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Guest Column: What I’ve Learned from Renaming My Rescue Dogs

By Samantha Randall, pet writer, podcaster and editor at Top Dog Tips.

“Rescue Me” is a recurring column by Samantha Randall, editor-in-chief at Top Dog Tips. She’ll provide personal anecdotes and perspective about her life as a pet lover with a passion for cat and dog rescue.

I have previously written about how rescuing a dog changed my life. I hope this inspired you to consider adopting a rescue dog of your own. If you’ve already done it, or are thinking about making the leap to becoming a parent for a rescue, maybe you’ll get some use from reading about my experience of renaming my adopted babies.

There are many things to consider before adopting a dog. The main thing on your mind is how to make your new bundle of furry joy comfortable in your home. Aside from making sure you have food, water, toys and all the other things to make your best friend happy, you need to think about the name he or she will be awarded.

I’m big on pet adoption, and whether I’m adopting a dog from our local pound here in Maine or fostering a dog from our local no-kill animal shelter, I usually use the same guidelines. Here are some of them for your consideration.

Investigate!

  1. Always ask if the dog that you are bringing home is an owner surrender. If the dog is an owner surrender, then the shelter may have records of what name he or she has gone by up until now. If I know what the dog’s name is, then I usually stick to it if it seems to fit them. It makes it easier for the dog to adjust to their new home if they at least have their old familiar name.
  2. If your new dog has come from an abusive home, or the shelter doesn’t know their previous name, you can come up with a name that you think fits. I’ll talk more about that in a minute.
  3. If the dog’s name was unknown, the shelter will have given them a name. Most shelters are not able to give each dog a lot of individual attention, so if you truly dislike the name, it’s usually not a big deal to change it. It’s likely that he or she may not even respond to the name that they have been given yet.

In my experience, I have only had one adopted or fostered animal where we knew what her name was in her previous life. For her, we did keep the name. For our other adopted dogs and cats, we’ve always chosen a name.

If we are fostering the dog, we keep the name that is on all of their shelter records. It keeps things much simpler when he or she becomes adopted into a forever home. If the dog that you are adopting has been in a foster home, it would probably be better to keep the name that the foster home used — at least for a little while.

The Rename Game

Now that you have made the decision on whether you will be keeping your dog’s name or coming up with a new one, here are some tips I can give you on how to choose the best name for your new furry family member.

  1. Dogs are not like people. The way they process sound, syllables, and words is different from how humans process them. When naming a dog, you want to stick to simple names with only one or two syllables. Names like Shadow, Rose, Lily, and other easy names like that are great choices for your fur baby.
  2. If you hope to teach your new pet basic commands, then you want to avoid naming your dog a name that sounds like any commands that you will be teaching him. Command dog training can be difficult in certain cases, so try to make your job easier by picking a better name. For example, you may not want to name your dog Bingo if you will be using a “Go” command when walking. Another example is naming your dog Hitch if you want to teach the “Fetch” command. This goes for family members as well. If your daughter is named Molly, don’t name your dog Polly.
  3. Another thing to think about is how often your dog will be at dog parks and around other canine buddies. If the answer is a lot, you want to try to think of a truly unique name. When you’re at the dog park and call out “Fido,” you don’t want three fluff-balls to come to you. Or vice versa: someone calls out “Spot,” and your dog goes running. Maybe name them after your favorite book or movie, or just think of one from scratch.

Now, let’s talk about how to help your dog learn his or her new name as quickly as possible.

Like humans, dogs learn words by repetition. The words that they hear the most, they will learn the quickest. If you’re changing the dog’s name from a previous one, DO NOT use the previous name anymore. It’s tempting to use the old name to get them to respond, but you’ll just be confusing them.

So now what?

Forget about the old name and begin training your pet to respond to their new name.

  1. The first thing to remember is that you do not want to use the dog’s name every time they’re in trouble, and only when they’re in trouble. You want your pet to think good things whenever they hear their name. Use words like “no” or “bad dog” to correct unwanted behavior.
  2. Try to think up as many ways as you can to use the dog’s name. You can say things like, “Good girl, Ginger, you pottied outside” or “Good boy, Chance, you learned fetch.” When praising your new fur baby for a job well done, you always want to use their name, and even a treat.
  3. You can also use treats to train them to respond when they hear their name. Walk away and then call your dog using their name. When they come, say, “Good dog, Buddy,” and feed them a treat.

Dogs are smart. So whether it is the day you bring your new furry friend home or a couple weeks down the road, you can feel confident in changing their name knowing that they will quickly pick it up. Dogs adapt well to new situations as long as you keep the situation positive. If you are providing a loving home and family life for your new pup, they will quickly learn to love hearing their name… and so will you.

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.

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