Does it make a difference what name you choose for your dog? Yes, it does. If you know in advance that you will be adopting a dog, take time over the choice of a name. Start using that name when you first meet the dog. Your dog will learn the new name quickly and will more easily learn how things work at your house because the new name signifies a new lifestyle.

The dog’s name is a word you’ll say many times over a period of years. Make it a word with meaning for you. Choose a word that will please you to say and see written.

A good name for your dog will help the two of you bond, and it will help everyone who hears the name have a higher opinion of your dog. If you want your neighbors to trust your dog around their little kids, don’t name the dog “Rabies”! An aggressive-sounding name for your dog leaves the impression that you value aggressive behavior in a dog. How would that play out in court in a case of someone having been injured if you were accused of knowing previously that your dog was dangerous? Perhaps not in your favor.

Dogs do not mind when we change their names. They have no “identity” connected to their names. They’re not embarrassed by other dogs teasing them about their names! It’s just a familiar sound that means you want the dog’s attention. At least, that’s what it needs to mean. Dog names should not mean they need to go hide from your wrath! If you create that meaning of the name, you’ll have trouble getting the dog to come when called!

If you like your dog’s name, you’ll say it with a positive tone that helps your relationship with the dog. It signifies that the dog means a lot to you, enough to take time over choosing the name.

Many people wait until they get a dog and then name the dog for looks or behavior. Thus we have “Whitey,” “Inky,” “Cocoa,” “Red,” “Spot,” “Tippy,” “Bitsy,” “Moose,” “Boots,” “Chewy,” “Digger,” “Lucky,” “Scamp”—you get the idea. Leading names for dogs, if choosing a common name is your preference, are “Max” and “Maggie.” If any one of these is a name that will make you think of your dog fondly and smile when you say the name, then for you it may be a fine choice.

Let’s look at some practical matters about the use of a dog’s name. If your dog has a registered name, the call name does not have to match it or derive from it. The breeder has criteria for registered names that help identify the breeding when people in the breed make genetic decisions about matings. You may not be involved in choosing the registered name, which is fun to do. Then “Tacara’s Kinsman Redeemer” can be the registered name for a dog whose call name is “Redeemer.” But if the dog was already named by the breeder as “Tacara’s Gallant Griffey,” it’s perfectly fine for the call name you choose to be “Gabriel,” even if he IS gallant, and DOES love to play ball!

Dogs need nicknames, and may have several over the course of their lives. These names can be used in play with the dog when you are not saying “Listen up, here comes a command!” Nicknames can also work well during veterinary care when you want to elicit the dog’s cooperation but not make it a command.

Nicknames can also be used when you’re talking to someone about the dog and don’t want to get the dog’s attention. By doing this too often, you would be giving “false alarms” that eventually cause the name to lose its pay-attention meaning to your dog. You will also want a name to tell someone you’re about to give the dog a bath or put stuff into ears, without tipping off the dog. You will want to vary this name so the dog doesn’t get wise to it.

If at any time you feel you don’t like the dog’s name for some reason, the dog will adjust quite easily to a change. Dogs go by the “call me anything as long as you call me to dinner” philosophy. When you associate the dog’s name with good things, the dog will learn it in a couple of days. Your body language also helps the dog recognize you’re talking to him or her. Those of us who have had multiple dogs often get the name for the dog we’re addressing wrong, and the dog almost always responds anyway because of our body language.

For best results, make names and nicknames positive. You will address your dog in a more positive tone if the word is positive. Even your body language will be more positive. Call your dog for good things. The usual advice is to never use the dog’s name in a negative manner. In real life, though, especially if you have multiple dogs, you may find yourself occasionally needing to say the dog’s name combined with a “Stop doing that” command.

This could include “Leave it,” a cue that every dog needs to learn for safety. When the dog obeys this command, praise the dog immediately, using the name. And make a point of using the name frequently for other positive situations. That will compensate for occasionally (not constantly!) using it to get the dog to stop an undesired behavior. Remember that the best course is always to get the dog to do a desired behavior rather than dwell on correcting the undesired one. This results in a better behaved, happier, and more stable dog.

The sound of the name may make a difference to the dog’s response. Soft dogs seem to respond more quickly to softer-sounding works, such as those with “S” sounds and those that end with an “E” sound. (Thus perhaps some dogs respond well to “Max,” “Maggie,” and “Muffy.”) Practice saying and listening to a name to see if you can comfortably speak it.

If you plan to do some sort of rapid-fire work with your dog, a one-syllable name you can say quickly may be a good choice. Two and even three syllable names work fine, too, though, especially for companion dogs. You can also draw out the length of a short name or shorten the length of a longer name by the nicknames you use for particular situations. “Gabriel” could be pronounced “Gab-rel,” or softened to the nickname “Gaby.”

Ideas for Finding Good Names

A good name for your dog is a name you find meaningful and positive. Consider looking for names in lists (on the Internet, in books, polling friends, listening to songs, movies, television—everywhere there are words) where you would find words from one of the following categories:

  • Names of places that have meaning to you
  • Movies, plays, books and television: characters, titles, themes, settings
  • Reference materials about subjects you enjoy: read or skim for words in the text; look through the glossary, table of contents, index, resource list, links, illustrations, etc.
  • Terms from a sport or hobby you love
  • Words from favorite songs, poems, or traditional stories
  • Terminology from your work or other work that interests you
  • Human names you like or names of people you admire
  • Words related to your faith, patriotism or other ideals
  • Words from history or culture of significance to you
  • Attributes or principles you value (“Honor,” “Hope,” “Buddy,” “Pal,” “Amigo,” “Justice,” “Mercy”)
  • Words in other languages
  • Words from nature (“Star,” “River,” names of plants, “Cirrus,” “Rainbow,” “Snowflake,” “Mesa,” “Meadow,” “Wildflower”)
  • Words referring to your favorite holidays or seasons (“Valentine,” “Noel,” “Dreidle,” “Easter,” “Saint Nick,” “Patrick,” “Shamrock”)

Work of Heart

Your dog’s name can be of great significance if you make it so. It can remind you always of a special animal and a unique relationship. Your life will change through the years and every dog is different, so you will never have a relationship just like this one.

Every moment with these animals whose lives are so short compared to ours is a moment to learn from and to create a good memory. The name and nicknames you choose for your dog will become connected with memories your dog leaves with you long after passing from the earth. Finding a name you love for your dog will add pleasure and meaning to both of your lives.