Updated: March 15th, 2022
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Did you call me?
I know what you’re thinking: “Why would I need to read an article on how to train a puppy their name?”
It’s as simple as picking one you like, using it often and very quickly a dog will learn it, right?
Well yes, but with a little extra care in how you train and use your dog’s name it can become a very useful tool.
Most people call their dog and some of the time it comes running, other times it’ll stop and take a little look, and other times it’ll just plain ignore them until it’s stopped whatever it’s doing.
Now how much better and easier would life be if when you called your dog’s name, they stopped and turned to look at you every single time?
Being able to get their attention every time will make training easier and give you a higher degree of control over your dog to guide them through life and keep them safe.
You can’t control or guide a dog that won’t give you their attention!
How Should A Dogs Name Be Used? What Should Happen When You Call It?
When you call your Golden Retrievers name it should mean: ‘I’m speaking to you, and I want you to stop what you’re doing, look at me and give me your attention.’
This has two very powerful benefits.
Firstly, being able to call your dog and have them instantly and reliably stop and give you their attention makes asking them to do things and all other training far easier and more successful. It’s impossible to train or direct a dog that isn’t focusing on you and far easier to train a dog that willingly gives you their attention.
Secondly, it’s a very useful tool for keeping your Golden safe if you can stop them in their tracks at the mere calling of their name.
For example your dog may be chasing a small animal into a road, or toward the edge of a large drop. If you could call them, have them stop and turn to you it could potentially save their life!
But unless you train your dog their name, and that you want them to respond this way when you call it, their name is just a noise and they have no idea how you’d like them to respond when they’re called.
So you must condition your dog to respond to their name in the way I’ve described. You need to train them so the sound of their name causes them to automatically and reactively stop and pay you attention.
So how exactly is this done?
The first step is to avoid a couple of common mistakes, using your dog’s name in ways other than to get their attention.
Mistakes People Make – The Wrong Times And Ways To Use Your Dogs Name
You should only ever use your dog’s name in a happy but calm, positive tone and only to get their attention. It should mean nothing else at all, only ‘give me your attention’.
But generally speaking people will use their dog’s name in 3 different ways, with two of those being negative and causing your dog to not want to listen:
- As a correction and almost as a punishment (You should never do this!)
- As a recall command (You should never do this!)
- As a way to get their attention (This should be the only use!)
Only using to get their attention is correct and if you use their name the other 2 ways it loses its power and meaning. And it’s part of the reason your dog may start to ignore you when you do call them.
How Do People Use Their Dogs Name As A Correction?
Let’s say your dog has run off with your slipper and you shout: ‘Rover, drop. ROVER! ROVERRRRRRR!!!’.
And then when you catch your dog, you grab your slipper and tell them off. What does your dog learn here?
They learn that when they hear their name, they’ve done something wrong and are going to get scolded. Their name has a negative meaning attached to it.
And so they learn to ignore their name because it only means they’re in trouble. Why stop whatever fun they’re having to look at you and be told off?
So if you want your dog to stop and give you their attention when you call their name, do not use it angrily and as a telling off.
How Do People Use Their Dogs Name As A Recall Command?
A lot of owners will repeatedly shout their dog’s name when trying to get them to come when they’re off leash.
They will shout: Rover! Come here boy. ROVER! ROVERRRR! COME HERE!! ROVERRRR!! ROVER!’ etc. Then when they finally come they get told off and scolded.
In this situation your dog’s name is used both as a correction and as a recall command.
You should already have a recall command to use such as ‘come’. And as explained above, shouting your dog’s name as a correction isn’t good either. (Not to mention shouting angrily at your dog to come almost never works and you should try to avoid it…but that’s a story for another article 🙂 )
Also, there will be times when you want to get your dogs attention but do not want them to come running to you, it’s an important distinction, especially if you’re planning on training any’ distance commands.’
So in this situation your dog’ being confused by using their name as a recall command and it’s being used negatively when you shout with anger. So they learn to ignore it because it means bad things. They hear their name and they know they’re getting told off.
How You Should Use Your Dogs Name – Only To Get Their Attention
If you want your dog to give you their attention every time you call it, it must only ever be used for this purpose.
Dogs, although clever, need routine and clarity so if you use their name to mean up to three different things they will only get confused.
And if you use their name negatively they will start to ignore it as dogs are reward seekers and do what leads to good consequences. Getting told off is not one of them.
So do not use it as a correction or as a recall command, only ever use it to get their attention.
You should also only use their name in a positive way, praise and reward them massively when they give you their attention, and never use their name for anything else.
If you need to issue a command, such as drop, come or anything else, use their name calmly and positively, then when they’ve shown you their attention, leave a little pause before then issuing the command. Getting their attention and issuing a command are separate things.
Their name is a command that means to listen to you. Come, and drop etc. are separate commands. Never shout your dog’s name to get them to come, the come command is there for that purpose.
7 Steps To Teach Your Puppy Their Name And To Give You Their Attention When You Call It
Hopefully if you’ve got this far you can see the power in using your dog’s name correctly and are willing to train them to react excitedly and positively whenever you call them.
The following is a 7 step process that should have your Golden reliably stop and give you their attention no matter what they’re doing at any time.
It’s basically classical conditioning, training an automatic response to their name.
Before you start you want to be sure you have a bag of treats at the ready and as is true for all training, make sure your puppy isn’t over-excited or tired.
With you and your puppy home alone in the room your puppy spends most of it’s time and with no other distractions, say your puppy’s name in a positive happy voice and hope to get their attention.
If they don’t look to you, try clicking your fingers or clapping your hands just before you call their name.
As soon as they look at you, mark the behavior with a click (or a word such as ‘good!’ if you don’t use a clicker) and give them lots of praise and a small food reward.
At first, to get the praise and reward is why your puppy will turn to you when you call their name.
Now allow your puppy’s mind and attention to wander and when they’re not looking at you, call their name again.
As soon as they look at you, mark the behavior and give them more praise and a treat.
Again, if they don’t give you their attention, clap or snap your fingers and say their name again. When they look at you, mark the behavior, praise and treat.
Repeat this a good 8 to 12 times over 1 or 2 minutes. Puppy’s have very short attention spans, so don’t do more than this.
And repeat this whole exercise every 2 hours or so for 2 or 3 days.
Your puppy will very quickly learn that when they hear this new word that is the name you’ve given them, they will get praise and a treat. And they will give you their attention every time!
Increase the difficulty and ‘prove’ your puppy knows its name by attempting the exercise in other rooms of your home. Then the back yard. Then the front yard.
You want to vary the places you do it so your puppy is curious about other things in the environment making it harder to get their attention.
But you want nothing so distracting as another animal or child just yet as this may be just too distracting and they will ignore their name.
So still do this only when alone and distractions are minimal. Set your puppy up to win and get things right.
Repeat the exercise multiple times in all rooms of your home and the front and back yards until you can reliably get your puppy’s attention every time.
Now you can reliably get your puppy’s attention you want to increase the difficulty by increasing the amount of time they must look at you with their undivided attention before getting praise and a reward.
You want to call their name and when they look at you, instantly mark the behavior but leave it a couple of seconds before giving them praise and a treat.
When they are consistently giving 2 seconds attention, move to 3 seconds, then 4 and then 5. You should stop here because 5 seconds is a long time in a puppy’s life and they will just turn away after this. Don’t ask for too much.
If you get to 4 seconds and they start to fail, drop back to 3 or even 2 seconds again and then slowly increase. You may have gone too far too fast.
And remember, only do this for 1 or 2 minutes at the most or they will tire and become bored and the training will lose its effectiveness.
When your puppy can give you 5 seconds attention all around the home and back yard, you can now start to add distractions such as another person, noise from the TV or another dog in the room.
Now when your puppy is distracted, call them to get their attention and mark, praise and treat when they do.
As the difficulty has increased, try to just get their attention and instantly reward them for a few sessions before then increasing the time to 2, 3…5 seconds of attention.
With distractions in the room it’s a good idea to use a training leash so you can give a very gentle correction if need be. The last thing you want is for them to run off and ignore their name being called completely or they may learn it’s OK to do this.
If they do not give you their attention, clap or snap your fingers, if they still ignore you, gently rein them in toward you and call their name again and mark, praise and reward the instant they look to you.
If your puppy struggles to look to you with distractions in the room, you can up the value of the food reward to something like liver or bacon, something irresistible so your puppy is keener to get their reward. Or you may have to lower the distractions again for a few sessions.
Basically the treat needs to better than the thing they’ve turned away from and the praise given just as impressive and grand.
Once you can get your puppy’s attention all around the home and garden, even with distractions around, your puppy’s response to their name will be very strong indeed.
When they hear their name, they know they’re going to get a lot of praise and a treat.
It’s now time to start phasing out the treat and only offering it every now and then. Dogs are gamblers and they like to attempt things knowing a reward comes now and then. This is enough, it doesn’t have to be every time. But equally you will not have a reward to give them every time so you must start to phase it out!
So go through the exercise lots over the course of a few days and start to phase out the treats a little.
It’s now time to perform the exercise outside of your home. Other people’s homes when you visit, or the pet store, or the park.
As this could be very difficult with so much going on around them, you will need to praise and reward instantly, and reward every time at first.
And then start to increase the time they must give attention, and then start to phase out the reward a bit but of course still give massive praise.
After building up to successes in many different environments with lots of different distractions, you should now be able to get your puppies attention reliably every time.
And it’s now that your puppy’s name can be a useful tool. To always be able to get their attention when training, and to keep them safe so you can get their attention if they’re wandering into a dangerous situation.
You need to practice the exercises regularly in all environments with all sorts of distractions.
As your puppy matures, you need to continually reinforce the behavior or the power of their name can get lost and them starting to ignore you when you call them can start to creep in.
You need to regularly remind them that when you call their name, stopping what they’re doing and giving you their attention means only great things, lots of praise and sometimes a reward and perhaps a game.
You do this by performing the exercises above every now and then.
Extra Tips And Tricks
You should only attempt any training when your puppy isn’t over-excited or tired.
Also once started, stop before your puppy becomes tired or bored. They will not be able to concentrate or pay attention in this state.
Never shout your puppy’s name in anger, only say it in a happy, warm tone to keep any associations with their name positive. Nobody, not humans, not dogs, look forward to a telling off or listening to a person shouting their name angrily.
Never call your dog’s name to tempt them over right before doing something unpleasant like putting them in a crate or examining the inside of their ears.
This has the potential to teach them that sometimes, hearing their name means bad things are going to happen. And sometimes is enough for them to associate their name with negativity and their name will lose some of its potential power.
First call their name, get their attention and then have a little pause for praise or a short game before crating them or giving them an examination. You only need pause long enough for them to have forgotten you called their name, just 10 to 15 seconds will do.
Final Thoughts On How To Train A Puppy Their Name
Being able to reliably get your puppy’s, and once they’re grown your adult dogs attention is very useful indeed. After all, it’s impossible to guide or control a dog that isn’t even listening to you.
By taking the time to do what many people don’t and training your puppy their name, and training them to believe that when they hear it only good things will happen, you will have a dog that listens to you and pays you more attention when you call them than if you hadn’t taken the time.
But you also need to be mindful of not using their name angrily, or just before doing anything they may find unpleasant.
I’m not foolish enough to think this is easy. In fact I’d say it was impossible to do this all the time, to never call them in a harsh voice or ever shout their name right before ending a walk or clipping their nails.
But if you can try to train their name and use it as described in this article, you’ll end up being able to get your dogs attention far more reliably than if you didn’t. And this will benefit both you and your dog in the long run.
Please see this article: The importance of a dog’s name with regards to training from The Whole Dog Journal.