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Your Puppy Should Look at You When You Say His Name

By Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Breed Selection Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

White pup looking attentively at you

The most obvious word you want your dog to learn is his name. You want him to recognize that a particular sound means HIM. You want him to look at you when he hears that sound.

Haven't named your pup yet?

Here's my advice:

  • It's easier for a dog to learn a one- or two-syllable name (Luke, Jenna, Kelly, Buffy). If you're partial to a longer name, at least try to choose one that can be shortened. For example, his full name might be Cappuccino but often you just call him Cap or Cappy.
  • Avoid names that rhyme with No  (Beau, Joe, Coco) or start with No  (Nova, Noel, Noble). We use No to tell a puppy that certain behaviors are not allowed.
  • Avoid unflattering names like Dumbo, Trouble, Devil, Killer. Of course the dog doesn't understand the meaning, but people  do, and every time you or anyone else says that name, it's only natural to think of that dog as being dumb or trouble-making or aggressive. When you have such thoughts, it can come through in your body language... which dogs are very good at reading. You might find that the dog ends up giving you exactly what you expect. So try to pick a positive name.

Dachshund looking attentively at you

Step #1 of teaching your puppy his name

Put a handful of soft treats in your pocket. Most pups love cooked chicken: tiny pieces, less than half the size of your thumbnail.

Find a quiet room indoors without distractions. If you have small children or other pets, put them in another room.

Stand in the quiet spot with your puppy on leash. Because you're just standing there saying and doing nothing, he will probably get bored and look up at you. At that moment call his name in a happy voice: "Jake!" (don't just say  it – call  it) and give him a treat.

Miniature PinscherNow wait for his attention to wander. Walk around the room if that gets him to look away from you. Then stop and wait for him to look up at you again. When he does so, call "Jake!" and give him a treat.

Repeat this pattern about 10 times.

But there's a problem, isn't there? Your pup isn't looking away from you anymore, is he?

This is because dogs are opportunists  who repeat behaviors that bring them something good. Your pup won't take his eyes off you right now because he has made the connection that looking at you   causes a treat to appear. So of course he wants to keep staring at you!

That's perfectly okay. If he won't look away, just call his name while  he's looking at you. Then give the treat. You're still teaching him that his name is associated with something really good.

Also, there should be times during the day when you're walking or playing with your puppy and he happens to look attentively at you or walk toward you.

That's a good time to connect those behaviors with his name by calling, "Jake!" and praising him ("Good boy!").

Step #2 of teaching your puppy his name

Don't be in a rush to move on to this step.

Some owners make the mistake of standing clear across the yard and hollering, "Jake! Jake!" while he's busy doing something else. Sure, he might hear the jake  sound, but he's too distracted to respond to it. Then the owner just stands there – which only reinforces in the pup's mind that the jake  sound must be meaningless.

So give him lots and lots of opportunities to hear the jake  sound when he's actually looking at you, so he learns that the sound refers to himself.

But when he appears to have that part down pat, walk around in your house or yard with your pup on leash. When he gets distracted and looks toward something that interests him, call his name.

If he doesn't immediately look in your direction, call his name again and take a few steps backward, tightening the leash. This should make him look toward you. Then you can praise ("Good boy! Yay!") and treat.

Puppy walking toward you

It shouldn't be long before your puppy looks at you immediately when you say his name. Then start cutting back on the treats. Reward for the first look, and the second look. For the third look, praise but give no treat. So it's treat, treat, no treat. Then cut back to treat, no treat, treat, no treat.

Finally, make the treats random. You might treat twice in a row, then nothing three times in a row, then treat, then nothing. Mix it up so your pup's good behavior isn't dependent on treats.

Do's and don't when teaching your puppy his name

  • Watch for opportunities during the day to use your pup's name whenever he heads toward you.
  • Don't call his name when you're going to correct him.
  • Don't use his name in combination with No.  "Jake, good boy!" is fine. "Jake, no!" is less good.

    Unfortunately, though, if you have multiple dogs, sometimes you do need to use the name of the misbehaving one so the other dogs within hearing distance don't feel corrected when they haven't done anything wrong.

My book covertraining program is for puppies 2 to 18 months old. It explains, step by step:

  • How to establish good patterns and routines that govern everything your pup does.
  • How to teach your pup to be calm and to look to you for guidance, direction, and permission.
  • How to make yourself important – the most important thing – in your puppy’s life. How to show your pup the clear, black-and-white rules and routines he is to follow. And how to make sure he does.

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

To help you train and care for your dog

dog training videos Dog training videos. Sometimes it's easier to train your puppy (or adult dog) when you can see the correct training techniques in action.

The problem is that most dog training videos on the internet are worthless, because they use the wrong training method. I recommend these dog training videos that are based on respect and leadership.

book coverRespect Training For Puppies: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved puppy. For puppies 2 to 18 months old. Your puppy will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know.
If your dog is over 18 months, you'll want book coverRespect Training For Adult Dogs: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved dog. Again your dog will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know.
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book coverDog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams will help you find a good-tempered, healthy family companion.