Changing Your Dog’s Name

Liz Palika

A friend of mine recently adopted a dog from a local rescue group and she’s thrilled. She says the experience with the rescue group was fine, the dog is settling into her home well, and her children are behaving themselves around the dog. All is wonderful, except for one tiny little thing that’s bugging her. “I hate his name,” she says. When I suggested changing the dog’s name she was astounded; she had no idea she could do that.

Dogs don’t have the same sense of identity that people do. Instead, they learn that responding to the particular sounds in their name results in something beneficial. This is why dog trainers usually emphasize the importance of not using the dog’s name when you’re angry with the dog. If his name is used as a punishment, he may stop responding to it.

Changing your newly adopted dog’s name can help give him a fresh start in life. He’s in a new home with a new family; a new name can help complete the change from his former life to his new one.

Choose a Good Name

Your dog isn’t going to have any preferences concerning the name you pick for him, but it can have repercussions for you. First of all, the name should be easy to say. Tongue twisters may be fun initially but will quickly grow old. Test potential names by saying them several times: “Abercrombie, sit. Abercrombie, come. Abercrombie, get the ball.” Is the name cumbersome? If so, discard that name.

Your dog’s new name shouldn’t have negative connotations. For example, a Rottweiler or German Shepherd named Monster isn’t a good idea. An intimidating name like this will cause other people to think badly of your dog even if he is a sweet boy. It can also become a self-fulfilling prophecy; if people think of the dog as a monster he may begin responding to the way people act towards him.

Instead of a “tough” name, choose a name that makes you smile. A big, block-headed Pit Bull named Bubbles will certainly make you laugh, right?

Introducing the Name

To begin introducing your dog’s new name, start with a handful of tasty treats he really enjoys. Let him sniff one of the treats and, when you have his attention, say his new name, then hand him a treat. Do this five or six times before stopping. Keep the training session short and upbeat.

Use a happy tone of voice when you say his new name. Think of the tone of voice you might use to greet a friend you haven't seen in awhile. Use that tone.

Repeat this exercise several times a day by saying your dog’s new name (“Bubbles!”) and handing him a treat when he responds to you. If your dog is easily distracted, keep him on a leash and close to you while training. After all, you don’t want him to learn that the sound of his name means to run the other direction or to ignore you. Instead, show him that it means you want him to be close and pay attention to you.

Use the New Name

Once your dog is responding to his new name, you can begin to incorporate it in your daily life with him. Use it when calling him for meals (“Bubbles, dinner!”). After all, his dinner is positive reinforcement just like the treat.

The same applies to other things in his life he enjoys. If you’re giving him a belly rub or snuggling with him, praise him (“Good boy Bubbles!”). When he brings the toy for you to throw, say his name during the game. If you think about it, you’ll find many ways to pair his name with positive, fun actions.

Use his new name in your training sessions too. Continue to say his name in a happy tone of voice, use a treat as lure and reward, help your dog do what you’re asking him to do, and praise him when he does it correctly.

It won’t be long before your adopted dog is responding well to his new name, just as if he’s never had any other name.

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