Dog Names Can Create Alarm

Does calling your dog cause trouble?
By Karen B. London PhD, January 2020, Updated June 2021

He called his dog to come over and over again after the Lab mix jumped out of the truck and began to run. The man sounded pretty alarmed because he was worried his dog would run into the woods and be really hard to track down. So, all the people in the hot springs closest to the parking lot were treated to the loud bellows of a man in distress shouting, “Bear! Bear! Bear!” The trouble was that they were in Alaska in an area where bears can pose a serious threat to people’s safety. Nobody realized he was calling a dog, and instead thought that he was warning them about a grizzly bear approaching. The resulting panic is easy to picture, but was hard to set right.

A client who is a golf enthusiast has three dogs named in honor of his favorite sport, and the whole family enjoys their home right next to a golf course. Naturally, the dog who is most like Houdini and tends to get out of the house and yard is the one named Fore. The ones named Divet and Bogey are content to stay at home where the couches are cozy and the yard has good sunning spots. Calling “Fore!” around the golf course where you live is not a good way to endear yourself to those around you, and the man is seriously thinking of changing the dog’s name to “Eagle”. I’m in favor of the switch, and also on board with working on 1) securing their property and 2) working hard to improve the dog’s recall.

A friend of mine who studies fire ecology thought ahead about the danger of naming her dog after her area of interest. She realized that calling “Fire!” to get her dog to come would be problematic in just about any situation, so she chose to name her dog Spark instead. Another friend in the same field had a dog named Scorch, but as far as I know, she never even considered the name Fire.

Obvious names to avoid if you don’t want to incite a panic include Help, Thief and Danger, but I have never met any dogs with these names. I often wonder about dogs named Killer, and those named Gunner who end up with the nickname Gun. These names could all cause issues when called out in a variety of contexts.

Do you have a dog with a name that causes confusion or fear when you call it out?

photo by Stewart Black/Flickr

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