Adopting — not shopping for — a dog is truly one of the greatest acts of kindness anyone can perform. You’ve literally saved a life. So, first off, congratulations are in order, as is a big thank you. Rescue dogs rule.
Shelter pups almost always come with some kind of a name either picked by the prior owners or by the staff at the humane society or rescue. Now you may think that you and your new pooch are stuck with that name -– especially if the dog is older and perhaps used to being called by a certain moniker. But that’s not necessarily true.
Dogs respond to the tone of your voice and to your body language, especially when they’re just making your acquaintance. Start out with a smile and friendly greeting like “here, girl” or “come, boy.” When they respond, praise them like crazy. If they’re stubborn or seem confused, offer them a treat. See? You’re bonding! That lucky dog doesn’t care what you call them –- as long as you’re giving them love, attention and affection, they’re all yours. But they do need a name, for training and safety’s sake. You’ve got to be able to call your dog and have him be alert to you to keep him out of trouble.
Mark Spivak, trainer and owner of Comprehensive Pet Therapy and Dog Training in Atlanta, has worked with close to 50,000 dogs. He stresses the importance of the name as “a tool for obtaining attention, which will then increase the probability that the dog will properly respond to a command that follows the name.”
So when you’re coming up with a new name for your rescue, you might want to think of an alternate that begins with the same letter or contains the same vowel sounds. If his shelter name was name Buddy, then Barney or Buster might work, and might be more appealing to you. Roxy can become Rosie, Riley, Ruff or even Foxy.
But here’s a cool trick to use if you want to give your new pal a completely different sounding name: Link it to the one they already know. If he arrived as Rocky, then every single time you call him, say “Rocky Gizmo.” The first few times he responds, offer praise or a treat. After a few tries, drop the Rocky and just call him Gizmo. Soon, he’ll be like, “Rocky? Who the heck’s that? I’m Gizmo, dude.”
And you don’t have to have the perfect moniker picked out the moment your new pup arrives home. It’s perfectly fine to hang out a couple of days and get to know each other. See if something about his personality, behavior or appearance strikes you. Maybe he’s Frisky or has a Swagger. Does he love to run (Racer, Tag) or is he more of a couch potato (Snuggle, Chill)? You might think your pal is just plain brown at first glance –- but are you sure he’s not more of a Cocoa, Chestnut or Maple?
Some folks like the Most Popular names, so they’re in with the “It” crowd. But if your dog is going to be around lots of pals — say at the dog park or day care –- you might want to choose a more unique moniker, so he doesn’t get confused with the 18 other Bellas and Maxes around.
And watch out for sound-alikes. I was at the self-wash a couple of days ago, giving my two pooches a bath, when I heard the staff struggling to search their computer system for the owner of a dog who had been dropped off for grooming. All any of us heard was “Charlie,” but the dog’s name was Tarley. Really, people? Is it worth the confusion just to be different?
Also, make sure the name is something you won’t be embarrassed shouting through a park –- Booger or Killer might sound cute in theory, but in public? Not so much.
If you’re stuck for creative ideas, there are a lot of fun ways to shake a name loose. Think of a favorite movie or comic strip dog, like Beethoven or Mooch, or a breed-specific name, such as Speedy for a Greyhound or Mate for an Australian Shepherd. In fact, that’s why I created DoggieNames.com. You can browse through names based on TV shows, literary characters, places –- or even a favorite food or drink — that might mean something to you and your family.
One last piece of advice from Spivak: “Dogs should respond favorably and believe they are safe and secure when they hear their name, so try to avoid using the name in an unpleasant tone or in association with a punishment or reprimand.” That’s why I gave my dogs a middle name, so Daisy Jo and Bud Earl know when they’re in trouble. Just like their human counterparts.
Have you ever tried to change your dog’s name? How did it go? Let us know in the comments!
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