Monday, March 30, 2015

How Do I Change My Dog's Name?

Can you change a dog's name if they already know their name? Does the dog mind? How will they know? When I take a foster dog to meet potential adopters, they almost always ask whether or not they can change the dog's name. This makes perfect sense to me, I'm very particular about names and can't imagine owning a dog named Buddy, or Bella, or Cooper, or any of the other super-common dog names.
Photo by Erin Koski

Names can be more or less meaningful, depending on your point of view. For dogs, a name is largely a way to get their attention. We teach them that "this set of specific sounds means you". For some people, a regular old dog name is just fine. This is why there are so many Lucys and Lolas and Rockys at doggy daycare.

We name foster dogs and teach them their names so we can get their attention. In general, rescue people and foster parents aren't expecting adopters to keep the names we gave their dogs. We expect the new owners to give their dog a name that fits their family. Some people even have a list of potential names for their future dogs. I've met someone with a miniature poodle named Mothra and a chihuahua named Gamera, obviously they are someday going to name a dog Godzilla. I personally plan to name dogs Brontosaurus and Cthulhu in the future.

What's the best way to change a dog's name? If they don't react to their current name, you can go ahead and start calling them the new one. I like to say the dog's name as I'm giving them a treat. When I have multiple dogs in the house, I like to line them up and say each dog's name as I give them a treat so they learn their own name and don't just come to anything that sounds likely.

For dogs that know their name already, a gradual change can be more comfortable for everyone. I don't worry about changing a dog's name even if they've had it for years, mostly due to one of my human friends. She was adopted at the age of 18 months and arrived with the #1 most popular little girl name of the decade. Her parents, both professional musicians, wanted to give her a more unique and lyrical name. They added the new name to the end of her old name and called her that for several weeks before dropping the old name. It works for human kids, and it works for dogs too. Hellin the foster puppy, pictured above, spent two weeks being called Hellin-Kit by her new owners and now happily responds to Kit.

Changing a dog's name can feel a little weird, but it doesn't have to be awkward. I'm certain the dogs don't mind, and they're probably happier with a name that you are happy saying. Don't ever feel obligated to keep a rescue dog's name if there's something you'd like better. In rescue we tend to give the dogs upbeat, attention-getting names, or give whole litters matching names. These are really just placeholders, though.

Did your dog ever have a different name?

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