Facts about the animal kingdom

Can you Rename a Dog?

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: September 9, 2022
Can you Rename a Dog?

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If you've made the decision to adopt a dog from a shelter, it's normal for you to wonder if you can rename them. Many people wonder if this is unhelpful to the dog. They may think they will stop responding to us and will even feel disorientated. At the same time, the dog may have been given a name which is unsuitable for your home or simply doesn't seem to fit their personality. This all leads many guardians to ask can you rename a dog?

While you may ask can you change a dog's name?, AnimalWised helps you to understand whether you should rename a dog. If the answer is in the affirmative, we also provide the practical tips you need to change a dog's name.

You may also be interested in: Can You Have a Quokka as a Pet?
  1. Does a dog know their name?
  2. Can you change a dog's name?
  3. Tips for renaming your dog
  4. Ideas for changing a dog's name

Does a dog know their name?

The first thing we need to consider is the dog's perspective. If you have a pet millipede, giving them an understandable name is not going to be a big concern to the animal. They are not able to understand names and respond to them for training.

Dogs are different. They are intelligent animals which have built up a level of trust with humans over a long period of domestication. Such a relationship has led to a level of communication between dogs and humans which is unparalleled in other species. While much of a dog's communication is based on body language, they understand our vocalizations to an extent.

Although dogs won't understand the definition of words, they will associate certain words with certain actions or events. For example, a dog knows that if we say ‘walk’ every time we pick up their leash, they know they are about to go outside for exercise. The same applies to their name. If we try to get their attention and use the same word every time we do so, they will eventually associate their name with themselves.

Can you change a dog's name?

When a dog goes through the shelter system, they are often given a name when they arrive. Whether this is the same name as they had before depends on how they ended up in a shelter. For example, if a dog was abandoned without a known owner, they will have to be given a name. Other dogs may be brought to a shelter with a name. For example, a dog whose owner has died may have a name, but no one to look after them.

A dog may be given a name when they enter a shelter, but not stay there for long enough to associate the name they have with themselves. In these cases, you can change their name easily. You will have to associate their new name as explained in the section below.

Sometimes they may have been at the shelter long enough to make their name association, but you still may be able to rename a dog. This is because the dog will be able to associate the fact that a new guardian is wanting their attention.

In cases of neglect, abandonment or abuse, it can be very beneficial for the dog to change their name. If their previous owner abused them and used the name they were given to do so, they may associate this word with the trauma. By giving them a new name we can make new positive associations and help them to recover and help an abused dog learn to trust again.

The only time you shouldn't give a dog a new name is after you have already given them one. Once they assimilate their name from you, it will be very confusing to rename a dog. Consistency is important for both effective communication and building trust. If you aren't consistent with using their name and rename them more than once, it can negatively influence your relationship.

Tips for renaming your dog

When the time arrives to come up with an original name for your dog, you should follow a few basic tips so that the process is quick and easy for your pet to understand. Renaming a dog requires you to think about their perspective, not just choosing a name you like.

When you want to rename a dog, choosing the right one depends on certain factors. You should consider the following:

  • Short words: you should choose a name for your dog which is ideally 1-2 syllables. The reason is because your dog does not speak the same language as you. When you use their name they are only able to discern sounds in the form of syllables. If you use too many it can be confusing and more difficult for the dog to associate their name.

  • Uncommon: do not choose a name which either sounds like someone else's name in the home or which is similar to other commonly used words. If not, our dog will become confused and be unsure when they are being called.

  • Clarity: choose a name which is strong and clear. This way it will be easier for your dog to register it when used.

Once you have met these criteria, you can think about choosing a name which fits both the dog's personality and your own. The dog can be named after one of their physical characteristics (Spot is a common dog name for this reason) or something which related to their personality. You can also choose something which relates to your interests. For example, you can choose Star Wars names for dogs if you love sci-fi.

Once you have chosen your unique dog name, here are some tips to help them assimilate it:

  • Be consistent: do not keep changing the name or using variations of it. The dog will often already be confused by their new surroundings and this will only add to the confusion. Ensure everyone in the home is also consistent with names.

  • Use positive reinforcement: when the dog comes to you when you use their name give them encouragement. At the beginning this can even be a treat, but eventually you will want to use encouraging words and physical affection.

  • Never scold them: renaming a dog can take time. Do not get frustrated and scold them for not recognizing it. This is completely counterproductive as they will associate their name with a negative experience. Moreover, this can be traumatic and cause them anxiety, harming your bond in the process.

  • Use at the right times: say their name when you are about to do an activity they will enjoy such as going for a walk. Do not use it all the time in front of them when you do not want their attention. This can also breed confusion.

However, to improve a dog's understanding and adaptation to their new name, we recommend using one that is fairly similar to their previous name, such as:

  • Lucky - Lunnie
  • Mirva - Diva
  • Gus - Rus
  • Stella- Nela
  • Max - Zillax
  • Pongo - Cholo

By using the same vowel sound you'll ensure that your pet gets used to their new name as soon as possible. It is normal for it not to react to its new name at first, and it will probably act indifferently when you say it. You need to be patient so they understand that you're referring to them.

Use their name when congratulating them for performing a trick and on other especially positive occasions such as giving them food or taking them for walks. Doing so will help them become used to their new name quicker. Bear in mind that the younger your dog is, the easier it will be for them to get used to their new name.

Can you Rename a Dog? - Tips for renaming your dog

Ideas for changing a dog's name

At AnimalWised, you'll find a wide range of names to give your dog. We specialize in helping you to find the right name for both your dog and yourself. The following are some tools you can use to help get inspiration for renaming your dog:

If you want to read similar articles to Can you Rename a Dog?, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

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Can you Rename a Dog?