Karen B. London
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Don’t Like Your New Dog’s Name?
It’s okay to change it
Does this look like the face of a "Killer"?

It’s common to adopt an adult dog with a name that doesn’t really thrill you, and many people have soldiered on for the rest of the dog’s life, stuck with a name that they just don’t feel right about. But if you don’t like your dog’s name, you can change it.

Names like Baby, Poopsie and Pudding are often not popular with new adopters. On other extreme, many people feel a mismatch when they adopt a dog who has been going by Killer, Spike or Vengeance.

Changing a dog’s name is one of the easiest parts of adopting and training a new dog. Here’s how you do it. Start by saying the new name and giving him something great like a piece of chicken, a belly rub or a play session if he looks at you. This teaches him to love hearing his new name and responding to it. Most dogs learn a new name within a few weeks if you do this multiple times each day, and some learn it in just a couple of sessions. Progress will be faster if you avoid using the name for no reason and also refrain from associating it with anything bad.

Have you changed a new dog’s name? What was the old name and what’s the new one?


Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

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Submitted by Anonymous | October 11 2011 |

We changed our dog's name from April to Abbey when we brought her home. It's still two syllables and starts with an A, so we figured she'd have an easy time adjusting. We've had her about 3 months, and now she only responds to her new name (which fits her much better)! :)

Submitted by Anonymous | October 12 2011 |

I tried to keep mine simple as well. I went from Lissa to Lizzy and she understood it within a day. But I call her so many nicknames now and she responds to almost all of them.

Submitted by Pamela | October 11 2011 |

I changed my dog Shadow's name from Jackie. It was quite easy.

One reason it can be easy is that most dogs don't know their names. And their people rarely realize it.

Submitted by Anonymous | October 11 2011 |

Dogs do know their names, I have four and I can call just any one of them by name to come to me from another room and she does. I have many times seen one look up when her name is mentioned.

Submitted by Pamela | October 15 2011 |

Yes, your dogs know there name because you talk to them using it. But most people aren't that good and they don't teach their dogs to recognize their name. It's just another word to them.

Submitted by Meg | October 11 2011 |

My lab mix was Buddy, but at the shelter they called him Denny since there were so many dogs named Buddy! I re-named him Jasper, which is much more unique to his personality. He had it within a couple of days :) I think, though, that he had not had homes where he bonded with humans who used his name in a loving way.

My dad changed his dog's name from Cassie to Keksi (Finnish for biscuit!), and she did fine :)

Submitted by Danielle | October 11 2011 |

We adopted our dog Cosmo from the shelter. His shelter name had been Chewie (after Chewbacca). He came into the shelter as a stray and I sometimes really wonder what his original name was! He learned his new name within a week.

Submitted by sandy | October 11 2011 |

I've rescued many dogs and thought about changing their names but never did, mostly because they were pretty cool names and ones i would have never thought of using myself. Izzy, Bijou, Molly, Alex, Charlotte, Rosie, Lola, Cole and Cubbie were/are their names. The only one I changed was a roly poly Shar Pei that was named Babe. I hated that because I figured they had named her after the pig and changed it to BeBe and she was quite happy with it.

Submitted by Amber | October 11 2011 |

I tell lots of people this! Many folks don't realise that dogs don't actually have names, at least names that WE can say. A name a human gives a dog is just an attention command, a word that gets them to look at you, that they know means good things. A name is the ultimate piece of praise for a dog, and not much else =)

Submitted by Beth King | October 11 2011 |

I rescued a sad little Beagle from the local Humane Society who had been given the ill-fitting name of Circus. I renamed her Chloe and she learned it in just a couple of days.

Submitted by Tuck's mom | October 11 2011 |

Both of our adopted dogs got new names with the new home. One, Tucker, we found in the kennel before he was even available, so we didn't know what his name was. Very easy to get him to respond to the new name. Our Yankee, p.k.a. "Buddy" took some more time. Easily done with treats and his natural drive for the tennis ball.

Submitted by Laurie | October 11 2011 |

Changed Elvis to Amos. Sounds similar and it didn't seem he had much positive association for the old name. We tried to make hearing the new name always a good thing!

Submitted by Anonymous | October 11 2011 |

My adopted dogs have been retired racing greyhounds and their race names and call names just didn't work for us. Treats were an easy way to convince them of their new name :)

Submitted by lisa | October 12 2011 |

i've always felt it was good luck to change an animals name when you acquired it. signifies a new start on life. sometimes the dogs got a new name because being strays, i didn't know their "old" name. they've always taken to their new names very quickly. some name changes were zeezee the doberman to zeno, indy rose the border collie to nova, and my favorite, a horse named twinkle toes (ack) to zazu.

Submitted by dogcatcher | October 12 2011 |

We name stray dogs at the shelter and they learn their temporary names in no time. Adopters ask if it's okay to change the name and that is simple.

1. Dogs are made to figure out what the sounds we make mean and when words are relevant to what the dog wants (outside, cookie, ride).
2. They may never have had a name so the one we used temporarily isn't all that important.
3. They may have had negative associations with a name if they were not part of a family.
4. Most people use multiple names for their dogs, anyway (nicknames)
5. Even if you knew the dog's old name it wouldn't necessarily sound the same when you say it.
Dogs don't care what you call them as long as it's not late for dinner. Old joke.

Submitted by Rachel | October 12 2011 |

I actually changed my own dog's name when he was 8. He had been Chong (w/ a brother called Cheech from whom he was separated and Cheech was later killed) and he was having some aggressions issues. I consulted w/ his trainer and him thru a communicator, and we all agreed that a change of name might change his personal energy - we agreed on Archie and it was easy and calm. Archie is for Archie Leach, Cary Grant's birth name and "Chong's" Hollywood alter ego

Submitted by Allison Nastoff | October 12 2011 |

I am blind and use a guide dog. Since he was trained by a program before I received him, he was of course pre-named. I absolutely love his name, Gilbert! It is so perfect for his personality! I will be sad when he has to retire because he is an awesome match for me, but also because so many names service dogs are given sound boring to me, so my next dog likely won't have such an awesome name. For dogs who have been abused and have a negative association with their former name or dogs who have only been trained in basic obedience before being adopted, I can see why changing their name would be easy. But I wonder if service dog handlers have ever successfully changed their dog's name and if this would confuse a dog that has gone through more extensive training with their name. This might make an interesting follow-up article.

Submitted by Sandie | October 12 2011 |

We adopted a dog from the James River Humane Society here and the name he came with was "Cosmo" we changed it to Cole. He is a Black Lab and is really black.

Submitted by D | October 12 2011 |

I got an AmStaff form the shelter. Not sure if he knew his shelter name which was Dixon... But he learned his new name Sparta in two days.

And he was a weekly smiler for 7-11-11!

Submitted by RandiG | October 15 2011 |

Many years ago I adopted a dog (black shepherd) with the very unglamorous name of "Fix-it". She never really responded to it anyway so changing it was easy. I renamed her Gypsy and she learned it one day! She passed on at 16 after 14 years of good living and lots of love!

Submitted by lara | October 18 2011 |

When we rescued our terrier mix in Baltimore, she was named Laverne. Terrible! Her foster family was calling her Verne (vern-E) but we renamed her to Elsa and now can't imagine her as anything else. When we rescued our second dog she was #937 and we went through several names over the first few days we had her. She's Zoey, but like a few of the other commenters have said, she and Elsa both respond to all of their 'other' names as well.

Submitted by Donna | November 20 2013 |

I have 2 rescues that I renamed. Storm was formerly named Harley and Zora was known as Mandy. Both girls learned their new names almost immediately. I guess they felt the same way about their former names as we did. Lol

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