily food allowance out (about one meter away).
  3. After they finish eating, they will naturally look back to you for more, mark this with a ‘yes’ or a click and throw another piece.
  4. Once your dog is turning back consistently, introduce your dog’s name just before they turn around then mark and reward.
  5. You can make this game more exciting and keep your dog interested by putting a treat on the floor and as soon as your dog has eaten the food, say their name and run backwards. When they come, reward with food or a toy and give lots of praise.
  6. Place another reward on the floor then repeat, have FUN!

Remember your job is to assess the training environment and very gradually increase the level of distraction. As you up the distractions, make sure your reinforcement (treats or play) is increased in value.

If your dog is not responding to their name, go back a step to ensure success before increasing the level of distractions again.

Download these tips as a handy advice sheet and use it as a reminder to train regularly:

Advice sheet

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