Is it okay to change your dog’s name?

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Is it okay to change your dog’s name?

You’ve just adopted a rescue pup! Everything about her is perfect…except her name. Will she get confused or stop listening to you if you change it? Here’s what you need to know.

When adopting a rescue dog, many people hem and haw over whether or not they should change her name. From a human perspective, a new name is a big deal! But dogs aren’t bound by the concept of identity the way we are. Your dog doesn’t go around thinking, “I am Rover”, and she isn’t emotionally attached to her name – she just hears it as a cue to pay attention. So essentially any name will do!

Why renaming isn’t a big deal

Sometimes, shelter staff know the names of their four-legged residents when they arrive. More often than not, though, they don’t. If the latter is true, the staff will assign the dog a moniker that seems fitting. But because time and resources are scarce at most rescues, dogs often don’t learn their “shelter names”, especially if they aren’t there for long. This means that by the time you bring your rescue pup home, renaming her (again) won’t be a big deal!

In fact, in some situations, changing your dog’s name can be beneficial – for example, if she was abused in the past. “If a dog hears her name and cowers or runs away, it would make sense to change it,” says Shelby Semel, Head Trainer at Animal Haven Shelter. “This is a sign that the name itself has a negative connotation, and changing an association is harder than creating a positive new one.”

A note about nicknames

We all do it – give our dogs more nicknames than we can count. Rover becomes Roves, which becomes Ro-Ro, which becomes Rosie, which becomes Flower… and so on. Eventually, a dog will learn to respond to any title that’s assigned to her. So if you’re thinking about changing her name, don’t worry! It’s a lot easier than you might think.

Making the switch

There are, however, a few ways to make the transition easier. Remember, your new rescue pup has already undergone a lot of change in her life, so the last thing you want to do is make things even more confusing for her. Before you rename her, consider the following tips:

  • Decide on a new name (see below), and make sure it’s “the one”. You don’t want to have to go through the name change process again in a few months when you decide you no longer like it.
  • Use her new name as often as possible – try not to use generic terms of endearment like “sweetie” or “good pup”, at least for the first few weeks. Repetition is key!
  • Whenever your pup responds to her new moniker, reward her – whether it’s with treats, play, praise, etc. Make sure she knows she did the right thing by paying attention to that cue word.

With time and consistency, your dog will associate her name with a reward and will respond to it enthusiastically! “A totally new name for a new life is perfectly fine,” says Shelby. “Have fun with it and pick whatever name makes you happy and fits your new rescue. You both deserve it!”

Choosing the right name

Despite the myths, your pup’s new name doesn’t have to be similar to her old one. A dog will learn any moniker with enough positive reinforcement. But there are a few things to keep in mind before committing to a new moniker. For instance, you want to pick something that’s easy to say. Fluffy McFurrington III might be cute, but it won’t roll easily off the tongue if you need to call your dog back to you quickly. Go with something a bit more concise. Trainers recommend names with one or two syllables.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, “a [dog] by any other name would [be] as sweet”. In other words, your dog’s new name won’t determine her personality, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself. That said, the title you choose will inevitably change the way others view her. For instance, a name like Killer might not be the wisest choice. Chances are, your dog is a sweetheart – and you don’t want to scare everyone at the dog park into thinking otherwise. She’ll pick up on their fear and potentially even develop bad behaviors as a result.

Last but not least, think about it phonetically. It’s difficult for dogs to notice the difference between similar sounds, so don’t name your dog Wren if your son’s name is Ben. An overuse of the same sound in your household will make it difficult for her to learn her new name, and will only lead to confusion down the road. It’s also best to avoid names like Mo or Bo, as they sound too much like “no”. Your dog might think she’s being scolded every time you call her!

There are a lot of things to focus on when you adopt a dog. If you want to change her name, make the switch early on, then spend your valuable energy training, exercising and getting to know your new family member!