How to Teach Your Dog to Respond to Their Name

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Welcoming a dog inside your home is an exciting new experience for both you and your dog. But it can also be quite an overstimulating experience for your dog exposed to a new environment and new people. One of the first things people do when meeting their dog is deciding their name. Whether it’s keeping it to the name from the adoption center or changing it to something different, your dog’s name is essential for the two of you to communicate. But what if your dog isn’t responsive to their name? Will your dog only respond to its previous name? Here are a few tips on naming your dog and getting your dog to be responsive to their name. 

Changing Your Dog’s Name

Adopting or rehoming a dog can be quite the experience as you get to know your dog and understand their comfort level. I’m sure it crossed your mind, “can I change my dog’s name?” “Would changing their name confuse them?” It is ok to change your dog’s name. Shoshi Parks, a professional dog trainer, says that “most shelters give dogs a new name when they enter the facility.” She mentions that changing their name, especially if they’re a puppy, should not be a problem at all. But keep in mind that your dog isn’t going to know its name right away. You also want to make sure your dog is responsive to its name. There’s a slight chance they won’t respond to their new name right away, and that might make you wonder if changing their name was a wrong move as a dog owner. But don’t fret; it takes some time to teach your dog their name. 

Naming Your Dog

What is a good name for a dog? Humans choose to create long names for their children, but long names can be challenging for dogs to understand for dogs. Kimberly Caines suggests to avoid long names; anything that’s longer than three syllables may not be a proper name. Instead of naming your dog Chrysanthemum or Alexander, settle for something shorter than Christy or Alex. If you choose to name your dog a long name, consider giving your dog a nickname that you often refer to them. Still familiarize them with their long name, but there is a chance they will be more responsive to the shortened name. 

Teaching Your Dog How to Come to You

Let your dog become familiar with their name by calling them over. Pamela J. Reid, Ph.D., ASPCA, states that when you begin teaching your dog their name, calling them over is a good practice. Getting your dog’s attention with treats, toys, positive affirmations, petting, and attention getters can help your dog become familiar with their name. It is an excellent practice to make your dog know that you want to get their attention when you say their name. The best way to keep your dog’s engagement to their name is to teach them that you want their attention or want them to come over. Avoid saying their name when they are in trouble when you’re first teaching them their name. Teach bad behavior by showing them that you dislike that behavior without alarming your dog or making them feel that their name is associated with bad behavior. Dogs will note when and why their dog owner speaks their name. If there are more negative connotations than positives, your dog won’t be responsive. Dogs understand what behaviors grant good and bad reactions from their owner. Your dog will create a dislike for it because of its negativity, so make sure you be patient and kind to your dog. 

Creating Name Familiarity: “The Name Game”

Create familiarity with their new name but don’t overwhelm them. Try playing “The Name Game,” which Reid suggests is an excellent way to “teach your dog to turn or look at you” when you speak their name. As always, your dog will be more responsive when you’re introducing its name to a positive tone. Let your dog know it’s a good thing that they are paying attention to their name by expressing excitement, positive affirmations, toys, or treats. Gradually accustoming your dog to their name throughout the day (but not excessively) to familiarize them with their name and the behavior you’re trying to teach them. If your dog is not responsive, do not repeat its name repeatedly. There are other ways to get your dogs attention, such as whistling, bringing out a toy, etc., without overwhelming them by saying a name they’re still learning. Be consistent with trying to say their name casually throughout the day to test whether they recognize their name. Don’t put pressure on your dog’s learning process; they’ll learn soon enough. They need encouragement and repetition to help them become familiar with their name. 

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