Can a dog understand a name change? It’s something we all wonder when we adopt a pooch from a rescue, another family or any other place where he’s already been given a name. For the most part, the answer is yes. Of course, it really depends on just how long he’s had that name and how much you’re changing it! If you’re adopting a senior dog who spent his entire life being called Spot and you want to change his name to Thurston Thorogood the Third, he’s probably going to be a bit confused!
When we adopted our first dog, Gracie, she came with the name “Tiger.” She has brindle markings that in some areas look a bit like stripes, but for me, “Tiger” was taking the stripe reference a bit too far. Aside from not liking the name, we wanted a name to mark her new life as a part of our family. Gracie is now almost 9, and Tiger is, without a doubt, the least appropriate name in the world for her!
How to Help Your Dog Understand a Name Change
Now that you know a dog can understand if you choose to change her name, how do you go about doing it? Training a dog to recognize a name change is actually one of the easiest things you can teach her! Even though it’s simple, I wouldn’t advise changing your dog’s name more than once – it will confuse her. If you aren’t quite sure what name is right for your new pup, don’t rush it. Once you get to know your dog’s personality, names will come to you. If you still need some inspiration, take a look at the 10 most popular dog names (and why you should avoid them), Star Wars dog names, weird celebrity dog names, or even athlete-inspired dog names!
Once you know you’ve got the right name, start the training with these simple steps.
- Stop using the old name altogether. You have to go cold turkey on using your dog’s old name, or you will make the training process longer and more challenging for the both of you. If you need to get your dog’s attention, do so by walking over to him, whistling, clicking your tongue, etc. The old name is history!
- Keep small treats in your pocket. Look her in the eye and say her new name, then give her a rub on the head and a treat. Repeat this process a few times. Give it an hour or two and repeat the process again. Do that every couple of hours for the first day.
- Check for recognition. When your dog is not paying attention to you that first evening (when you’re watching TV, for example), say the new name and see if he looks at you. Even if he does look up, he may just be responding to your voice initially. If he looks up, walk over to him, give him lots of verbal praise, including using his new name, and give him another treat. If he doesn’t look up, walk over to him, look him in the eye, say the name, and give him a pat and a treat.
- Repeat for three days. By the end of the third day, most dogs will be very well-aware of their new names, and the training is complete! If it seems that it’s taking a little longer for your dog to catch on, that’s okay. Don’t get frustrated; simply keep repeating the training process. Whatever you do, don’t revert back to the old name! Your dog will get it – just give her time.
The training process seems simple, and that’s because it is! Within one day of us using Gracie’s new name, she would come to us from the other room when she was called. The extra couple days of training simply reinforced her good work.