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Can dogs remember your name?

5 Tips for Naming Your Dog

What’s in a name? For our four-legged friends, a name can mean a lot. Is the name easy for them to understand? Is it memorable for others? Does it fit with their personality? Here are 5 things to consider before permanently assigning your new dog their lifelong moniker.

Best Sounds for Dogs

The key to naming your dog is making it as simple for your pet to understand when they are being called. You will want the name to start with a letter that has a sharp, distinct sound. A name that starts with a D, T or K sound will be easy for your dog to pick up. A name that starts with an S or F, which has a softer beginning, could be a little more confusing for them.

A dog’s name will also work best if it ends with a sharp “a” or long “e” sound. Again, this will be more distinctive to their ears and easy for them to differentiate from other words.

Size Matters

As most dog owners know, the bulk of commands are either one or two syllables to make them as easy as possible for your pup to understand. The same logic can be applied to what you name your dog. Any name you give them that is longer than two syllables could get lost in translation from their ears to their brain.

If brevity is not your thing and you would like to give your dog a really long name, you should work out the appropriate shortened version of the name because that’s what he will end up being called within a week or two. The name Sir Barksalot of Smithville might be really cute but the shortened version of it would probably end up being “Sir,” which is not a distinctive word for dogs to easily recognize when you are calling for them.

Avoid Command Words

You will also want to avoid any names that sound similar or rhyme with the most common dog commands. Names that sound like “sit,” “stay,” “heel,” “no,” and “come” could be easily confused by your pup. Imagine how tough it would be to get your dog to stay if they are named “Fay” or how difficult it would be to get them to sit if their name was “Mitt”.

For Public Consumption

One of the most frequent times that you are going to call out to your pup is at dog parks. Because of this, you may want to ensure your pup’s name is something that you would be willing to yell out publicly. Your favourite band might be called the Doom Shackles but is that really something you want to be heard yelling out in the middle of a public space?

Breed Heritage

Need inspiration for a dog name? Take a look at their breed’s heritage. Is your pup a Corgi? Perhaps a Welsh name after the country that made the breed famous. Is your dog a Weimaraner? How about a name reflecting their German background?

In the end, these are all just suggestions for the naming of your pup. Let your imagination flow and pick a name the whole family will love. Just be sure to make the name as easy for your pup to learn as possible. It can be one of the keys to setting up the best communication possible between you and your dog.

How to Give Your Dog an Awesome and Meaningful Name

As anyone who’s ever had to name a newly adopted pet knows, it’s not nearly as easy of a process as it should be.

Closeup of smiling dog with tongue out

When naming your dog, keep it short and considerate of others.

On very rare occasions, it’s a breeze. Perhaps you adopted a dog who came from the shelter with a name that fits him or her to a tee. Every so often, you might meet your new pet and the name will just leap to the tip of your tongue. But more often than not, naming a dog is like a wrestling match — especially when other family members are involved. While Hartz® can’t help resolve family disputes over pet names, we can help you find great ideas — and offer a few tips. Consider these pieces of advice:

Things to Keep in Mind

Firstly, remember that your dog isn’t likely to recognize long-winded, multi-syllable names. Either choose a name that caps at two syllables or — if a longer name is a must for you — be sure there’s an easily recognizable nickname. Also, naming your dog anything that rhymes with «treat,» «walk,» or other keywords used during dog training could be a bad idea. unless you want your pet begging for dog treats every time you try to get his or her attention.

Draw from Literature, Art and Movies

Sometimes a great place to look for fun names is in culture. No need to name your dog after a famous canine, either. While Rin Tin Tin or Lassie are both iconic, other classic character names are just as good.

Draw from Geography

Some people choose to name their rescue dogs after the locales from which the animals came. Don’t feel the need to be too literal. For instance, a dog rescued from the New Orleans, Louisiana, area could be called «Nola» for N.O., LA.

Draw from History

There are plenty of rich historical characters and events to draw influence from as well. Just think of the many kings and prime ministers your chubby English Bulldog can derive his own stately title from!

Be Daring

Remember, you’re not naming your kid here. Dogs won’t be ashamed of their names or ever want to change them — although try and be considerate. Shouting out epithets or curses at the dog park might be embarrassing for you.

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What Does My Dog Think Its Name Is?

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Parenting a pet, no matter what kind, can be a frustrating and bewildering experience. Animals can’t tell you what they want and need (directly, at least), so we’re here to help you answer any questions you have about your favorite companion — whether they be furry, slimy, feathered, scaly or anything in between — with insight from the experts. This is “Basic Bitch,” an advice column for pet parents who just want the best for their best friend.

The Very Basic Concern

I rescued my dog from a shelter, where the employees had named him Sonic , presumably because he enjoys running around in circles at tremendous speeds. My girlfriend and I wanted to give him another name, though, one that was more personal to us and accentuated his character. So, after living with him for a few days, we each wrote a list of potential names, and only one of them appeared on both of our lists: Tucker, an allusion to him being tuckered out after all that zooming .

His name has been Tucker from that moment on, and he took to it almost immediately. (Nowadays, we laugh at the fact that his name was, at one time, Sonic.) But I sometimes wonder if he remembers, or even misses, his old name. Or, perhaps he really loves his new one? Then again, does he even understand that he has a name, or just some sound that means we want his attention?

Basically: What do dogs think their names are, and do they care if you change them? Speaking of which, what do they think words are, anyway?

The Expert Advice

Jessi Larson, of My Dog’s Name, an online resource for helping owners name their dogs: Dogs have been given names ever since they were domesticated thousands of years ago. Through years of conditioning, they’ve learned that their name is the word for them — and that they must respond when it’s said. This doesn’t mean that they think, “I’m a dog named Rover.” But it does mean, if they hear the word “Rover,” they know someone’s referring to them.

Dogs don’t think of themselves in terms of a name. That would require the use of language, and that’s something dogs obviously aren’t capable of. They do, however, have a strong concept of self, albeit without a name. Dogs also recognize other individuals, but through appearance, sound and smell. So, for example, my dog doesn’t think of me as “Jessi,” but as the woman who takes care of him and looks, sounds and smells a certain way.

Overall, dogs are very intelligent for an animal species. According to psychologist and dog researcher Stanley Coren , the average dog’s intelligence level is roughly the same as a two-and-a-half-year-old baby. This means that they have the ability to remember a large number of words. It varies by dog, of course, but it can range from dozens of words, at minimum, to hundreds or even a thousand, depending on the canine.

As far as changing their name goes, dogs don’t have the same sense of identity with their name, nor the attachment to it that humans do. To dogs, it’s just a sound people make when they want their attention. This means it’s perfectly okay to change a dog’s name — you just have to make sure you train them properly.

If you want to change a dog’s name, you’d follow the same steps for teaching a dog their name in the first place:

  • Say the new name, and when they look at you, reward them with a treat.
  • As soon as they look away, repeat the process again.
  • Try this three to five times in a row, several times a day, and they’ll recognize their new name in a matter of time.

Jennifer Verdolin, animal behaviorist and author of Raised by Animals: A dog doesn’t necessarily know its name is “Jim.” There are certain ways that [names we give them] sound, and they recognize those sounds. But to be named “Jim,” “Bob” or whatever doesn’t mean anything to a dog.

If you change a dog’s name, it might take some time for the dog to realize that’s now the thing it needs to respond to. But it’s not going to be like, “Wow, I really loved my previous name.” That’s a bit of a case of putting our own attachments or identities, which are so driven by our names, on to other species. They don’t care that we even call them dogs, or canines.

So, whether or not a dog would respond to a new name, or how fast it responds to a new name, would most likely depend on how quickly you train it to respond to a different voice command — it’s a voice command, just like “sit.” We could replace “sit” with “roll over,” but teach them to sit and just call it “roll over.” And then, every time we say “roll over,” they sit. It’s not because there’s a fundamental understanding of the words “roll over” and “sit.” We’ve just trained them using those verbal cues, and that’s very similar to people: We call an apple an “apple,” because we’re taught that it’s called an “apple.”

They have their own words that they use, too. We’re learning now that their barks and sounds have meaning. For many, many animals, all that use vocal communication of some kind, it’s not just meaningless jibber jabber. In fact, if you reverse the order of sounds, much like we’d reverse the order of words in a sentence, it then becomes jibber jabber for the animals. So, they have their own signature voices, which is how they might recognize each other. When one barks, howls or yips, everyone knows who that is.

In terms of naming, dogs use multiple identifiers for individuals. They’ll use sound (a signature sound). They have your smell (what you smell like). And what you look like. We have the same thing as humans — we have our own signature smell, we have the way we look and we have our own sound — and it’s just a cultural thing that we give names. In fact, historically, names were given based on traits or characteristics of a person, and many names that we currently use have that embedded in them. Children learn their name because we call them that, not because they’re born with an inherent need to have a name. It’s the same thing for dogs.

Amritha Mallikarjun, a canine researcher who studies the power of dog names: Dogs associate their names with positive emotions, and they know that their name is often said in their presence, but there’s no evidence that dogs understand the self-referential nature of names. We also don’t know if dogs care about us changing their name, but if you do change a dog’s name, you’ll have to rebuild positive associations with their new name.

Zazie Todd, animal psychologist and author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy: Most dogs get pretty good at recognizing their own name, and they learn to pick up on other words or phrases that have consequences for them, like, “Shall we go for a walk?” We usually try and teach them some important words, like “sit,” “down,” “come” and “drop it.” The best way to teach commands like this is to do positive reinforcement training with food as a reward, but typically, we’d start with a hand signal and then move to a verbal cue. Over time your dog learns that when you say “sit,” that sound means that, if they sit, they’ll get a reward. But sometimes dogs are picking up on other cues, too, such as body language and whether you have a treat in your hand, so they might try sitting simply because that’s what usually earns them a treat.

There are some very clever dogs who’ve learned a lot of words. Rico , the Border Collie, knew around 200 words; Betsy , another Border Collie, learned 340 words; and Chaser , also a Border Collie, knew the names of 1,022 toys. And now the Family Dog Project has published a study of a dog called Whisky, another Border Collie, who can categorize new toys as “balls,” “ropes,” “rings” or “frisbees.” But these dogs are exceptions, and most dogs don’t know that many words.

If you want to change a dog’s name, the thing to do is say the new name, followed by the old name. Pretty quickly you’ll notice they start responding to the new name. Of course, whenever you want a dog to pay attention, it helps to have something that will motivate them, like a treat or a game of tug.

Ian Lecklitner

Ian Lecklitner is a staff writer at MEL Magazine. He mostly writes about everyone’s favorite things: Sex, drugs and food.

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