Teaching Your Dog His Name: How to Teach a Dog its New Name

This post may contain affiliate links for your convenience. If you make a purchase after clicking a link I will earn a small commission (but it won’t cost you a penny more!) Thanks.

Choosing your dogs name is great fun. Teaching your dog his name doesn’t have to be difficult, and that can be fun too! Here is the best way to teach your dog his name, that I have found. And it is easy too.

It is important for your dogs safety, and your peace of mind that your dog learns his name as soon as possible. Even if you are changing your dogs name.

Why You Need to be Careful When Teaching Your Dog His Name

The first thing we all teach our dogs is that when we make a certain specific sound, we want their attention. Sometimes we don’t even realise that we are training them. This sound is their name.

That’s all it is, and that’s all it should be used for.

Many dog owners tend to think of their dogs name as more than that. They use it as a catch-all command with multiple definitions that vary, depending on what they want their dog to do at the moment:

  • Thor! (Meaning Come here!); 
  • Thor! (Meaning Stop that!); 
  • Thor! (Meaning Get down!);
  • Thor! (Meaning Stop barking!);
  • Thor! (Meaning Leave Next Doors Cat Alone!). 

You get the idea.

You’re dog may be the smartest dog in the world, but he is not a mind reader.

Photo by Ryan Walton

Use Your Dog’s Name Like You Would Use Your Child’s Name

You shouldn’t use your dog’s name any differently than a child’s name. For example, if you call a child’s name, he may acknowledge that he hears you (if you’re lucky), but his likely response will be to call back, What?

He probably won’t even look up from the video game or whatever else he was doing when you called his name. You’ll need to follow up with an instruction; tell him what you want:

Michael! Stop playing that game and do your homework!  (Then he may or may not do as you ask, depending on how well he’s been trained.)

The point is, plan to use your dog’s name in the same way to get his attention. Period. Then use other sounds (commands) and actions to tell or show him what you want him to do.

Important: Even after your dog learns his name, he may continue doing whatever he was doing when he hears you use it (just like Michael). Don’t get upset or impatient. And don’t repeat his name: Thor!… THOR!!! Doing this will only teach your dog to ignore you until he hears his name over and over.

We will take a look at some better solutions.

How to Teach Your Dog His Name

Read this through first, and then practice it with your dog.

  1.   First, load up your pocket (or a bag or pouch) with 20 or so treats.

2.  Take your dog to an area where there won’t be a lot of distractions.

3.  Wait for your dog to look at something other than you, then say his name (once!) in a cheerful tone.

4.  When he looks at you, immediately give him a treat and say Good!

(Or whatever you’ve chosen as the primary reinforcer, phrase or clicker.)

How to Teach Your Dog His Name

Photo by Nathan Lindahl

5.  Move a few steps to another location. Wait for your dog to be looking away from you.

6.  Say your dog’s name again and immediately reward him again with the treat and praise when he looks at you.

7.  Repeat this process five times.

If your dog was particularly distracted before responding to his name, give him extra praise and treats.

What to do if Your Dog Doesn’t do What You Want?

If you say his name and he doesn’t look at you, he may be too distracted. Move him a few paces to a different location and try again.

Say his name. Use an enthusiastic tone of voice. Give immediate rewards if he looks at you.

If he still does’t respond to his name, clap your hands, whistle or make some other attention-getting sound. When he looks, say his name again and immediately give the rewards. Do this as a last resort. You want him to learn to respond to his name, not the other sounds.

[Note: If your dog does not show any response to those attention-getting sounds, please have his hearing checked. Seriously. Some breeds, such as Dalmatians, are prone to hearing problems. A dog owner who thinks the dog is too dumb to learn is sometimes surprised to learn the dog is actually deaf!]

Another tactic: put the treat in your hand and let your dog sniff your closed fist so he’ll know it’s there. Pull your hand away and wait until your dog looks away from you. Say his name and immediately reward his response.

If your dog continues to ignore his name after several attempts, try moving to a less distracting location. (Distractions include smells, not just sights and sounds.)

Keep trying, be patient, and remember not to repeat his name. Give immediate rewards when he responds.

Advanced Training to Teach Your Dog His Name

Photo by Martin Castro

Advanced Training to Teach Your Dog His Name

During this week, you’ll be training yourself as well as your dog. 

The important lesson for you: Learn to say your dog’s name only once. This is difficult for most people. We rely on verbal communication. Dogs don’t. So you’ll have to train yourself not to do what may come naturally: repeating yourself until you get a response.

Practice this lesson several times each day during the week. Vary the time of day and location (both inside and outside). Do not, however, move to areas with greater distractions to challenge your dog with higher degrees of difficulty, even if he is a fast learner. You want to build on a strong foundation of success and progress slowly, one step at a time.

Do five repetitions during each lesson.

Concentrate on saying your dog’s name only once.

When you have been doing this training for about a week, start saying your dogs name when you pet them.

Some Final Thoughts

After all this training, your dog should be happy to hear their name. They will turn, or move. towards you and their tail will wag.

Photo by Noémi Macavei-Katócz

Remember: do not use your dog’s name as a catch-all command with multiple definitions.  Each desired action should have it’s own separate command and none of them are your dog’s name.

Want to remember this?

Post this Teaching Your Dog His Name article to your favourite Pinterest board!

4 thoughts on “Teaching Your Dog His Name: How to Teach a Dog its New Name”

  1. I know it’s not quite the same, but that our rescue cat was already named by the grandkids and it’s a real difficult one, the cat and us look at each other in a “What?” and wonder if it will ever gel.

    • Yes that is so true. You have to be able to say the name and shout it in the street! I had 2 ‘boy’ kittens. Jack and Matt – because they were both pure black (blackjack and matt black if you’re wondering!) Turns out Matt was a girl so she quickly became Matilda Black!


Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.