Dog Commands from Experts - Teach Your Dog to Respond to Their Name (And Have Them Listen!)

Dog Commands from Experts - Teach Your Dog to Respond to Their Name

Dogs speak dog, and unless you speak dog fluently, you need to find the best way to communicate with them. Learn how to get your pet to respond to his/her name.

Parenting, even when your kids have four legs, is never an easy task. Maybe you planned for this day and read all the books, or maybe it just happened! Either way, the cutest little puppy is peeing on the kitchen floor, while staring up at you with adoring eyes. And all you can think is, “Now what?!?”

Lucky for you, four-legged children are ECAD’s specialty, and we would like to give back to the many people who have given to us by sharing some knowledge with the world. So with the help of PetCareRx, ECAD has created quick reference guides that share some tips and tricks that may help you in your pet parenting journey.

Before we start home schooling your pet, it's imperative that you, the parents, first participate in a few Train-the-Trainer lessons. By being prepared with the appropriate knowledge and methodology, you will not only increase the success of the training, but you will enjoy spending quality time with your puppy as well.

Train-the-Trainer: Communication

Dogs speak dog. English is a second language, but dog is their first and fluent language, and unless you speak dog fluently, you need to a find a way to communicate with them. Since Rosetta Stone has not come out with a dog version yet, ECAD has found cues and patterning to be the best form of communication.

Cues are hand signals, body positions, sounds (whistles, snaps, claps, “kissy” noises, etc.) that are basically hints for what you want the dog to accomplish.

Targeting is a physical cue, while Commands are verbal cues.

Patterning is doing something over and over until it becomes automatic through muscle memory. By patterning, we can eliminate targeting and rely solely on commands to get the dogs to respond to a desired behavior.

Now that we understand how to communicate, the next question might be, “What should we communicate?”

The Dog’s Name

When you say the dog’s name, you are telling the dog to pay attention—a command is coming. You are not telling the dog to come to you, to sit, or to perform any additional task other than to recognize that you have called their name and they should focus their attention on you.

Teaching Method

Say your dog’s name, and as soon as the puppy looks at you, reward them with a treat. When you talk about your puppy to friends, or are referring to the puppy but don’t want it to do anything specific, use a nickname. Otherwise the puppy will inappropriately respond to their name, or the name will no longer hold merit and it will become irrelevant “noise” to your pet.  

It is critical that the pup’s name is ALWAYS positive. Don’t use their name to scold. Indicators are used for that, which will be covered in the next lesson.


Practice the “Dog’s Name” command, and play with cues, both targeting and commands, to have fun with your puppy.  

How to Teach Your Dog to Fetch

Playtime can be training in disguise, especially when you teach your dog to fetch. But be warned: As a pet parent, you need to determine the rules of fair play and enforce those rules. Grabbing the toy from you, ripping it up, and playing keep away may be fun for your dog, but not for you! When things get too wild, stop playing immediately! Also use a durable fetch toy like the Dogsavers Flyer so that the toy lasts years of biting and torture.

How do you determine if your puppy has turned a fun game of tug or fetch into something different? Pay attention to your dog’s body language. If your dog is jumping on you, grabbing at the toy, nipping at your hands, shaking the toy in their mouth, growling and becoming vocal, or refusing to return the toy to you, you must stop playing with them. These behaviors may be cute for a puppy, but when your dog gets older and bigger it will no longer be so fun. By rewarding the behavior of appropriate play and discouraging inappropriate play, you can avoid teaching your dog bad habits.  

When you have established the rules of play, tug and fetch are more enjoyable for both of you. ECAD has found these two games to be the ideal teaching environment for training the commands “Get It” and “Give”.

The "GIVE" Command

“Give” means that your hand is on the item and your puppy releases the item from their mouth.

Teaching Method

Step 1: Place your hand on the item and say, “Fido, Give,” but do not pull on the item. 

Step 2a: If your dog does not release the item, show them a reward (another toy or a treat) by placing it in front of their nose, and say “Give”. When your dog opens their mouth to take the reward, repeat the “Give” command, take the item, PRAISE!, and give them the reward.

Step 2b: If your dog willingly releases the item, the moment they open their mouth and release the item, PRAISE!, say, “Yes! Good Give,” and continue to play.

Step 3: Repeat the steps 1 and 2 until your dog has willingly released the item three times in a row.

Note: On rare occasions, some puppies are determined to keep the object and simply refuse to “Give” no matter what. In these situations, gently place your thumb on your dog’s gums and begin to apply pressure while repeating “Give” slowly, giving your puppy time to respond and release the item. If necessary, continue to increase the amount of pressure, but do not use your fingernail. This will become uncomfortable for your puppy, and they will release the item.

If your dog is stubborn, this may become a battle of wills. But it is important that you remain the parent and not give in to puppy’s obstinate behavior. Be patient, but firm. Never rip the item out of your puppy’s mouth or pull on the item. This will cause them to want to tug, and your dog will think you are playing.

THE "GET IT" Command

“Get It” tells your puppy to pick up an item, often used during a game of fetch.

Teaching Method

Step 1: Pick up an item, such as a ball, rope, or stick. Instead of using an actual stick, which may contain bacteria or pathogens, use something like a Kong Pet Stick when training your dog to fetch. Show the item to your dog, enticing them, but not exciting them.

Step 2: As soon as your dog sees the item and expresses interest, throw your item at waist level about 15 feet in front of you. As you release it, say, “Fido, Get It!”

Step 3: When your dog reaches the item, say, “That’s it, Get It!”

Step 4: Your dog will instinctively want to pick the item up, so mark the moment they do by saying, “YES! Get It,” with  a big smile on your face and a lot of excitement.

Note: When your dog comes back to you with the item in their mouth is the ideal time to teach the “Give” command.

Step 5: Repeat steps 1 through 4, as well as steps from the “Give” command. Make sure you continue to “play” until your dog is retrieving the item and giving it to you successfully for three or more times consecutively.

Once you are confident that Fido fully understands “Get it” and “Give,” you can begin to throw the item farther and farther away. At this point, ECAD recommends adding the “Come” command to the sequence of commands. The sequence would sound like this, “Get It…YES!...Come…YES!….Give…YES!” Always praise your dog once the sequence has been completed.

Helpful Tips:

  • Remember to establish and enforce the rules of fair play. No one wants to play with a bully.
  • Have fun with these commands. Playing fetch is a great opportunity for you and your dog to bond while burning off some energy and teaching manners.
  • Use your markers: “That’s It,” “Yes,” and “No!”
  • You are the boss. Be patient, but firm when your dog is resisting giving you an item, because one day that item may just be your favorite pair of shoes or the TV remote.

How long does it take a dog to learn its name?

The time it takes for a dog to learn its name can vary depending on several factors, including the individual dog's temperament, breed, and the consistency of training provided by the owner. On average, it may take a dog anywhere from two days to a few weeks to learn and respond reliably to its name. Puppies tend to have a shorter learning curve compared to adult dogs, as their brains are more receptive to new information. However, with persistent training and patience, older dogs can also learn their names. Positive reinforcement and repetition are the keys to teaching a dog to use its name. Start by choosing a name that is distinct and easy to pronounce. Start the training process in a calm setting with few interruptions. Say the dog's name clearly and cheerfully, followed by immediate praise or a treat when they look towards you. Repeat this exercise multiple times a day, gradually introducing more distractions as the dog becomes more proficient. Consistency is crucial in this training process; it's important to use the dog's name consistently, avoiding any confusion caused by using different variations or nicknames.

Why doesn't my dog respond when I call his name?

Your dog may not answer when you call his name for a number of reasons. One possibility is that the dog has not yet learned to associate his name with a positive experience or reward. Dogs are more likely to respond to their names when they have been frequently rewarded or commended for doing so during the training process. Environmental distractions could also be an issue. Dogs, especially when they are excited or engrossed in something, may not immediately respond to their name if there are more enticing stimuli present. In such cases, it's important to train your dog in a quiet and controlled environment before gradually increasing the level of distractions. Additionally, it's worth considering if there are any underlying health issues that could be affecting your dog's hearing or overall responsiveness. If you suspect this to be the case, it's recommended to consult with a veterinarian for a thorough examination. Lastly, inconsistency in using the dog's name or using it in a negative context may also result in the dog not responding. Dogs are more likely to respond to their names when it is associated with positive experiences and reinforcement.

How do I train my dog to come to her name?

Pick a place that is calm and free from many distractions to start. Begin by linking the name of your dog with pleasant occasions. When she turns to face you, call her name in a cheerful tone and give her goodies or compliments. Repeat this exercise frequently throughout the day to reinforce the connection between her name and positive outcomes. Once your dog begins to associate her name with rewards, gradually introduce a long leash during training sessions. Call her name and gently guide her towards you with a slight tug on the leash if needed. Reward her when she comes to you, reinforcing the idea that responding to her name leads to positive experiences. Increase the difficulty level by adding distractions to the training setting as your dog gains proficiency. Practice calling her name amidst these distractions and reward her when she responds correctly. Be patient and avoid punishment, as negative experiences can hinder the learning process. Practice in various settings with different amounts of distractions to help the training become more general. This helps your dog understand that her name applies in various situations and locations. Consistency is crucial throughout the training process, so be sure to use her name consistently and avoid using different variations or nicknames.

Will a dog naturally learn their name?

No, dogs do not naturally learn their names without any external guidance or training. While dogs may be attuned to certain sounds and verbal cues, they do not have an innate understanding of human language or the concept of names. Learning their name is a process that requires intentional training and reinforcement from their owners. By consistently associating their name with positive experiences, rewards, and attention, dogs gradually learn to recognize and respond to their name. Through repetition and consistency, dogs can develop a conditioned response, where they understand that their name is a signal for them to pay attention or come to their owner. It is important for dog owners to actively engage in training their dogs' names and use consistent cues to help their pets understand and respond appropriately. With patience, positive reinforcement, and consistent training, dogs can learn their names and establish a strong communication foundation with their owners.

What names do dogs respond to?

During training, dogs can learn to respond to any name or word given to them on a continuous basis. The association made between the sound and the good experience or reward that follows is more significant than the name or word in question. Numerous dog owners give their pets common names like "Buddy," "Max," or "Lucy," but dogs can pick up on any name or term that their owner gives them. The idea is to continuously use the name and reinforce it with satisfying experiences so that the dog comes to strongly associate their name with the desired outcome.

Next week’s lesson

How to Teach Your Dog “Yes” and “No”

Back to 20 Dog Commands You Need to Know

Get 20 Commands Delivered in 10 Weeks!

Sign up today and get two training tips a week from the expert trainers at ECAD, delivered right to your inbox.

All training tips in this series are from ECAD (Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities), a non-profit organization dedicated to training service dogs for veterans with disabilities. Learn more about ECAD.

Was this article helpful?