Bring a puppy home, call it ‘Fido’, tell everyone to call your puppy Fido and TA DA! Your puppy has a name, right?!?
Well, kind of. You could take this approach but there is a better way…
Making the effort to dedicate some time to teaching your puppy their name can reap rewards long term. You can use a puppy’s name as an important tool when it comes to training your dog in the future.
This article will help you learn how to effectively use your puppy’s name so that training becomes easier and more effective and help keep your pooch safe!
How does your dog’s name keep him safe? Easy. If he is about to run into danger, teaching your pup his name and to reliably respond to it could one day help save his life.
How To Use A Dog’s Name Effectively
This may seem fairly self evident, but actually, how you use your dog’s name is crucial to the results you get. When talking to your dog and you use his name, it HAS to mean “Hey buddy, I’m talking, you listen, ok?” Try to avoid using your pup’s name in any other way, particularly early on in their lives. It’s easy to slip their name into songs as you bop along to the radio whilst washing up, but stay focused and only use their name when speaking directly to them.
When you say your puppy’s name, you should get this result: They stop what they are doing, acknowledge you and give you their attention whilst they wait for further instruction.
It is fiendishly difficult to command a dog that isn’t focused on what you are doing. Imagine using your dog’s name like a doorbell. When us humans hear a doorbell, we are completely focused on who is behind the sound, and what will happen next. It’s the same for dogs, although we don’t recommend calling your new pooch ‘Ding-Dong’, of course.
Gaining your pup’s attention with his name is also a great way of averting disaster. Imagine the scene: A sunny day in the park, you throw a tennis ball, it bounces awkwardly into the road and Ding-Dong, we mean Fido, chases after it. Being able to stop him in his tracks when focused on something else is an incredibly powerful tool at your disposal.
This is all very well and good, but how do you go about achieving this situation of your pup ALWAYS responding reliably to his name? Luckily for you, we are about to tell you. You will learn how to make your dog excited to respond to his name, ALL of the time. You will learn how to make your dog realize that his name is an indicator of positive things to come. You will also learn how to avoid common mistakes that sets back obedience training for your dog. Worth reading, right?
Doggy Name Common Mistakes
The biggest mistake people make with their dog’s name is using it as a correction and shouting it angrily. It’s easy to start associating your name with negativity if you are forever being yelled at to “GET AWAY FROM THAT SLIPPER, FIDO!!! BAD BOY FIDO!” As soon as your dog starts associating his name with ‘bad stuff’, you can bet your bottom dollar that training just got a whole lot trickier. You really don’t want this to happen as it is likely Fido will start ignoring your calls and will refuse to give you attention. Why should he? You’re only going to yell at him!
The key thing in training your dog to respond to his name is to make him WANT to do so. Make him ignore that squirrel he is chasing by using his name only in a positive way.
Another common error is using your dog’s name as a recall aid. Most people have seen the ‘Fenton!’ video (if not, check it out here, it’s both hilarious and hair pulling stuff! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GRSbr0EYYU ) Continuously saying your dog’s name to recall him really muddies the waters when training him to react to commands. His name should be used once, as a command to give you attention. Follow this up with an obedience command, for example “come”. And that’s it. Fenton was having none of the repeated calling because it didn’t mean anything to him and neither will your pup.
Finally, using nicknames or derivatives of your dog’s name is also a no-no, we are afraid. As tempting as it is to refer to Peggy the dog as Peggy Pumpkin, Peggington Pea, Pegeroonie or Pegster, this will only confuse the poor little thing. Let’s face it, dogs can be easily confused. Although they will learn to respond to multiple names, you are effectively watering down it’s effectiveness.
It’s not just us that say this, Colby Marita, who trains guide dogs over in the USA has written an excellent article, “How to teach your puppy his name” which can be found at puppyintraining.com that reinforces the messages above.
Guilty of using your dog’s name in the ways we have described above? Don’t panic as it can be remedied! Do remember, though, that currently your dog thinks his name means potentially three things:
- Quit doing what you’re doing and pay me attention
- STOP BEING SUCH A BAD BOY!
- Come here please. No? ARGGHHH COME HERE NOW, I am SO angry with you.
See how easy it is for a simple thing like a name to end up being a rather confusing thing to have?
You need to concentrate on Number 1 as being the ONLY reason you use your dog’s name. It should be used to gain attention in a calm and positive way, always following up with something rewarding for your dog, be that a simple obedience command, or even a giant snuggle.
10 Steps To Teaching Your Puppy Their Name
Whilst the EASIEST way to teach a puppy their name is to continuously use it so they get used to it, it isn’t the most effective.
It’s of benefit to both you and your pup to go about teaching him his name in a properly structured way.
Follow these ten simple steps to ensure you have taught your puppy its name in the right way, that is, that the reliably respond to it in almost any situation.
Step 1: Getting The Attention
Make sure you and your puppy are on your own, with no distractions. Ensure you have a bag of treats to offer as a reward and also choose a time of day when your puppy is neither over-tire or over-excited.
Now comes the fun part. Say your puppy’s name. (Hard, right?) Don’t just say it any old way, though. Keep your voice calm and use a bright and cheery tone. If your pup doesn’t pick up on it and give you their attention first time, don’t worry. Pause, then say it again with a clap of the hands or a kissing noise. That should do the trick!
Step 2: GOOD BOY!
This is the bit where speed if of the essence. As soon as your pup gives you his attention when you say his name, highlight the behaviour with positive reinforcement, be that a clicker or a word (Yes! Good!).
Follow this up straight away by giving a food reward and showering your dog in praise. This is the part of the process that helps your puppy associate his name with good stuff!
Step 3: Let It Go, Then Get It Back
Now let your puppy get on with his day, taking his attention off of you. After a few seconds, repeat Step 2, providing lots of praise when they revert their focus to you.
Step 4: Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
Keep repeating steps 1 to 3 over the course of a couple of minutes. Any longer and the activity will lose its effectiveness through boredom.
Keep repeating steps 1 to 4 every couple of hours for the next few days. Your puppy should quickly learn that his name means a positive experience awaits.
Step 5: Vary The Environment
Training your puppy to know their name is not much use if they only respond to it in the front room. Mix it up a little and take your puppy out and about. Keep locations simple, with minimal distractions. A puppy’s attention span is so short they will have forgotten how this sentence started when we finish it.
Try steps 1 to 4 in different rooms in the house and the front and back garden, until they reliably respond to their name in all locations.
Step 6: Time Increases And Delayed Gratification
The next step in the process is teaching your puppy to keep their attention on you for longer periods of time.
Call your pup’s name and then mark him looking at you. This time round though, wait a couple of seconds before giving the food reward. Gradually increase the time you take to provide the food reward to your puppy, building up to 5 seconds before giving a food reward.
If at any point, your pup becomes overwhelmed and can’t hold his attention on you for as long as you would like, drop back a second or two for the rest of the session to allow him to build his exposure up at his own pace. Make sure your pooch has got the hang of each stage before moving the timeframe before rewarding up. Do this stage too fast and your puppy could become disheartened and lose interest altogether!
Step 7: Here Come The Distractions
Your puppy has got the knack of offering you his undivided attention for 5 seconds. So, what now? It’s time to ramp up the difficulty by introducing distractions.
Invite a pal over, put the TV on or perhaps leave a favourite toy on the floor. When your puppy becomes distracted, call his name.
As soon as your pup turns away from whatever he is focusing on to you, mark and reward immediately. The boy done good, after all!
It’s an idea to keep your puppy on a lead for this stage of training so you can give a correction if he gets too distracted. If your pup keeps ignoring you calling his name, give the lead a gentle tug and call his name again. Once again, reward positive results.
You’ll need to step up the food reward here, as you now have to make yourself more interesting than the new person, TV show or toy. Get your pup’s favourite high value treat so that your dog knows it is worth his while switching his attention. Make it doggy pay day for him!
Step 8: Increased Time + Distraction = Good Doggy!
Step 8 is basically the graduation of Steps 1 to 6. Here, you increase how long you require your puppy to focus on you before rewarding and you also increase the distractions. Aim for ten seconds of attention in a noisier environment. Put the radio on a talk station and maybe ask someone else into the room to play with the dog.
Step 9: Moving On Out
Well done on getting this far. Once you can rely on your dog to pay you attention for ten seconds, even when distracted, it’s time to move training outside.
Choose somewhere quiet and familiar and begin at step 1 again. Slowly and gradually build up the length of time you require your puppy to look at you, remembering to reward and praise appropriately.
Step 10: Don’t Stop ‘Til You’ve Done Enough!
Huzzah! By this stage your puppy should be responding to his name reliably. The little goofball now knows that his name equals awesome things happening, so he will continue to associate you and his name with rewarding, fun times.
Don’t stop here though. Keep going through the steps to really cement the concept in your puppy’s rather small brain! Try lots of different environments, with lots of different distractions and see how your puppy gets on.
Repetition is key in the early stages of your dog’s life to ensure training sticks. Keep incorporating the exercise during every day activities and you will eventually have a puppy that will give you his attention when his name is called, no matter what the distraction is nearby.
Now your puppy knows his name, use it as a tool to support further training, using it as a ‘heads up’ before giving further commands. Your puppy should WANT to turn to you when his name is called, making ongoing training so much easier.
- Always end training sessions before your dog gets exhausted, you want an alert and interested puppy for these sessions as they can be quite intense for a little puppy!
- As we mentioned at the top of this article, it is imperative to only ever use your puppy’s name in a positive and happy way. Never call your dog’s name in anger, or they may learn to make negative associations with it.
- Try not to use your dog’s name for unpleasant stuff, like signaling the end of playtime, when you leave the house alone or need to give him a bath. Of course, there will be times where you need his attention for these things, but attempt to add in a ‘middle man’ of fuss, reward and praise before going on to the activity your dog doesn’t particularly enjoy.
- Don’t overuse your puppy’s name. It may become background noise and will be ignored. Once you have used your dog’s name to get their attention, there is no need to use it again whilst giving commands.
VIDEO: The Above Process In Action
This video is a great watch; it highlights how the points above can be used effectively to teach your puppy his name. ‘Dog Training Made Easy‘ from Dogstrust.org is two and a half minutes of solid gold know how.
We bet you never figured there was so much involved in teaching a puppy its name! The hard work is worth it as your puppy will be able to respond reliably to his name and make your life a lot easier going forwards.
You can condition your puppy to pay attention to you when he hears his name and condition him to learn that no matter the situation, responding to his name will result in good things. You will have better control of your dog and be able to keep him safer as he grows up.
There are a few don’ts when it comes to teaching your puppy his name: don’t use it in ager, don’t use it as recall and don’t use it as a pre-emptor of something unpleasant. Only ever use it to gain his attention. That’s it. Reward positive behaviour with praise, a treat or playtime.
If you follow the above steps, the sound of your voice calling your dog’s name will be a highlight of his day. This will not only make the bond between you stronger, but also allow you to get a head start on other training!
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