Maryland Pet

How to Teach a Dog to Respond to a Name?

How do I teach my dog their name? Before I can answer this question, I need to define what exactly the name is. The name is a concept, a construct. We, humans, give names to members of our species but also different animals. It culturally relates to subjectivity. Giving someone a name means the person or the animal is an individual, not just a member of a group, species but a one of a kind individual. No doubt, we pay a lot of attention when choosing a name for our dog. But what does the name mean for our puppy? Does it mean anything at all? How do we teach a dog his name?

The name is just another cue for a dog. Teach a dog their name

First of all, we need to understand that a name is just another cue for our dog. It has to be associated with a specific situation and behavior. For our dog it’s just another cue. A cue is an antecedent stimulus – a thing that happens before the behavior that it evokes. It can be a verbal cue – when you say sit, and your dog sits, it can be visual – when you throw a ball, and your dog runs after it, tactical when you touch your dog.

Why a dog doesn’t respond to their name

No matter what the cue is, it first needs to be taught. Saying sit to a dog that has never heard this word before is like talking to another human being in a language they don’t understand. This is it why your dog won’t respond to it’s name. If you want your dog to sit when you say the word sit, you first need to teach the sit behavior. Then when it is fluently performed, you can add a cue. Not the other way round. A cue is a change in the environment, which at a given moment increases, (or in the case of punishment, decreases) the frequency of a behavior (or one of its qualities, such as duration, intensity, etc.). It also evokes behavior. When a bowl of soup appears in front of you, it is a cue for you to take a spoon and start eating.

Condition the name! Have you heard about Pavlov and the salivating dog?

Classical conditioning is also known as Pavlovian conditioning (after the famous Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov who first described it). It is the process where a neutral stimulus is paired with an unconditioned stimulus and becomes a conditioned stimulus, which on its own, elicits a response. The way we introduce a clicker is based on classical conditioning.

In the experiment described by Pavlov, the sound of a metronome (a neutral stimulus, and yes – it was a metronome, not a bell) was paired with (i.e., presented before) an unconditioned stimulus, that is food. In the end, the sound of the metronome was eliciting salivation.

But what does salivation has to do with the dog’s name?

A lot! We want the name to be a conditioned stimulus like the clicker or the sound of the metronome!  This way not only will our dog will salivate on the sound of his name – which I know may not be what you were actually hoping to achieve, but you will also condition all the great things happening when your dog gets his favorite treat: relaxed muscles, heart rate and positive sensations in general. 

We can compare it to the situation when we hear a song that we kept listening to last summer. It brings all the good memories and sensations. You know that feeling when you listen to it? Or the smell of your grandmother’s soup, bringing all the good thoughts from your childhood. This is what we want to achieve by conditioning our dog’s name.

Teach a dog to respond to their name! Follow the same steps you did when introducing the clicker but instead use your dog’s name. 

Remember that you don’t expect your dog to perform any behavior when you pair the name with food. Just say the name and give the cookie! This is very important during dog training.

The dog doesn’t respond to it’s name? Only good things happen when you hear your name

Yes! That’s one of the most important things you need to remember. When you say the dog’s name, only good things happen! I bet you already are a positive reinforcement caregiver, but remember to only use your dog’s name in situations where the following consequences are pleasant.

Dog training in progress. What does it look like?

Teach a dog his name. Cues evoke behaviors. What behavior evokes the dog’s name? Whatever you want. Dog’s don’t speak human. But we teach them behaviors and then we name these behaviors. We need to do exactly the same with our dog’s name. Usually when we say the name we want our dog to:

All of these three are different behaviors. I recommend you pick out one and teach it before using your dog’s name.

Common misconceptions! How do I teach my dog their name?

I hope this article will be helpful. But we all know all these things seem very easy when you compare them to actually picking out the dog’s name in the first place! You can find more professional trainings and dog trainers at

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