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Get a new puppy, give it a name, everyone uses it and sooner or later your puppy just gets used to it right? That’s how to teach a puppy their name.
Well, there’s some truth in that but you could do so much better!
Spending dedicated time to teach your Labrador puppy their name and having everybody only use it in a particular way can be an incredibly important and useful tool if you choose to make it that way.
By following the advice in this article, you can teach your puppy their name and use it in such a way that all future training will be easier and more effective, and their name will also become a useful tool for their safety!
At any time he’s about to wander into danger, if you can call his name and he reliably turns his attention to you, you can prevent many imminent disasters. But only if he turns to you reliably and every time.
Contents & Quick Navigation
- How a Dog’s Name Should Be Used
- Common Mistakes Made Using a Dog’s Name
- Many Dogs Get Confused At What Their Name Means
- How to Teach a Puppy Their Name In 10 Steps
- Step 1: First Get Their Attention
- Step 2: Immediately Mark and Reward
- Step 3: Lose Their Attention, Then Try Again
- Step 4: Repetition
- Step 5: Vary The Training Location
- Step 6: Increase The Time You Require Their Attention Before Rewarding
- Step 7: Add Distractions
- Step 8: Increase Time Required And Level Of Distraction
- Step 9: Moving It Outside
- Step 10: We’re There! But Don’t Stop!
- Additional Tips
- VIDEO: A Nice Summary Of The Above In Action
- Feedback and Comments
- Top Picks For Our Dogs
How a Dog’s Name Should Be Used
To make best use of your Labradors name, you have to use it to mean: “I’m talking to you and I want you to listen and pay attention.” It must mean this and nothing else, used for no other reason.
When you call your Labs name, it should be a cue for them to stop, turn toward and acknowledge you, give you their undivided attention and wait for further instruction.
The ability to attract your dogs attention reliably will form a solid foundation for greater success in training later on because it’s far easier to ask a dog to do something when it’s concentrated on you.
It’s very hard to command a dog that doesn’t even acknowledge you when called.
Secondly, it can be great for safety when your Lab is heading toward trouble.
As an example, if he was chasing a ball about to bounce into a busy road, if you could call his name and stop him in his tracks to pay you attention, well, it could even save his life.
So how do you achieve this?
You need to condition your dog so the very sound of their name causes them to pay you attention and sparks joy and excitement within them as a natural response.
To do this, you must only use your puppies name in a positive way, reward him massively when he pays you attention for calling his name and NEVER use his name for anything else.
And this is where a lot of people make mistakes…
Common Mistakes Made Using a Dog’s Name
A lot of people use their dog’s name as a correction, shouting it angrily as a punishment.
The dog does something undesirable and the owner shouts angrily: “MONTY! STOP THAT! BAD DOG MONTY!! And now of course Monty starts to associate his name with negative things.
He learns when his name is called, he’s being told off and this is something you DO NOT want to happen.
He will begin to ignore your calls and will not stop and turn to give you attention.
Why would your Labrador stop chasing a squirrel, just because you call his name when he knows he’s going to be told off?
In this moment, right now, he’s free and having fun and won’t feel the urge to stop to pay you attention if he’s learnt you’ll tell him off. You have to make him WANT to stop and pay you attention
On top of this, a lot of people tend to use their dog’s name as a recall command, to get their dog to come, shouting: “Monty…MONTY! COME! MONTYYYY!
This is plain wrong. For the best results you must use your dog’s name only to get attention. It’s a command and cannot have two meanings.
Call your dog’s name positively and calmly, then pause, then issue a second command: “Monty…(pause)…come!’ His name is not a command to come to you, you have another command for that.
Finally, try not to nickname your dog or use multiple names. Although they will eventually learn to respond to multiple names, you are again watering down the effectiveness of having just one and can confuse your puppy.
Colby Morita, a trainer of puppy’s for guide dogs of America, has an article titled “How to teach your puppy his name” over at puppyintraining.com that re-iterates these points and is well worth a read.
Many Dogs Get Confused At What Their Name Means
If you’re guilty of the above mistakes when you call your dog’s name, to them it could have three meanings:
- Stop and give me your attention
- You’re being naughty, I’m telling you off
- Come to me. No? Now come, I’m angry
So their name has three meanings?! No other word we use with our dog has this so the dog gets confused and the power of what their name should mean gets lost.
We need to eliminate using it for numbers 2 and 3 that associate their name with negative things.
And we need to concentrate on number 1, using it only for attention and only in a calm, positive voice, always following it with a desirable and rewarding experience.
We want them to know their name has this one meaning, hear their name and think: “YES! My name! Something good’s about to happen!” and have them reliably and consistently stop what they’re doing and turn to us.
How to Teach a Puppy Their Name In 10 Steps
Your puppy will learn its name naturally with little effort from you if you speak and use it often enough.
But for the reasons above it’s of huge benefit to both you and your Lab that you go about it in a properly structured way with clear goals in mind.
Following is a 10 step process you can follow to teach your Labrador puppy its name and have it reliably stop what it’s doing to pay you attention in almost any situation.
Step 1: First Get Their Attention
Be sure to start the process when it’s just you and your puppy, at home alone, with no distractions and a bag of treats to use as a reward.
Don’t start if your puppy’s tired, over-excited or heavily distracted by anything and start at a time when you already have your puppy’s attention.
Say your puppy’s name just once in a warm and happy voice, hoping to get its attention.
If you don’t get it’s attention (after all, it doesn’t yet know its name) try again after a small pause but make a sharp clap with your hands or a kissing noise to help get their attention.
Step 2: Immediately Mark and Reward
As soon as your puppy looks to you and gives you his attention, IMMEDIATELY mark the behavior with a word (YES!, GOOD!) or a click if you’re using a clicker.
Then give a small food reward and lots of praise. Initially this food treat and praise is what encourages your puppy to look at you when you call.
Step 3: Lose Their Attention, Then Try Again
Now allow your puppy to turn their attention away from you and then repeat their name once more. As soon as they look at you and you have their attention, mark it again and give a food treat and praise.
Step 4: Repetition
Repeat steps 1 to 3 a good 8 to 10 times over the course of a couple of minutes. More than this and your puppy will get bored with it all and the training will lose its effectiveness.
Repeat steps 1 to 4 every couple of hours for a few days. Your puppy will soon learn his name means a treat and some praise and will learn to readily turn to you when you call his name.
Step 5: Vary The Training Location
Mix up the places where you teach your puppy its name. As it’s still early days, only do so when alone and distractions are minimal as we need to set our puppy up to win.
Their attention span is crazy small! Practice in different rooms of your house and your back yard for now.
Repeat the training, steps 1 to 5 all around your home and back yard until you can reliably get your puppy’s attention.
Step 6: Increase The Time You Require Their Attention Before Rewarding
You should now try to increase the time your puppy gives attention before you offer a reward.
Start calling your puppy’s name and when he turns to look at you, mark immediately but leave it 2 seconds before giving the treat so he has to hold his attention on you longer.
Do a few sessions at 2 seconds, then 3 seconds, then 4…try to eventually get your puppy to pay attention to you for at least 5 seconds before rewarding.
If your puppy cannot keep his attention on you at any stage, say the 3 second stage, drop back to 2 or even 1 second for the rest of the session.
There’s a chance you may have increased the time too soon so make sure you’ve proved they’re very good at giving 2 seconds of attention before again moving to 3 seconds, proving it, then 4 etc.
Progress too soon and your puppy may not keep up and get disheartened at failure, soon losing interest.
Step 7: Add Distractions
Once your puppy can reliably give you 5 seconds of attention around the home and back yard, it’s time to step up the difficulty again, this time by adding in some distractions.
Have another person in the room, a child playing, or give him a toy, something fun that will grip your puppy’s attention. Now, when your puppy is fully distracted, call his name.
Because we’re now asking our puppy to turn away from something exciting to pay attention to us, it’s a good idea to go back to immediate praise and reward, not ask for 5 seconds. We want to set our puppy up to succeed.
It’s useful to have your puppy on a leash at this stage so you can give a gentle correction if he starts to wander off or doesn’t pay you attention.
If you call their name and your puppy ignores you, gently pull them over toward you and call their name again. Immediately when they pay you attention, mark the behavior and give a reward and praise.
Because you want attention to you being more rewarding than whatever it is he was previously engaged in, you ‘ll have to step up the reward.
Some chicken, liver, whatever is his absolute favorite treat. You want to pay a jackpot if he turns his attention from a chew toy or another person to you when his name is called.
Remember, you’re trying to be more fun and rewarding in his eyes than whatever it is you’ve taken him away from. This means a high value treat and massive praise and fun.
Step 8: Increase Time Required And Level Of Distraction
Once your puppy is able to turn to you and pay you attention even when distracted, start to increase the desired attention time to 2 secs, then 3 etc. again aiming to eventually reach 5 secs+.
Step 9: Moving It Outside
Now you can get your puppy’s attention in the home and back yard, even when distracted, it’s time to step it up and try it outside.
Start somewhere quiet, perhaps somewhere he’s been before, and go back to the simple exercise of just the smallest attention earning him a treat.
Then gradually increase how much time you ask for, but slowly. Again, remember to try and set your puppy up to succeed.
Step 10: We’re There! But Don’t Stop!
You should by now be able to get your puppy’s attention quite easily. Your puppy has been conditioned to associate his name with a rewarding treat and praise.
He will want to give you attention when you call him as it’s always exciting, rewarding and fun.
Now you need to really hammer it home by going through the exercise regularly throughout the day in every type of environment and when your puppy is engrossed in every kind of distraction.
This isn’t a one and done strategy, repetition is key. By regularly incorporating this exercise into your walks, in parks, gardens, the pet store, other people’s houses, at your own home, everywhere…you should soon be able to get your puppy’s attention no matter what the circumstances.
It’s now that your puppy’s name becomes a very useful tool to get his attention before giving him other commands.
This is a good foundation to start from for other training and you can hopefully keep him out of trouble, stopping him in his tracks to turn to you by merely calling his name.
He will want to stop and turn to you, because it always means reward by way of a treat or high praise and fun.
For the above training, always end the session before your puppy feels tired and loses interest.
You want him looking forward to your training sessions together. Training is more fun and effective if they’re keen and looking forward to it.
Secondly, I cannot stress the importance of only ever calling your dog’s name in a happy, high-pitched voice so he knows you’re happy and will want to pay you attention.
Try your best to never call your dog’s name angrily.
Third, try not to use your dog’s name to call him over for anything unpleasant such as ending a walk, having his nails trimmed or crating him.
You have to call him of course, but don’t give a negative experience immediately after calling his name.
Instead, call him, ask him to come and when he arrives, make a fuss and let some time pass so he forgets and then perform your task.
We don’t ever want him to think calling his name can end with something unpleasant.
Fourth, try not to overuse your dog’s name for fear it becomes just noise to him and he starts to ignore it.
When you command your dog, if you already have their attention, you don’t need to use their name, just the command will do.
If you don’t have your dogs attention, separate his name and the command as they are two separate commands, the name is a command itself, asking for attention.
So say his name: ‘Monty!’ Then pause a second or two and then issue the command: ‘Monty!…(dog gives you his attention, pause)…sit!’.
This helps your dog to keep the commands separate so they don’t lose their individual meanings.
VIDEO: A Nice Summary Of The Above In Action
To support the above article I’ve found a nice video on how to teach a puppy their name, number 6 in a series of 25 from Dogtrust.org.uk, titled ‘Dog Training Made Easy‘ which does a good job of summarizing the benefits of training your puppy its name and using it effectively.
It’s well worth 2.5 minutes of your time:
Dog Training Made Easy: Teach your dog to know their name:
This may seem like a lot of work just to teach your puppy his name, but you’re not using your dog’s name like most others, you’re going to use it properly and as an effective tool.
Your puppy’s name is to get its attention and you can condition it to give attention no matter the situation.
This will allow you to have better control of your dog and be able to train it and guide it through life much more safely.
Do not use your dog’s name as a recall command. Do not use your dog’s name as a correction to tell him off. Do not use your dog’s name to call him over before doing something unpleasant.
Only ever use the name in a single way that you train him to understand. That you want his attention and you’re talking to him.
And that when you call his name, it always ends with a reward of a treat, some praise or a high reward game and play.
In this way, he’ll be conditioned to think that you calling him is the best thing in the world and always leads to amazing things with you!
With this you can get him to stop and pay attention to you at any time you wish. During training, when you need to issue a command, and even when chasing that squirrel into a dangerous road.
Feedback and Comments
As always, we’d really appreciate any feedback you have on the article. Or if you have any questions regarding how to teach a puppy their name, please ask in the comments section below and we’ll be happy to answer.
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I don’t think what you’re suggesting is possible, sorry. It’s a nice idea, but honestly there’s no way you can not shout your dogs name when they do wrong and you’re angry. I must shout it 15 times a day! No, 15 times before mid-day, lol!!
Hi ‘Anonymous’ (very secretive ;-) ) Thanks for commenting.
I know where you’re coming from and completely agree that following the above article to the letter can be very hard to do. What’s described is an ideal, and the closer you can get to it, the better off you will be. Having your dog stop to listen to you is a very powerful tool for the reasons described above.
We all get angry and use their name harshly now and then, we all call their name when we want them to STAY or LEAVE something now and then, but the more you do this, the more the power of calling their name is lost.
Just try to be mindful of the above advice and use their name positively as much as you can, and negatively (or before what your dog will see as negative) as little as possible.
This will help calling your dogs name to retain as much power to get their attention as possible.
Honestly, in dog training and the way you behave around your dog, much of what’s spoken is just an ‘ideal’ and nobody can be perfect. Think of mistakes you occasionally make at work, or with children or relatives. We all know what we should be doing, but doing it 100% of the time is simply unachievable. All we can do is try our best to keep in mind what we know we should be doing, and do it as often as possible. With practice and keeping what we’re trying to achieve in mind, we can slowly change our own behavior to do things right a greater percentage of the time…but as you’ve said, probably never always!
I think that is the perfect response to that comment. Just reading this article and watching the video have given me a better understanding of how to teach our new puppy his name. Obviously there are circumstances where an immediate correction is needed and you just won’t be able to stop yourself yelling the puppy’s name. But, it’s definitely and excellent starting point.
Thanks Shawn :-)
Very nice post thankyou. My question is when you should remove the treat from the process. if the dog is expecting a treat after each successfull action, then wont it take it badly if it doesnt get a treat when he acts right?
I’m glad you enjoyed the post, thanks for the kind words :-)
You should phase out the food rewards as soon as you possibly can.
First of all you are using the food as both a lure AND a reward, it has two purposes.
You should stop luring with food (enticing puppy into a position) as soon as your puppy has learnt the command or hand signal and then switch to using the food as a reward only.
Then you must start to reward with food only occasionally while at the same time asking puppy to do things of higher and higher difficulty before they have earnt their food reward. They have to work harder and harder to earn it.
This is because, as you rightly say, they can begin to follow your cues purely to get the treat and there’s a danger if they don’t get one they feel hard done by and then start to ignore you as they know there’s no food (which they have come to expect.)
So you want to start swapping food treats for hearty praise and / or a game they enjoy as a reward instead.
I’ve yet to write anything on phasing out lures / rewards, so please read this article: Dog training: Phasing out food lures and rewards, from the fantastic Ian Dunbar of http://www.dogstardaily.com. (A world renowned dog trainer, behaviorist and speaker from whom it is well worth seeking out and devouring information!)
Hope this helps.
How much training / exercise time a day should be given to a very active Labrador puppy who is 13 weeks old and has a mad half hour at around 7pm each evening. Also please advise on how much time per day should be given as he grows older, say at 4 months 5 months and six months. Can you also suggest how to stop him wanting to hold onto my arm sometimes with quite a lot of pressure
Please read the following article which has the answer to most of your questions: How Much Exercise Does a Labrador Need?
For teaching ‘bite inhibition’, I’m afraid I’ve not got anything written on that just yet. Please see the following article for advice: Bite Inhibition training
I hope that helps!
I love this idea, but is it possible to to train for the same results using just a keyword? I feel there is so many other times a dog’s name is used besides just to get their immediate attention. A few examples have already been mentioned, such as when in trouble or calling them, but wouldn’t the way other people use their name also have an effect, possibly confusing them? That’s the first thing a lot of people ask and use to greet them. I feel it would be impractical to be particular about how other people use the dog’s name. Wouldn’t it also make it difficult to talk about the dog to someone else in front of him?
Sure, you could a cue word, a unique sound, a whistle or whatever you wish. They would all work well.
I agree with all you’ve said – the vast majority of people use a dog’s name to call them and it would be impractical to ask other people and strangers to use your dog’s name a certain way. But if you and the people in your dog’s household use it consistently the way described it’s useful.
Also, dog’s can differentiate between the person calling or cue-ing them and can react in different ways. I’m sure you’ve seen (perhaps owned?) dogs that perform behaviors well when asked by one person yet seem to ignore or be far less reactive to others. Regular training, play and living together makes you a team that knows what to expect of eachother and have a way of communicating. While a stranger is, well, a stranger, and most dogs behave differently to non-team members in many ways.
I guess I’m trying to say, yes, nobody will achieve perfection with what’s written above but it’s useful to give it a go – at least with the family members sharing your dog’s home whom they spend most their time with.
All the best!
Hi we just purchased a 13wk old yellow lab from a breeder, her name is Daisy. She is super smart and has learned some basics, sit, shake, down, bring it. We are planning on training her to duck hunt. That said she is having a terrible time responding to her name or come. We have tried most of your suggestions with no luck. Any advice
Hi. I have a 9 week old lab puppy. we got him from a farm this week. he knows nothing and its really hard! should we work on his name first, or can we work on name AND other commands? i feel like he needs to learn EVERYTHING at one time and its really hard. thank you!
Congratulations on your new puppy! Besides potty training and crate training a few of the basic commands we start with are name, “sit”, and “down”. Good luck with your puppy!