Renaming your dog is easy and you can do it at any age, young or old. She does not really care what you call her, whether a classic name or a more outdoorsy dog name—as long as she understands you are the source of all good things and that she belongs to you. And in some situations giving your pooch a new moniker is not only okay, but actually good for her.
Renaming Your Dog is Advised…
- When you adopt a shelter dog. Chances are she came to you with a name. But find out if the shelter assigned her a name to give her more appeal or to “market” her to an adoptive family. In this case she’s probably unused to her new name if she even knows it at all, and changing it will be of little consequence to her. If she was an owner surrender, her name may be familiar to her and keeping it can be a source of stability and security while she settles in. You can still change her name when you feel the time is right, even after a full year or more. Whether you should rename your rescue dog or not is up to you. If you like her rescue name, then by all means, keep it.
- When your new dog was removed from an abusive home. Changing her name is an act of kindness; she may, in fact, continue to associate her old name with abuse. Your dog needs a new lease on life and giving her a new name can actually help her make a clean start.
- When your dog has learned to ignore her name. It’s time for a new one. The main reason to name her in the first place is safety: calling out your dog’s name is the best tool you’ve got to grab her attention, which makes her more likely to execute the command that follows. If over the course of years you’ve tirelessly repeated her name when you want her to come but she stubbornly continues doing whatever she wants instead, it’s time for a new name, paired with rewards-based dog training.
How to Rename Your Dog
- Take your time. You don’t need a new name ready the instant you cross the threshold with your new dog. It’s okay to hang out for a couple of days and get to know her, observe her personality, discover her quirks, study the markings on her coat, and see whether some distinguishing trait emerges—maybe she’s affectionate, playful, agile—something that might influence what you choose to call her. For now, a friendly “Here, girl!” will suffice, followed by praise and dog treats; this is how you start bonding with her. She is just getting to know you, and for the time being will respond to your upbeat voice and body language.
- Reward her response to her new name with treats. For the first few days you’re using your dog’s new name, carry treats in your pocket. When you want her attention, call out her new name. Then immediately smile, praise her liberally, and treat her; do this even if she is unresponsive—she will soon learn the new word means good things are coming and will begin to acknowledge it every time she hears it.
- Combine the old dog name with the new one. If her old name is long-established, smoosh it together with her new name and call her by both for a while. For example, if Sally is to be Maddie, call her SallyMaddie until she recognizes it, and then drop the Sally.
Helpful Dog Name Changing Tips
- Your dog’s new name should mean only good things to her. Do whatever you can to reinforce this; if you can, treat her every time you say her new name in the beginning.
- Try to avoid using your dog’s new name when you scold her. Or give her a middle name and use it together with her first name only for scolding, just like your mom did when you were a kid. She’ll learn hearing the two names together means she’s in trouble.
- Avoid naming your dog anything that sounds like “No.” Ditto names that sound like anything else you say to correct an undesirable behavior; examples include Bo and JoJo.
- Pick a new name that starts with the same letter as the old one. Or that includes similar sounds or vowels, but still holds more appeal for you. This is an excellent strategy for renaming a shelter dog. For example, Molly can become Maddie, Muffy, or even Polly.
Potential Issues with Renaming Your Dog
As mentioned above, there aren’t many downsides to renaming your dog as long as you take a thoughtful, planned approach to the change. Besides informing friends and family, updating tags or personalized items like collars and dog beds with your dog’s name, it should be a smooth, easy process.
It’s never too late to change a dog’s name, but the time it takes for your dog’s new name to “stick” varies from a couple of training sessions to a few weeks, depending on the dog; the process will go faster if you avoid using the name aimlessly or associating it with anything negative. But dogs don’t process identity like we do—your dog will learn her new name. And while frequent name changes might be confusing, most people routinely call their dogs by various nicknames, and the dog somehow “gets” it and responds to all of them. Importantly, use your dog’s new name with affection and consistency, and she’ll soon recognize it as her own.
Have you ever changed a dog’s name? We’d love to hear your story in the comments. Looking for the perfect name for your dog? You can find some great dog names in our 10 Most Popular Dog Names blog post.