What’s in a Name?


What Makes a Good Dog Name?

I find that many of the best dog names follow some of these principles:

  • They are short, but not too short. Two or three syllables is often the sweet-spot.
  • They are easy to say happily.  The tone of your voice matters to your dog and often it’s easier to say something ending in -ie or -e or -y with a positive inflection. Names ending in vowels rather than consonants are great. Try saying “Jack.” Now try saying “Frankie.” Which one sounded happier?
  • Avoid names with bad connotations. You may think they are funny but the change how people perceive your dog. Stay away from names like “Beast,” “Felony,” “Violence” etc. You want people to instinctively give your dog the benefit of the doubt.

Changing a Dog’s Name:

When you get a new-to-you dog, one of the first things that you think about is what you are going to call them. Dogs adjust easily to many things and often times don’t have trouble learning a new name. That doesn’t mean you have to (or should) change it though. I go by this general rule: if they respond to their old name, I don’t change it. I haven’t gotten to name most of my dogs–Pud, Zoey, Homer, and Meja all came with theirs. If they don’t respond to it, I think it’s open season.

Changing a Foster Dog’s Name:

Believe it or not, foster animal’s names can be a semi-complicated issue.  It is best not to try and change your foster animal’s name. You can always call them something else and then refer to them by their original name when you talk to the rescue or prospective adopters about them. At a minimum, refer to them by ‘original name/the name you call them’ to give people something to go off of.

  1. All of their records are in their original name. That means it can be a headache (or potentially impossible) to locate vet records or shelter records if their name is changed.
  2. It makes it easier for your foster coordinator and the rest of the rescue volunteers. Keeping their name allows people to always know who you are talking about.
  3. Some fosters may have just been given their names a few days ago–but some of them could have had that name since they were a puppy. As a courtesy to the dog, it’s nice to try and keep that continuity when everything else in their life is changing.

All that said…we did change Jonah’s name (or at least what we call him) and here’s why. The name given to him by the impound was Jingles. That is still his name with Pet Haven. Jingles is a cute name. But awfully seasonal. If he were a ready-t0-go dog we wouldn’t have changed what we call him, because he would have most likely gotten adopted during the holiday season.

Jonah, however, was decidedly not ready-to-go. And it would feel weird to try to get a dog named Jingles adopted in May. With fosters, there is the added concern that if you have a seasonal name and the animal is way past that season, potential adopters may wonder why your animal wasn’t adopted earlier. There are obviously legitimate reasons why animals aren’t adopted quickly–they have health concerns, need to build confidence, are waiting for a home that can afford their medical needs, they need a home without other animals, etc.  But adopters have such a large selection of animals to choose from that they may not take the time to learn the reason behind the name–even if that dog would have turned out to be a perfect fit for their family.

The reality is there are more dogs than homes, so you don’t want anything (especially something as prominent as a name) to be immediately off-putting to a potential adopter.


One response to “What’s in a Name?

  1. I definitely agree names are very important and that the name the shelter has supplied should be the name referred to for consistency/paperwork. When I have fostered. I often call them buddy or good boy/girl. The new family of last dog I had fostered (for quite a while) they told me he remembered all the cues we worked on (I gave them a list – it didn’t include teaching him his name) but didn’t really respond to the name he had … so they called him Rudy … buddy..and he responded to it much better (I was amused). I think it is best to pretty much always rename, because most dogs have too much ‘garbage’ associated with their prior name. In my classes, when I have people who obviously use the dog’s name as a reprimand/scold and I have coached them not to do that, especially if they also wanted to use it as a call to come. At the same time I suggest strongly that they re-name. Most people are resistant to this, even though it would ultimately work so much better as a step forward for themselves as a trainer and for the dog to associate good things with it. Names … there is a lot involved.


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