“They named him ‘Baby’ and I just hate it. I feel so silly calling him that, but obviously I can’t change his name. He’s already three years old.” It’s not surprising that my client, a new owner of a 130-pound full-grown Hungarian Kuvasz wasn’t that crazy about the name ‘Baby.’ It’s common to adopt an adult dog with a name that doesn’t really thrill you, and many people have soldiered on for the rest of the dog’s life, stuck with a name that they just don’t feel right about.
There’s good news, though: If you don’t like your dog’s name, you can change it. Period. It’s easy to do it and it causes no harm to the dog. Dogs can have multiple names and respond to each one, as is the case in many homes where the dog is called by his actual name as well as variations by different members of the household.
Changing a dog’s name is one of the easiest parts of adopting and training a new dog. Here’s how you do it. Start by saying the new name and giving him something great like a piece of chicken, a belly rub, or a play session if he looks at you. This teaches him to love hearing his new name and responding to it. Most dogs learn a new name within a few weeks if you do this multiple times each day, and some learn it in just a couple of sessions. Progress will be faster if you avoid using the name for no reason and also refrain from associating it with anything bad.
Names like Baby, Poopsie, and Pudding are often not popular with new adopters. On other extreme, many people feel a mismatch when they adopt a dog who has been going by Killer, Spike, or Vengeance. I knew a family who adopted a dog named Spot, and chose to change it. They could not imagine why someone would give their dog this cliché of a name. A year later, they learned from the rescue group where they adopted their dog that the couple who had surrendered him had been named Dick and Jane, which made the choice of Spot for the dog’s name seem not just understandable, but almost obvious.