Can You Rename A Shelter Dog?


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Often when a dog enters the shelter the staff does not know their name. They are either given a name upon intake or given a number to be referenced by potential adopters and for paperwork purposes. The dogs who do come in with a name are often so confused by what they are experiencing that they stop responding to it altogether.

So, can you rename a shelter dog? You can absolutely rename a shelter dog whatever name you would like. It can be their first step at a fresh start for your new dog. It’s best to a few names in mind while looking at adoptable dogs to make sure they respond to the new name.

The adoption of shelter dogs is on the rise. According to the ASPCA, 6.5 million enter the shelters every year, of those half are dogs (source).

The percentage of dogs who come in that are adopted is also half. As a former animal shelter manager, this is one of the most frequently asked questions.

Is It Fair To Rename a Dog?

Absolutely! As mentioned above most dogs who enter the shelter come in with little-to-no information. The shelter staff will assign them a name or intake number for their records.

I was a volunteer for over 6 months in a rural animal shelter. The only dogs who came in with their original name were owner surrendered. Meaning the owner no longer wanted them.

We strived to create a fresh start for them by changing their name as soon as possible. 80% of dogs who came in with their original name were given a new name by the shelter staff, they all responded well to the name change. Most adopters even changed their names again once they got them home and got to know them better.

It is beneficial to the dogs who do come in with their original name to have a name change because often their old name is associated with abuse and neglect from their former owners.

A new name can often be the first positive connection and interaction that some dogs have ever had with a human. It can initiate a bond and trust that can be crucial in mending their emotional scars.

How Do You Teach a Dog Its New Name?

Repetition and positive reinforcement are the keys to helping your new adopted fur baby adjust to their new name. I recommend not ever using their old name if you don’t have to. If you have already selected a name before meeting them, use that name.

Tone can be another huge factor. My dad used to always say, “I could call your dog a rock in a cute voice, and he would come.” For some dogs, this may be true.

If you are a pet owner, then you probably have several nicknames for them that sound nothing like their actual name but when you use the goofy baby talk they love it.

The “baby voice,” can be a huge asset in helping them to learn their name. Don’t be afraid to sound goofy and squealy. Some dogs may not like squealy, so in these cases, you may have to keep things lowkey and calm.

Their New Name is the First Step Toward Bonding.

Have patience. It is a huge transition for a shelter dog to go from a chaotic loud shelter to a new home with new people and things to learn.

Use the new name as much as possible. Say the new name, and if they respond, give them a treat. It’s important to find a toy or treat that they really like.

Repeat this over and over again. Repetition is the key! Use the new name when playing with toys, feeding meals, and interacting in general.

Making the new name a fun and rewarding experience is the most important! Make sure everyone in the household is a part of this training. Even strangers can help by offering a treat along with the new name.

Sometimes, This May Not Work…

Some dogs (although I have never experienced any myself), may never take to a new name. If after multiple training sessions and weeks of work your new pup still isn’t responding to his or her new name or is becoming distressed by the attempted change, it may be time to go back to the name, they had at the shelter.

You could also try to find a name that is similar to the name they had before if you know it. For instance, if their name was, Jack you could try Mack. Or if their name was Sandy you could try Sammy.

The comfort and security of your new pet must be the most important part of your relationship, otherwise, they may become distrustful of you.

How To Pick The Perfect Dog Name?

Many factors go into selecting the PERFECT dog name. Age, gender, size, color, and ultimately personality. There are also a few other basic suggestions for choosing a dog’s name:

  • Choose a 2 syllable name, names that are too long are simply too much to shout if you need to quickly get their attention.
  • Avoid names with negative connotations.
  • Try not to select a name that is too similar to another pet, child, or friend’s name.
  • Try to avoid names that sound like a command like “Bo” or “Joe,” to your pup this may sound like No.
  • Make it unique! Nothing is worse than being at the dog park yelling Max or Bella and being greeted by 10 other furry pups!
  • Personality is important when selecting a name. For instance, it may be funny to name your sweet little Chihuahua “Killer,” when they are a puppy, but it is not fair to them when they are older because others may truly fear them.
  • Think long term. You want to choose a name that can and will grow with the dog if they are young.
  • Let the family help with the naming process. This can be fun and also help to encourage shared responsibility and a relationship with everyone in the family.
  • Using your pet’s ancestry such as Germany for a Schnauzer or Scotland for a Border Collie can also be a fun and creative way to get a unique name.

Some dogs may be more difficult to name than others. If you don’t already have a few names lined up, then take your time. Spend a few days with them to get to know them. Their personality, likes, dislikes, and funny quirks.

Picking the perfect name is a big deal. This is the name they are going to have forever! So, don’t feel bad if your new dog goes unnamed for up to a week! It’s okay to go through a few different ones until you find the one that fits. Just be cautious that you don’t confuse them. They are already going through a pretty big transition. Ultimately, they will just be happy to have a chance at a happy life and a forever home out of the shelter! 

April

I'm an avid animal lover, former veterinary assistant, and blogger. My undergraduate work included a pre-veterinary curriculum and some graduate work along those lines as well from Cal Poly in Pomona, CA (GO BRONCOS!). These days I blog about all sorts of animal-related topics. Many I have or currently personally own, some I don't but am just interested in. Nothing in this blog should be construed as veterinary advice. I am a 100% advocate that if you think something is wrong with your pet, take it to a vet.

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