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Bo Obama

Adorable puppy, less-than-ideal name
By Karen B. London PhD, April 2009, Updated March 2022

Well, after all the waiting and the speculation, the Obamas have their dog. A six-month-old Portuguese Water Dog named Bo for Bo Diddley. (Actually, according to reports, he was previously named Charlie, which is also my husband’s name, so I am disappointed to miss the potentially funny headlines.)

A gift from Senator Ted Kennedy, who brings his own Porties to Capitol Hill, Bo’s provenance is not exactly the heartwarming rescue tale for which I had hoped. While the puppy did experience a setback when his original family returned him to the breeder, that's not exactly the example I had in mind. I was hoping the dog in the White House would be a daily reminder of the joys of adopting a homeless pup. The Obamas will make a donation to the District of Columbia Humane Society, but for now a golden opportunity has been missed.

President Obama has had many opportunities to comment on his own name. I laughed when he joked that “Barack” means “that one” and when he kidded around that he got the name “Obama” from his Dad, but that “Hussein” came from somebody who obviously thought that he would never run for President. Clearly, he knows that a name is important.

At least he knows that for people. By now, we’ve all read about his new Portuguese Water Dog, Bo, who apparently was named partly as a reference to the fact that his father-in-law had the nickname “Diddley.” Naming new family members with respect to other relatives is charming, and I generally encourage it. However, a side effect of this particular naming is that the poor dog’s name rhymes with “No.”

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Dogs are often startled into stopping or at least pausing in undesirable behavior by sudden exclamations of “No!” or “Hey!” which is why I always encourage clients to avoid names that sound too much like either one. It can be quite confusing for a dog to think he hears his name said in an abrupt way, which is the way that “No!” is most often said to puppies. Ideally, puppies should associate their name with feeling good, not with feeling startled.

Barack Obama is thriving in spite of various nomenclature challenges. Let’s hope the same good fortune follows the adorable Bo. Here are some tips on naming a dog.

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Image: Shutterstock

Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life