The Name Game: How to teach a dog their name

spaniel puppy standing in grass surrounded by dandelions

You’ve welcomed a new puppy or a rescue dog into your life, and you want to start with the basics – how do you teach your dog their name? 

Tap into this simple video tutorial and quickly teach your dog their name (and to respond to it). Plus learn the extra steps for teaching a rescue dog to love their new name.


How to teach a dog their name

Anything you teach your dog needs to be practised consistently and in different environments. The good news is, teaching your dog their name is super easy! 

Whether you have a new puppy or a rescue dog who’s name you’d like to change, here’s how you do it. 

The Name Game

Step 1: Create a positive association with your dog’s name

Pair saying your dog’s name with a nice treat. Say the name once and reward your dog with a treat each time. 

Step 2: Look for a response from your dog to their name

As your dog becomes more responsive, wait for them to respond to their name and then give them a treat. 

Step 3: Practise a few times a day in different places

With repetition, your dog will soon learn their new name. Practise consistently and your dog will be responding quickly when you call their name. 

Remember to say your dog’s name only once before rewarding. Dogs are quick learners so if you begin saying Toto, Toto…. Your dog will learn their name is TotoToto! 

Can you change a dog’s name?

Yes! If you adopt a rescue dog you may want to change their name and it’s totally ok to do this. 

Your dog’s name will hopefully be with you for a long time, you’ll be calling it across the park and making up a bunch of nicknames based on it… So it’s important that you like your dog’s name! 

If your dog has a history of being called by another name, you may need to be patient and play the name game more often to help them learn. 

Whenever I have welcomed a new rescue dog into our family, we’ve begun by checking their response to the name they’ve arrived with.

I look to see whether they:

  • Respond to their name
  • Whether the name elicits a positive response, a negative response, or no response

For some of my rescues they’ve kept their original names and for others we’ve changed it. There is no right or wrong here, test the name with your dog and see what they think about it! 

signs your dog trusts you they respond to you

This is a fresh start for your new rescue and the beginning of their happy life with you. Introducing a new name can help you both separate the past from the present and start as you mean to go on.

Be mindful to only pair your dog’s new name with positive rewards, so your dog can quickly build a happy association with it.  

Teaching your dog to come

Once your dog has mastered their new name, you may like to progress on to teaching them to come to you when you call them. 

I recommend practising this at home in a quiet environment to begin with. Your dog needs to be in a distraction free place whenever they learn something new for the first time. 

Step 1: Choose your recall word

Step 2: Start in your home or garden, say your recall word and drop a few treats at your feet

Step 3: Touch your dog’s collar gently as they retrieve their treats

Step 4: Practise lots in low distraction environments to build new habits

Step 5: Take your best treats and get outside – practise your recall word with your dog on a longline training lead

Step 6: Don’t be stingy – give plenty of treats in your early training

Step 7: Don’t ditch the longline until you’re confident in your dog’s recall 

Tap into my free guide to teaching your dog to come when called here. 

Once your dog can reliably come when called with no distractions, you can start slowly adding to distractions to proof their recall cue. 

Read Next:

Preventing resource guarding: How to help your dog feel secure

7 surefire signs your dog trusts you (& how to grow more of it)

Successful puppy socialisation in 3 easy steps

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Becky Milne East Coast Dog Training with Border Terrier

Hi, I’m Becky

I’m an ethical and positive dog trainer who wants to help you create a fantastic relationship with your dog.

I offer fun and effective dog training that makes you WANT to train.