Renaming Your Dog – What You Need to Know

Picture of a Bulldog

If you’re the proud owner of a dog, you know that often they will come to any name at all. Whether it’s Fido, Fifi, Nutjob, or Poopface you call, you’ll often find your dog racing towards you with the same exuberant enthusiasm as if you called his chosen name. When a dog is taken into care at a shelter or rescue, the dog is often given a temporary name that the staff can use when caring for and training the dog. A name also comes in handy when doing advertising for dogs in need of permanent, loving homes. However, when considering adopting a dog, many families are less than thrilled with the handle bestowed upon their prospective new canine family member by the shelter and wonder if renaming the dog will lead to confusion or is even cruel or mean. Is it okay to rename a dog? If so, what is the best way to teach the dog his new name?

How to Know if Renaming Your Dog is a Good Idea

When adopting a dog from a shelter or rescue, a name is often randomly selected as a means of identification. Depending on the length of the dog’s stay in care, the dog may have no association to the name at all, meaning changing it to something more meaningful is an excellent idea and will cause the dog no distress at all.

However, sometimes a dog comes into rescue as an owner surrender, and the rescue may choose to continue with the family’s selected name to help the dog to feel more at ease during the transition from its original home to life in a shelter or foster situation. Under these circumstances, keeping the name on a temporary basis can provide some familiarity for a dog in the midst of a lot of stress and change.

Other scenarios where changing a dog’s name is an excellent idea include:

  • When the dog associates its name with abuse

When a dog has been removed from a situation where he experienced trauma, neglect, or hurt, he can often have negative associations to his name. In circumstances like these, a new name is an opportunity for a new and better life for the dog. The change can be quite positive for the dog as it is a means to leave the past in the past and to move forward with his new, loving family members.

  • When the dog no longer responds to his name

If a dog does not respond when his name is called, it may be that either the dog doesn’t know what his name is or that he simply prefers to ignore it altogether. Either scenario means a name change is in order.

A dog knowing and responding to their name is an important component of keeping them safe. Over time, dogs can learn to hate the sound of their own name and simply refuse to come when asked to do so. Under these circumstances, teaching the dog a new name and reinforcing it through treats and praise is a great way to show the dog that coming when called is a positive thing.

What Steps Do I Need to Take to Teach My Dog a New Name?

If you are bringing home a rescue or shelter dog and you really feel a new name is in order, there are several steps that you can take to help set your dog up for success.

These include:

  • Carefully selecting a name

Many families think it is essential to change their dog’s name as soon they bring Fido home. However, it is okay to take time to really give the new name lots of thought in order to come up with a handle that really suits your new family member well. It takes time to get to know a dog, and those initial days may help lead you to the perfect name.

During the initial time in your home, focus on getting to know your dog. Instead of using the name the shelter bestowed upon the pooch, you can focus on more generic titles such as pup, boy, girl, buddy, or pal until you settle on the ideal handle for your new canine bundle of joy.

  • Make use of treats to teach the new name

If your dog is particularly food motivated, using super yummy treats will help the dog to associate their new name with positive things. For the first few days when trying to teach the dog his new name, you will need to be certain to have treats with you at all times.

Periodically, call the dog’s new name, taking care to reward the dog with praise and yummy treats each time he comes when called. Careful repetition of this practice will help the dog to learn that the new word he hears is his signal to appear by your side. Over time, he will come to understand that that word is his name. It will take time for your dog to come when his name is called reliably, but consistent effort is key to mastering this.

  • Use a “name hybrid” in the teaching process

If a dog has been in a shelter or rescue for any amount of time or retained his owner given handle, he may know and recognize his name. To ease the transition, it can be a good idea to combine a variation of the old name with the new name to increase your dog’s ability to realize this new handle applies to him. For example, if the dog was originally named Sam and you wish to change his name to Larry, you can call for “SamLarry” for the first few days. In time; when the dog comes reliably to this name, you can then drop the “Sam” and simply call for Larry.

How Can I Help My Dog Feel Comfortable with His New Name?

When teaching a new name, there are many different things you can do to help your dog feel comfortable during the transition.

Among the most helpful tips are:

  • Only using the dog’s new name in a positive context

If the dog’s new name is used to reprimand the dog, the dog will soon learn to associate it with punishment. Keep the use of the new name for positive things only. The dog will soon learn that the sound of his name means something good is going to happen.

  • Avoid selecting a name that sounds like “no” or “bad”

All dogs quickly come to understand that the words “no” or “bad” equate to them being in big trouble. To help set your dog up for success, avoid any names that rhyme with no or bad as they could be confusing to your dog, leading him to believe he is being scolded instead of called.

  • Choose a new name that begins with the same letter as the old one

Selecting a name that begins with the same letter as the old name will help the dog to learn its new handle with much more ease.

Is it okay to rename your dog? Absolutely! In some cases, it is even preferable. If you are planning to adopt a dog and think a name change might be in order, follow our top tips to help the transition go smoothly.



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