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What’s In A Name?

There was a funny article on USATODAY.com about giving our dogs nicknames. The article written by Sharon Peters, an award-winning pet journalist, discusses how dogs...

Horst Hoefinger  |  Dec 10th 2008


There was a funny article on USATODAY.com about giving our dogs nicknames. The article written by Sharon Peters, an award-winning pet journalist, discusses how dogs used to only go by one name.

They were given their proper name, such as Spot, and that’s what they were called. The chosen name was a traditional name such as Rover, Fido, or Patch.

Today anything goes, dogs are given human names or even named after places. Max, Sam, Jack, Jake, Lucy, Montana, and Dakota are commonplace today. It’s hard to tell if these are children at preschool or dogs at a park.

Most importantly, people aren’t just calling their dogs by the given name, they have nicknames too. Some have numerous nicknames, just take a look through some of the Dogster profiles. Our dog Bo is aka BoBo, BoBo Buddy, Buddy, and the oh so popular “Bo, no!”

The question that Sharon Peters’ brings up, will dogs come to their nicknames, like they do to their given name. Do they really understand more than one name? To get an answer she turned to trainer/animal behavior consultant Lee Livingood.

Trainer/animal behavior consultant Lee Livingood, a woman respected in her field – a rock-solid sort who seems almost constitutionally incapable of goofy flights of whimsy, even when it comes to animals, which she clearly holds in the highest regard.

Without the slightest snicker or hesitation, she responded to the “can they?” question. “Yes. Absolutely. If you’ve used it often enough to create an association with the name that makes it relevant, certainly.”

The fact is, she says, dogs make associations all the time, like those that have learned that when you pick up the car keys, there’s some chance that a car ride is possible, and they leap and pant like crazed coyotes.

So if you use the nickname often enough in ways they recognize apply to them – you give them a treat or pat them on the head as you’re saying it, or tell them it’s time for a walk – they remember it and add it to their personal list of AKAs.

They will not, on the other hand, make special note of other oft-repeated words, like, well, invectives that might get repeated 30 or 40 times a day around your house, since you’re clearly not looking at him or praising him or drawing him in. Just so you know.

Is there a limit to the number of nicknames a dog can learn? Well, “that probably varies from dog to dog; some dogs generalize a lot faster than others.” That’s polite dog-trainer talk for some dogs are smart and some are dim bulbs, and the latter probably won’t learn multiple nicknames very quickly.

How many Dogsters have nicknames? Give me a bark, share a few.