Recently on WGLT’s “Animal House,” Laura Kennedy and I talked about naming pets. One of the things we discussed is a question I am often asked by clients who have rescued a dog that came with a name. “Is it is okay to change the dog’s name to something else?” You will be happy to hear that the answer is YES, absolutely, your pet can adjust to a new name, and it’s easier than most people think.
Now for humans, our whole identity is wrapped up in our name – Bob Ryder – it’s been my name for over 50 years – it tells me who I am, where I came from, who my parents were, etc. Bob Ryder is more than just three syllables of sound to me – it is who I am. For dogs, however, there is very little reason to believe that they have any sense of identity wrapped up in their name the way that people do. Certainly once they learn their name (which is simply the sound of their name), when they hear it spoken it evokes a sense for them that something is about to happen, and it involves them. “Maybe I am about to get a treat or go do something fun,” if the voice is light and lilting. “Oh no,” if the voice is harsh and loud. The bottom line is that it’s the tone of voice that really counts when you address your pets, not the words you say.
So it’s perfectly fine to change that sound/name to something else, especially if the dog might have negative associations with their “given name” from their previous home. How do you do it? Well let’s say you bring home a dog named Pepper from the Humane Society – it’s a fine name, but your neighbor’s dog is named Pepper, and so is your sister’s dog, so to avoid confusion your family would like to change your dog’s name. The kids all like the name Sandy, so you agree to go with that.
First get some high value yummy treats in hand, or a favorite toy ready, something your dog really loves. Next, say the name “Sandy” and give a treat. Repeat. Repeat. It’s really just good old classical conditioning – teaching our dog to associate any sound/name we choose with, in this case, a good association. And voila – they have a “name.”