If you have a new puppy or a dog what is one of the first things you need to teach it?  The answer: ITS NAME

“Of course,” I hear you say. “That’s obvious!”

You would think so wouldn’t you?  However, I’m sure you have often heard an owner either calling a dog or trying to get the dog’s attention in order to give it a command, meanwhile the dog is looking anywhere except at its master.

“Jake”(no response)“Jake”(still nothing). “JAKE!!!” (no joy)  JakeJakeJakeJAKEJAKEY!!” The pitch and the volume are going up each time but the dog pays no attention.

The first problem here is that the dog has not been taught to respond 100% of the time to its name.  Add to that the fact that the tone of voice changes with each call, that the dog can sense the mounting frustration and sometimes anger in its owner’s voice and there isn’t a hope in hell of getting it to respond.  When the name is then called in rapid succession the sound changes completely so how could the dog possibly even recognise it.

Take human babies for instance, one of the first things they hear repeated over and over is their name, they learn to recognise this sound and to respond to it. As babies grow and become toddlers they will learn that this sound is their name and as children they will be taught to spell and to write it.

A dog however will never know that the sound it hears is its name any more than it will ever be able to spell or write it.  In fact when dogs change owners, often their name is also changed and they have to start again.  Dogs have no problem with this as to them it’s just a word; the change may even be a positive thing, eradicating any bad association the dog had with its old name.

To  teach your dog its name you first need CONTACT

As with all the training you will do it’s about rewarding the behaviour you want to be repeated and the first phase is always silent.

First teach the action then give your dog the one word command associated with it. 

Contact, also  referred to as ‘look at me’ or ‘the look’ is an important first step in training whether starting with a puppy or older dog. This is about teaching them to focus on you and all other training you do will depend on the success of this step.

Why is that? Because if your dog’s attention is elsewhere, giving any instruction is a complete waste of time. Successful training is not about dominance but about complicity. It’s about having a dog that is focused on you, ready and waiting to see what they should do next, because they want to  and because it’s fun; or maybe just because they know you have a pocket full of treats!!

Step 1. Start by siphoning off a portion of the daily ration and keeping it about your person. You are going to be dishing out a lot of rewards and you don’t want a fat dog!*  Pick a quiet place with no distractions for your dog and then simply wait, silent and relaxed.  When your dog looks at your face immediately give a treat, if you are using clicker then the sequence is click, treat. To start with just a lift of the eyes to your face is good enough but then you need to raise the bar so your dog looks you in the eyes and, after that, holds the look for longer. It sounds complicated but your dog will ‘get’ super fast that pay attention =reward

Once you have ‘contact’ you can then


 Step 2. Now when your pup /dog looks at you reward whist simultaneously saying his name each time. Dogs are smart, it won’t take long for them to work out that this word means treats, so he is already associating his name with good things.

Step 3. Say his name when he is close to you but not looking at you, using a normal tone of voice. If you have practised well and not tried to rush it he should instantly look at you.  When this happens be ready with several treats and lots of praise, be aware that your timing or lack of it is critical; the treats must be dished out the minute he looks at you.  If at this point he didn’t look at you then you have gone too fast, go back a step or you will inadvertently teach your dog to ignore its name.

If you succeeded in getting his attention straight away continue in the same manner, you are aiming for 100% success rate so again don’t rush.  This is the crucial stage that all of your other training will be based on.

Step 4. So far you have been working within the confines of your home where there are no distractions. If you have succeeded up to now then you are ready to attach your dog to a  lead and take him outside.  Say his name as you are walking and immediately reward him when he pays attention to you.

If you continue in this way, making sure that each step is successfully completed you will end up with a dog that looks at you for guidance, one that is ready and waiting for your command and comes when called.

A word of warning, if you use his name in anger or associate it with something unpleasant you will have negated all the work you have done and will have to start again at zero!!

*If your dog  really isn’t food motivated, is on a special diet or you just don’t want to go that route then use a different reward. There are dogs that are treat driven and those who would do anything for a ball or a ragger. Some just want a stroke or praise. It’s all about motivation and finding what works for your dog.

A word about recall

When taking on a rescue dog it is wise to first build up trust and put the above training in place before letting them off the lead. A safe enclosed space in which to practice initially and a long line/lead (8-10 metres) is recommended. If you have a local dog club this is an ideal and safe environment in which to practice. As always, the time this takes depends very much on the individual dog.

Puppies however are a different thing entirely, people regularly come to club with 6 month old pups who have never been off lead because they are too worried about them running off.

My advice?

PUPPIES ARE HARD WIRED TO FOLLOW and the best time to teach them to stay with you and come when called is from the very start.

So after a couple of days just at home to familiarise the pup with its surroundings, gain their trust  and initiate ‘contact’. Let your pup go, on a long trailing line initially if you prefer, and when they  stay close (because they will!) reward and reinforce that behaviour.

Shirley Reddell



Poppy learnt her name very quickly!

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