Cats and Dogs
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Is it rude to rename a dog?

Is It Okay To Change My Rescue Dog’s Name?


Fluffy, Blackie, Fido, Pooty—not every dog name is a winner. When you adopt a new dog into your home, they most likely already have a name given to them either by previous owners or the shelter. You’ve agreed to do what’s best for your new pup for the rest of their life, but does that mean keeping a name you don’t like?

Many people worry that changing a dog’s name will confuse them or cause emotional distress. The situation will always depend on the individual dog, but most new dog owners are relieved to know dogs usually don’t mind if their names are changed.

What’s In a Name

For most people, their name is more than what they call themselves. It’s about developing their sense of self and personal identification. Some people try to live up to their name, and studies show names also play a factor in child behavior and adult self-esteem. Names are a big deal for people, so most pet owners assume the same goes for their dogs. The reality, however, is that dogs don’t think about their names the same way people do. Names help aide communication between them and their humans, but they don’t affect the way they think about themselves.

“Dogs don’t really see their names as defining their identities. Mokie is over six years old now, and if I wanted to change her name tomorrow, I could and she wouldn’t care. A new name, to Mokie, would be just as good as her current name if I taught her that responding to ‘Dolly’ (or whatever) could earn her reinforcement.”

Instead of perceiving their name as a sense of self, dogs associate names with their cue to start paying attention. A well-trained dog will look toward their owner every time they hear their name because that’s what they’re taught to do. They learn to recognize sounds and associate them with behaviors and responses. Just as the word “sit” means something to the dog, their name means something, too.

Even if a dog has known its old name for years, they won’t be insulted if you decide you don’t like it. The don’t relate the name “Teeny” to being a jab at their small size, and they won’t care that the name “Killer” makes them sound mean. As long as they’re properly trained to recognize their new name, they won’t care what you call them.

A Fresh Start

In some cases, changing a dog’s name is actually in their best interest. If the dog came from a particularly unpleasant background or abusive home, they might associate their name with negative experiences. A previous owner could have shouted their name right before they hit them, and now the dog thinks of their name as a precursor to pain. Even if they weren’t abused, many dogs learn their names as signs they’re in trouble. They steal food off the counter and their owner yells, “Buster, no!” They get too excited when playing indoors, and they hear, “Buster, knock it off!” If their name is only ever used in negative situations, that’s all they’ll ever think it means.

Entering a new home should be a clean slate for every rescue dog. Regardless of where they’re coming from, being adopted is their chance to start over with a new family. Their old name will always represent the past, but a new name can help them look forward to a better future.

How to Change a Dog’s Name

When you’ve officially decided you’ve met “the one,” the first thing to do after signing the adoption papers is consider their name. If you’re not a fan, talk to the shelter staff or person you’re adopting from about the dog’s history. Most shelter dogs are assigned new names the minute they walk through the door. There’s a good chance your dog has only had their name a few days. Shelter staff can also give you insight into their background and tell you what their previous life was like.

If you’ve collected as much background information as you can and decide you’ll both be happier with a new name, it’s important to make a quick decision. You want to introduce your dog’s new name as soon as you take them home so they can start associating you and their new life with their new name.

For dogs that already recognize their old names, dog trainers recommend temporarily combining their old and new names to help them make the connection. Petful explains,

“If your dog’s name was Fluffy but you want it to be Fido, you could start calling him FluffyFido and then after a while simply start calling him Fido.”

This strategy will help your pup transition from old to new, but it’s also important to pair the new name with positive reinforcement. You want their name to signify good things like treats, praise, and pets. Every time your dog looks at you when you say their new or hybrid name, give them a reward. They’ll eventually start associating the word with all the good things in life and turn to you, ready for some “awesome” every time they hear it. Be conscious of how you use their name in everyday circumstances, make an effort to only use it for good things, and don’t yell it when they’re being naughty.

When it comes down to it, your dog’s name probably matters more to you than it does to them. They won’t be the one calling it at the dog park, after all. As long as they’re trained to recognize their name as a good thing, and there are no negative associations attached to it, they’ll be happy to go along with your choice in name change.

How to Get an Older Dog to Learn a New Name

How to Get an Older Dog to Learn a New Name

Adopting an older dog can be the ideal addition to your family. Not only are you giving the dog a new and loving home, but it will give you love, companionship and so much more in return. It will take time for you both to learn to communicate effectively with one another, however – for the dog to learn your commands and expectations and for you to learn your dog’s personality and behavioral quirks. Both sides of that communication start with the dog’s name – but how can you change a dog’s name after it has recognized a different name for years?

Choosing a New Name for Your Dog

You may never know your dog’s old name, but if you do, it can be helpful to choose a new name that sounds similar to help your dog recognize its new moniker. Similar sounds such as the same first initial, the same number of syllables, the same vowels or a new name that rhymes with the old name will be easiest for the dog to recognize and learn. For example, if the dog’s former name is Roger, Robber or Dodger could be a good new name.

If you don’t know the dog’s former name, however, you can still choose a new name for an older dog without difficulty. Opt for a name that is bold to pronounce so the dog will hear it clearly, and choose a name that is distinct from other pets or human family members so there will be no confusion if the dog hears different names. If you have another pet named Casper, for example, names like Jasper or Cap would not be easy options for your new dog to learn.

Speaking Your Dog’s New Name

How you use your dog’s new name is the most important factor in helping your pet learn to recognize and respond to its new name. Use a firm, commanding tone of voice when speaking your dog’s name, but be sure to use a positive tone rather than a sharp or negative tone that could be frightening or discouraging. You want your dog’s name to catch their attention, but not to scare, confuse or anger your pet.

Training Your Dog to Learn a New Name

There are a number of tricks you can use to help your dog learn a new name. Once you have decided on the new name…

    Use the name frequently so the dog has more opportunities to hear and recognize its new name. Address your dog by name when praising, feeding and playing with your pet, always using the same good tone of voice so it is easy to recognize the name.

All older dogs can learn new names, but they may not all learn a new name at the same time or as easily. Depending on the name and how you use it, it may take just a few days for your pet to adjust to a new name, or it could take several weeks for the dog to feel comfortable with a new name. In time, however, your dog will recognize its new name and there won’t be any confusion with what to call your beloved pet.

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