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Five Tips on Naming Your Dog

When it comes to naming your dog, you are likely looking for names that are appealing and have a special meaning to you, but have you ever thought about what's best for your dog? Names are perceived differently by dogs than the ways us humans perceive them. Dogs aren't born knowing their names; just as with a dog whistle, it takes some associative learning to understand the meaning of certain spoken words or sounds. Since dogs don't perceive words like we do, it's also important that the name you choose has certain characteristics so that it's not confused with other words that are commonly used. So here are some tips on choosing your dog's name. Perhaps, you can find a name that is appealing to you and that'll also work fine for you canine pal as well, a win-win!

name dog

Keep it Different From Other Cues

It's often forgotten that a name from a dog's perspective is simply another cue that tells him to pay attention to you and come running to you when it's followed by the word "come!"

If your dog has been already trained, most likely he's very familiar with certain cues such as sit, down, heel, leave it, watch, drop and stay, so you want to pick a name that doesn't sound too similar to these words.

If your dog is a puppy and has not been obedience trained yet, then you'll have to be careful about names that are going to sound similar to the cues you'll be using in the future.

Advanced planning is important but if you really like a name that might be confused with a certain training cue, then for sake of clarity, you may want to change the word used as a training cue to avoid confusion.

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Here are a few examples of sound-alike names that may sound too similar to training cues.

For instance, "Brown" or "Clown" may sound too similar to the the training cue "down." Kay, Fay or May may sound too similar to the cue "stay." Phil or Steel may sound similar to "heel." Butch or Catch may sound similar to "watch." Tidbit, Smith, Quick, Pit or Kit may sound too similar to "sit" and the name "Oliver" may be confused with the trick cue "roll over." And so on.

Fortunately, nowadays there are extensive dog name options and choosing a name that doesn't sound too similar to regular training cues should be quite easy, but wait there's more to keep into consideration when choosing your dog's name!

Tip: if you own two dogs try your best to give them names that are easy to distinguish from one another.

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Keep it Sweet and Short 


Have you ever gone to a dog show and felt intrigued by the long and weird names of certain dogs? Well, in the world of showing dogs, those long names are there for several good reasons!

First off, those show dogs needs a name that stands out and doesn't resemble in any way quintessential dog names such as Missy or Fluffy, but most importantly, often, the dog's name includes information about the dog's ancestry, something that the owners are very proud after years of breeding certain bloodlines.

Not to mention, sometimes special titles are also added into the mix making these names even longer! For instance, Sky, the wire fox terrier who won the 2012 AKC championship is named "GCH Afterall Painting the Sky." The GCH in this case stands for the title of grand championship.

As you can imagine, if a show dog would be called by his official name, he would be long gone and missing by the time the owner ends up finishing pronouncing the dog's name! But of course, things must get practical, which is why owners of show dogs give their dogs another name to respond to, in this case a shorter nickname that's formally known as the "call name." Ideally, dog names show not be longer than two syllables. This way you can pronounce the name quickly in the circumstance where you need your dog's immediate attention.

Did you know? The American Kennel Club allows registration of dog names that can be up to 36 characters long. Need more? For a $10 fee owners can use up to 50!

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Use Strong Consonants 

hope dog name

Look for names with sharp consonants. What consonants are considered sharp? The letters P, K and D are consonants that make quite an impact. According to Patricia McConnell these hard consonants are known for creating "broad-band" sounds (just like those produced by clickers), that carry a lot of energy and are great for capturing a dog's attention.

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For those interested in neuroscience, interestingly, the sounds produced by such consonants are more prone to stimulate a dog's acoustic receptor neurons in the brain compared to flatter sounds such as those produced by vowels or soft consonants.

Of course, a name with sharp consonants isn't a must, as you can train a dog to pay attention to any name if you work on creating positive associations, but hard consonants along with just one syllable, maximum two, can make a difference, especially if your dog is a working dog or engaged in dog sports when you might need his immediate attention.

There, now you know why so many border collies are named Hope!

"If you analyze the acoustics of spoken language, you’ll find that saying hard consonants, such as “k,” “p” and “d,” create what are called “broad-band” sounds, with lots of energy across a range of frequencies." ~Patricia McConnell

Give it a Meaning


As mentioned, dogs are not born knowing what their name is and they don't perceive words the way we do. As talkative humans, we must keep this into consideration. So when our dogs first hear their names it's a pretty irrelevant sound, or at most, they may show an orienting response by turning their head or twitching their ear our way when we first pronounce it.

It's important though to not make the grave mistake of pronouncing the name over and over without giving it a meaning. Don't fall into the "broken record trap" often seen when owners repeatedly say their dogs' name inadvertently making their names less and less powerful up to a point that the dog starts caring less about all the meaningless blabbering.

So how do we give a dog's name its meaning? Imagine the process of giving your dog's name its meaning as charging a battery; you want to make your dog's name more and more powerful through powerful associations. And how can we form these powerful associations? With things and activities your dog loves and looks forward to everyday.

Food is always a great incentive to start with. In a quiet room with little distractions going on, pronounce your dog's name. The moment he turns around, toss a treat on the floor. Now wait for him to wander away a bit from you. Call his name again, the moment he turns around again, toss a treat on the floor. Repeat several times. When your dog gets the idea, you can know incorporate some fun training if your dog is trained already. Say your dog's name, the moment he has your attention, ask him to sit or respond to some other cue he knows. Then reward him with praise and treats.

Now it's time to make your dog's name music for his ears. Say your dog's name followed by the cue "come!" when it's meal time, when it's time to play, when you have a bran new toy hidden behind your back to give him or a bone or when you are about to go out in the yard together or go for a walk. Here's a big, big rule of thumb though: never use your dog's name and/or ask him to come when something negative is about to follow. Like saying your dog's name and calling him and giving him a bath if he dreads baths. This is like un-charging that battery you worked so hard to charge, weakening it and possibly leading to a dog who is more and more tentative to respond to his name and come when called! Keep your dog's name always positive, fun, upbeat and meaningful for your dog!

"A dog's name becomes a signal which tells him that the next sounds that come out of his master's mouth are supposed to have some impact on the his life. Thus a dog's name linguistically translates into something like "This next message is for you."~Stanley Coren

Re-Naming a Dog After Adoption

dog name

Did you get a dog from the shelter who promptly responds to the name his previous owner gave him, but you're not too enthusiastic about using it? You may have heard that's it's not a good idea to change a dog's name after adoption, but changing a dog's name is possible as long as you follow a particular procedure to make it a success. Here' briefly how to do it.

For sake of example, let's say your dog's name was Cujo and you want to call him 'Samson" so you can prevent people from thinking that your sweet dog is a mean dog.

So in a quiet room start by calling your dog's name "Cujooo!" and giving him a treat when he looks at you, do this at least three times. Then, in the middle of all this, say "Samson-Cujooo!" he may hesitate when you say Samson a bit, but should come to you upon hearing Cujo. When you get his attention give him a treat. This might sound long, but you'll need to do this for just a few trials. Then, start fading the name Cujo a bit. Say "Samson-Ujo!" give a treat for looking at you/coming towards you. Then make it 'Samsoon-jo!" and keep giving a treat for coming to you.

Finally, just say "Samsoooon!" dropping the old name altogether and when your dog is paying attention/coming to you, this time give him a jackpot, basically give him 3-4 treats in a row so that it really makes a great impact on him.

Keep practicing in the quiet room a bit but also start practicing in other rooms where there are more distractions going on and then in your safely fenced yard. Don't forget to have other family members practice too!


  • Psychology Today, The Art and Science of Naming a Dog, retrieved from the web on Dec 9th, 2016
  • The Bark, A Dog by Any Other Name, retrieved from the web on Dec 9th, 2016

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