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Should I Change My Rescue Dog’s Name?

Australian Shepherd Dog in animal shelter waiting to be adopted rescue dog name.

Via iStock.com/GeorgePeters

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Unless you’re adopting a very young puppy, your new dog will have a name when you adopt him. Most city shelters have a list of dog names that they rotate for each dog that comes into the door. I know this little publicized fact because I once wrote a story about dog names for Dog Fancy and because I pull homeless dogs from a city shelter, transport dogs, and foster them.

Surprisingly, the names are similar across the country: Max, Oreo, Jack, Princess, Precious, Coco, Star, Milo, Simba, Blackie, Shorty, Buddy, Puppy, Lucky, Sasha, Rocky, Champ, Diamond, Queenie, King, Blue, and Lady… you get the idea. These are fairly innocuous and generic names in a time when people give their dogs monikers like Ziggy Starpug, Heisenberg, and Miss Bedelia Bragadocious. In Miami, where I pull for a Schnauzer rescue, many of the dogs have Latino names, like Puka (yes, I rescued a Puka and saw other Pukas there subsequently), Negra, Tito, Lulu, Linda and Chico.

If the dog you have rescued is a stray, you can be relatively certain that he does not know or respond to the name he was given by the shelter. You can change his name while you’re adopting him so that the new name is on his paperwork. He likely had a name before he found himself homeless, but that name is now lost, so you’ll have to start fresh, which is a good idea, since his former name might be linked to some bad memories for him.

If the dog is an “owner surrender,” this means that the owner has brought the dog into the shelter personally and has likely told the shelter his name. My Schnauzer, Zoey, was an owner surrender, and a horrible abuse case. I loved the name and kept it, but in retrospect I should have changed her name so that she wouldn’t cower every time I said it. Often, people who should not have dogs will call their dogs to them for a beating. This makes the dog afraid of his own name.

If the dog you adopt is in foster care via a rescue organization and has been there a while, he may know the name they have given him. If you don’t like the name, change it. This is a dog you are hopefully going to have for many years, and you should feel good about his name.

I recently rescued a young white Schnauzer that another rescuer had found running around in the rain in a parking lot in Miami. I immediately took her (being a Schnauzer person) and named her Delilah. We tried to find her owner, but no one claimed her. Having three dogs of my own, I decided to foster her until I found the right home for her, which I did after about two weeks. The new home named her Dior, because the new owner wanted a name that started with a “D” so that the dog wouldn’t become too confused. The home didn’t work out because of noise sensitive neighbors who complained about the dog, so I took her back and started calling her Delilah again. My parents wanted her, so now she’s Dior Delilah, or DD. She responds to all three names. Sometimes she responds to “Devil Dog,” a name she has earned (it’s a good thing for her that she’s very cute). Dogs are extremely adaptable, and whether they come when called (or not) largely depends on tone of voice.

Contrary to what you might read about “properly” naming dogs, you can name your rescue dog anything you want, even if it’s a long and complex name, because you will end up shortening it and giving him a nickname anyway. Years ago I may have recommended choosing a one or two syllable name with a sharp sound in it, such as Jake, Roxy, or Pepper, but now I’m convinced that it doesn’t matter because most people are bound to come up with a short “pet” name for their dog. My rescued Poodle Jasmine (who came with that name from her prior owners) is often called Jaz and Jazzy.

I would recommend giving your new dog a name (or nickname) that people can respect, that’s cute, or that represents something fairly wholesome. Naming your Pit Bull “Killer” or your Pointer “Stupid” (I actually knew a Pointer named Stupid) will only bring grief for your dog. Ironic names can be cute, though—a Chihuahua named Killer will make people smile.

When you’re starting from scratch with a new name, simply start calling your dog that name and encouraging him to come to you by patting your legs and offering treats. It shouldn’t take more than a few days for him to understand that he’s now called “Charlie.”

If your dog already has a name that he knows, how about choosing a name that begins with the first letter or sound? Naming him something similar will help him to adjust to the new name. Treats don’t hurt either.

I can’t get out of this post without quoting Shakespeare: What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Your dog will still be his lovely self, no matter what you name him. How about Romeo?

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Posted by: Chewy Editorial

Featured Image: Via iStock.com/GeorgePeters