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Saying The Wrong Dog’s Name

One dog is always on the brain
By Karen B. London PhD, March 2019, Updated June 2021

Sharing some loving and a high-5 with Bugsy

In an exchange about our own dogs, Susan Tasaki—an editor and writer for The Bark—and I periodically used dog names from long deceased pets instead of the names belonging to the dogs currently in our lives. We both have a tendency to revert to our “default” dogs. In my case, I regularly refer to other dogs as “Bugsy”, a dog of mine who died in 2004, and she automatically pulls up the name “Emma” from time to time, even though Emma died about 6 years ago at the age of 15. (Miraculously, we still managed to understand each other perfectly, which may help explain the successful nature of our long-term collaboration as writer and editor.)

There is evidence that the names of those we love are all stored together in the brain, causing us to pull up the wrong child’s name or the wrong dog’s name from time to time. However, the neurological hiccup Susan and I were dealing with was different. We both revert to one dog’s name in a variety of situations when talking about various other dogs we have loved. I sometimes even refer to other people’s dogs by the name “Bugsy”, and they aren’t always dogs I know well. It’s almost as though our issue is having one dog name linked with the concept of “dog” itself, rather than just with the names of other dogs.

Until I learned that Susan and I both do this, I considered my tendency to use Bugsy’s name for all sorts of dogs to be a peculiar glitch of my own, but now I’m wondering how widespread this particular linguistic confusion is.

Is there a dog from your past whose name you regularly use unintentionally to refer to other dogs?

Photo courtesy author

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

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