When and How to Change A Dog’s Name

As dogs don’t process identity in the same way we do, renaming a dog is actually a pretty easy process and can be changed at any stage of their life.

One of the key things to remember when renaming your dog is that they have to associate that name as a source of good things. Use your dog’s new name affectionately so that they can find a sense of safety and belonging when they’re with you.  

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When It’s Appropriate To Rename Your Dog

  • When You Adopt A Shelter Dog

Chances are shelter dogs would have been assigned a name when they were brought in.

Most shelters give dogs names that would appeal more to prospective adoptive families. If this is the case, they won’t be very familiar with their “shelter name”, so it shouldn’t be too much hassle to change your dog’s name.

However, if the dog is an owner-surrender, they’re probably familiar with their name and keeping it would provide your dog with stability as they settle into their new home. Once your dog is settled, you will still be able to change their name.

It’s also worth mentioning that you don’t have to change a shelter dog’s name, it is completely optional. So, if you do happen to like their rescue name, feel free to keep it. 

  • They Were Removed From An Abusive Home

If your dog came from an abusive home, they more than likely associate their name with abuse. If that’s the case it can be an act of kindness to change their name. Giving your dog a new name will help them make a fresh start in a loving home. 

  • If Your Dog No Longer Responds To Their Name

Sometimes dogs will begin to ignore their names. If that’s the case it might be time to give them a new one, after all, the reason we name our pets (besides affection) is so that we can grab their attention.

By using some rewards-based training you should be able to christen your dog with a new name. 

If your dog has been given to you by a friend or family member and has come from a loving and stable home, it may not be ideal to change their name.

However, you could choose a new name that is phonetically similar to their original name as they already know how to respond to that sound. 

Similarly, if you are adopting/buying a working or service dog, they have more than likely had a lot of experience responding to their name.

This is important as they would have been trained to follow specific demands and follow important cues, so in order to keep their training moving forward, it’s best not to change their name. 

How To Rename Your Dog

  • Be Patient And Take Your Time

You have to be patient, as it can take some time for your dog to respond to their new name.

Additionally, you don’t have to have a new name instantly ready. Take a few days to hang out with your dog and get to know their personality which will help you find the perfect name!

At the beginning you can stick with using boy/girl when commanding and praising your dog, but be sure to follow praise with treats as this is how you’ll bond with them. 

  • Use A Reward Response To Their New Name

You want your dog to associate their name with good things, so when you’re at the beginning of training, make sure you have treats at hand.

When you call out their new name to get their attention, smile, praise and reward them a treat. They will soon begin to acknowledge it each time they hear it. 

Games/Training

There are few reward response games you can do with your dog until they learn to recognise and associate with their new name. 

The Name Game 

Say your dog’s new name in a happy tone. Once their attention is on you praise them and reward them with a treat. The key is to repeat, repeat, repeat!

This is a pretty simple method but it can come with one or two pitfalls. 

If you call your dog’s new name and they fail to look at you, don’t repeat their name over and over! Instead, make other noises such as kissy sounds and whistles to get their attention – you’ll want to still reward them here. 

It’s also worth noting that you aren’t expecting your dog to come over to you every time you call their name. Just turning their head in your direction is enough. 

The Name-Change Name Game 

If your dog is pretty familiar with their current name and responds to it pretty quickly, the best strategy is to slowly introduce them to their new name. 

Say your dog’s original name, keeping a happy tone of voice. Once you have their attention mark it with a “yes”, and reward them with a treat. Repeat a couple of times. 

Now start introducing their new name. Start by saying their new name followed by their old name, pausing for a moment between the two. Reward with a treat and repeat. 

You should now be able to drop their original name. Call just their new name, and once they have responded reward them with a treat. Once again repeat this activity. 

Name Changing Tips 

  • Your Dog’s New Name Should Only Mean Good Things

Enforce this however you can, whether that’s using a happy tone or giving them a treat each time you say their name in the beginning. 

  • Avoid Using Your Dog’s Name During Scoldings

You don’t want your dog to associate their new name with being in trouble. Perhaps you could call them by their “full name” (using your surname as their second name) so that they know they’re in trouble when they hear two names. 

  • Avoid Names that Rhyme with “No”

If you’re disciplining your dog, there’s a high chance you’re using the word no. Your dog will associate this sound with being in trouble, so avoid names like Joe or Bo. 

  • Need some name ideas?

Check out our dog name generator!

PuppyLists is written by J., who has owned, trained, volunteered with, and loved dogs for nearly three decades. When she isn't writing or researching, she's out adventuring with her 14 year old Lab mix.