So, you’ve chosen your puppy, pawed (pardon the pun) over lists of ‘top puppy names’ agonised and argued with your partner over what to name them and finally, you’ve settled on a name you love, next step… teach your pup to love it too! Yes, it’s time to teach a puppy its name. But how? you ask.  Well, we’re here to walk you through the name game and have your pup’s undivided attention in no time. Sounds great right?

I’m sure you’ve thought a lot about teaching your pup to sit or lie down, but how about teaching a puppy its name? Puppies don’t arrive pre-programmed knowing ‘this word is my name and I should respond when I hear it.’ They are a blank slate that needs to learn and that is down to you, it’s fine, there’s no pressure…after all, you do have us to help. 

So, in this article we’ll be telling you all about:

  • Why it’s important to teach a puppy its name
  • How to teach a puppy its name in 3 easy steps
  • Top tips on how to make sure that teaching your puppy their name is a piece of cake or more likely sausage!
dog perched on log whilst on a walk
Photo by Jametlene Reskp on Unsplash

Why is it important to teach your puppy their name?

Imagine how hard it would be to have a puppy or dog that didn’t respond to their name, especially when you need them to come back to you. Teaching your puppy their name is really key to a happy relationship together and is generally one of the first few things you train them. 

Why though? Well, here are a few reasons why knowing their name is important. 

  • Attention!!! –  It lets your puppy know you need them to check in with you.
  • Recall – It lays the foundations of getting them to come to you. 
  • Bonding – It’s how they will be known for the rest of their lives, so it’s important to start off on the right foot, or paw!
  • Safety – If god forbid, they ever get lost, it’s what will be used to call them. I know it doesn’t bear thinking about but it’s good to be realistic sometimes!

How to teach a puppy their name

There is no easy way to teach a puppy its name, it requires a lot of patience. Start by using the name 10 times a day, as a minimum, say the puppy’s name, and as soon as they look at you, mark this behaviour with a reward or a treat.

How quickly can puppies learn their names?

Puppies can learn their names in as little as three days, but in general, you will have to practice using their name a lot. Depending on the type of dog breed you have, and their intelligence level, they can be easier to train than others. Always use positive reinforcement too!

How to name a dog

This is one of the hardest steps in becoming a new dog owner. Think of what name you would be happy to shout in public. It is better to choose a short name, which is of 1 or 2 syllables or choose a name that can have a short version.

How to teach a puppy its name in 3 easy steps

So here we go… the main event, how to teach a puppy its name in 3 easy steps. 

Step 1: Attach value to their name

To begin we need to attach value to the puppy’s name. We want our puppy to hear their name and think ‘Yes! That word means good times’ so use some really strong-smelling, yummy treats. We have an article on healthy puppy treats here. Once they have understood that first part, we’ll start rewarding them when they respond to their name. 

To get started you’ll need

  • Some yummy treats that are in a treat pouch, or in a pot on the side
  • A puppy who’s been to the toilet 
  • A low-distraction environment – your lounge or kitchen is perfect for this.

Step 2: Have your puppy in front of you

Have your puppy in front of you and your treats in your pocket or on the side. Say their name and immediately give them a treat to their mouth.

Repeat this step 5 times just saying their name and handing them a treat.

Step 3: Name, Marker, Treat

Now for the next step, say their name and drop the treat on the floor. Your puppy will now have to eat the treat from the floor rather than be fed to its mouth. As your puppy almost finishes eating the treat from the floor, say their name. They should, at this point, whip their head around as they have associated the word with food.

When they whip their head around say your marker word ‘good’ or ‘yes’ and toss the treat. The marker word lets them know ‘yes, that’s exactly what I wanted’ and is a promise that a treat is coming.

Keep repeating this throwing the treat further away each time so that they have to scamper off to eat it. Turn it into a fun game, puppies love ‘the name game’. Now practice steps 2-4 in different places.

dog cuddled up next to cushion whilst sat outside
Photo by Katja Rooke on Unsplash

Extra top tips on teaching your puppy its name

Use one name only 

Say it nice and clearly and no nicknames at least for now! Charlie-boo, Charlie-kins, Mr Charles, or Prince Charles will have to wait til ‘Charlie’ is a little older and can respond to their regular name when you call them first. Also, make sure everyone in your family and household is using the same name too! 

Don’t use an embarrassing name

Use a name that won’t be embarrassing when you call them in the park and is short and easy to remember. Yes, Notorious D.O.G might sound funny NOW, but are you going to feel silly calling ‘Notorious’ when you’re out on a walk? We rest our case.

Practise everywhere

Generalisation is so important – practice indoors to begin with. The lounge is quite an easy place to start training with low distractions, then try the hallway, then the garden, then in a quiet area of the park, and so on. 

Repetition is key

Repetition is how dogs learn best, as the saying goes ‘practice makes perfect’ well, because it’s true. Do 3 training sessions per day and your puppy will learn its name super-fast! 

Don’t repeat their name though

You only need to say it once – if you find yourself repeating their name, go back a step or move to an easier location where they’re not so distracted and can focus on you. 

Dogs ‘hear’ our emotions

Use your ‘happy voice’ as dogs respond to that really well, don’t use your puppy’s name in a gruff or cross voice, we want them to never worry about hearing their name. They can pick up on our moods and emotions just by the tone of our voices.

Let them know they did the right thing

Your marker word is going to make a big difference to your puppy’s understanding of what they’re being rewarded for, you could use a clicker instead if you wanted. See our article here all about puppy clicker training

Make your rewards interesting and unpredictable

Once your puppy has learnt that their name = delicious treats try using different reinforcers (code for rewards) such as a game of tug, a ball throw, or simply get on the floor and give them cuddles and kisses.

Don’t go on for too long

Keep training sessions short and sweet – puppies tire quickly and then they can lose focus.  Let’s go for the easy wins. 5 name exercises while you’re making the tea. Simples! 

Or fade out rewards too soon

Your puppy will pick this game up quickly but don’t fade out some form of reward too soon, we want them to always know that responding to their name is a good thing to do. Even just telling them, in your happy voice, what a good boy or girl they are will make most dogs go loose-bodied and wiggly! 

puppy lying on floor
Photo by T.R Photography on Unsplash

We hope you’ve enjoyed our article on how to teach a puppy its name. As you can see it’s quite easy to teach once you get the hang of it, and it’s also hugely important. We have a full programme of exercises just like this in our Zigzag puppy training app, why not check them out? There’s also a team of puppy training experts there to help you.

Fancy some more reading right now? Why not check out our article on when can puppies go outside?