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I’m looking into adopting an adult dog from a shelter. As I’m looking through some of the ones available, I’m not always thrilled with the names they are given.

Is it possible to rename a dog so that they respond to a new name? And if so, is that an okay thing to do with the dog, or is it better for the dog’s well-being if they continue to be called by their original name?

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    I don't know about where you are but [R]SPCA's here rename dogs (& sell the cats without a name) – SAM A Feb 5 '18 at 10:05
  • Probably not the most important concern, but it took us like 4 years to get the county to finally admit that we were not the owner of "Gladys" when they sent us renewal/vaccination reminders. – Cort Ammon Feb 5 '18 at 15:32
  • The dog we got from the ARL was unfortunately named 'Wyatt Erp'....... so that had to go lol. He was only a year and a half at the time, and the shelter had provided him that name, so he wasn't used to Wyatt Erp anyway, so he was essentially 'nameless' when we got him. So changing it was not a problem. Changing names will only be slightly difficult for older dogs who have been called a certain name their entire life and now have to figure out a new one. – Tyler Dahle Feb 5 '18 at 17:08
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    "You can't rename a POKEMON you get in a trade. The name is a reflection of the original trainer's feelings for it." – Vaelus Feb 6 '18 at 1:38
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    @Octopus The dog changed the subject to whether or not they could get a treat and a belly rub. – Thunderforge Feb 6 '18 at 23:31
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It doesn't really matter. It's a training thing. You can make the dog respond to either name it might just take some time, especially for older dogs.

We adopted our second dog from a shelter and he was so conditioned on his name that he'd cower in fear hearing it, so changing it was not a question.

If you think about it, training a new name is basically just training a new command/word for "hey, attention".

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    As far as method, when we got our dog from the shelter we started by always calling her by her old name and new name together and then eventually dropped the old name. So when we got her she was "Carmela", then for a week or two she was "Carmela-Kira", and then she was just "Kira". – David K Feb 5 '18 at 15:21
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    "If you think about it, training a new name is basically just training a new command/word for 'hey, attention'." I'm not completely convinced by this. Put two dogs together, call one's name; the other will not respond to it. To me this may indicate a level of recognition of the meaning of a name; at the very least, it's clearly internalised as more than just a dumb command to listen up. – Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 5 '18 at 23:35
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit Isn't that just because one of them hasn't learned that particular command? If both of the dogs had the same name (i.e. had both learned the same 'hey, attention' command word), don't you expect they both would come? – GrandOpener Feb 6 '18 at 3:49
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit because if you said one's name and the other came, and then you told it to go away, it would learn "oh, this isn't a command for attention". – Tom Bowen Feb 6 '18 at 15:10
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit By my reading, Tom.Bowen89 and I expressed essentially the same idea. If you have Abe and Ben as your dogs, Abe learns that "Abe" means "hey, attention." Ben learns that "Ben" means "hey , attention." Abe may or may not have any idea what "Ben" means, but he knows it doesn't mean "hey, attention," since he was shoo'd away after he responded to it. Do dogs understand identity? Perhaps. But the behavior of responding to names is not sufficient evidence to demonstrate that they do. – GrandOpener Feb 7 '18 at 10:05
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Dogs respond to the vowel sounds more than the consonants. If you change the name but keep the same (or similar) vowel sounds, chances are it'll be completely seamless.

My uncle got a rescue dog named Sasha. My uncle was mentally handicapped, and had some trouble enunciating, so he started off with this sounding more like "Shasha". He and my mum decided to rename her to "Tasha", which he could pronounce. The dog never noticed the difference.

More of a problem, a number of years earlier, were the names of my gran's dog, my uncle's previous dog, and my sister. My sister is called Jenny, my uncle's dog was called Penny, and my gran's dog was officially called Venus but was always called Venny. My sister of course could hear her own name, so she didn't come when the dogs were called. But if someone called my sister, you'd typically also get both dogs arriving as well!

Or of course you can train them to recognise a completely new name, as Mario says. That'll take a little more effort, but it's not too hard.

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    In the neighborhood where I grew up there were six boys named "Robert". When one of our mothers called for her son she often got a work crew. :-) – Bob Jarvis - Reinstate Monica Feb 5 '18 at 17:58
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    @BobJarvis Reminds me of Too Many Daves by Dr Seuss. – Digital Trauma Feb 5 '18 at 20:00
  • Figured I should edit this to clarify that it was not the dog who was mentally handicapped. – T.E.D. Feb 7 '18 at 17:57
  • @T.E.D. Unless a reader might think the dog had problems saying its own name because it was mentally handicapped, I don't think that's a clarification you really need to make! :) I'm not seriously opposed, but I'm not convinced the edit would add anything. – Graham Feb 7 '18 at 18:45
  • I've had a dog or two that I was pretty sure was mentally deficient... – T.E.D. Feb 7 '18 at 22:33
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Yes, Both Gram and Mario have good answers about changing the name a dog already recognizes

But, many of the names that shelter pets have are not the names the grew up with. If the pet was surrendered by the owner who supplied the name when the pet was brought in AND if that name was not totally inappropriate, than the pet probably is using its "given" name. There is usually a surrender sheet filled out by the person who bring the pet in. Shelters that I have worked with usually let you see this, a copy of it may even accompany the pet.

Many pets arrive at shelters without history.

If the pet is using a name it got when it arrived at the shelter, it probably has not recognized it yet. You can change it without difficulty, to anything you think is most appropriate.

New life, new name, new home, happiness forever in the new forever home.

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  • ...particularly if the dog is young. Also, if the dog has a name that is very close to someone's name in your family, or to a common word or command you might give the dog, it would probably be a good idea to change it. – T.E.D. Feb 7 '18 at 18:00
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From personal experience I don't think it really matters, it just matter of time for dog to get trained to respond to a new name. I have rescued my staffy that at the time was 3 years old and her original name was Didi and it only took couple of months for her to fully get used to her new name which is Luna. I've got her now for 3 years and she doesn't even respond when I say her previous name - Didi. Some dogs might be different, but in my experience that wasn't a big issue.

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From my experience, dogs are rather bad at distinguishing words. They spend attention to the context, intonation, body language and number of syllables. If you say anything similar with the intonation of calling your dog, they will probably walk towards you.

Of course there are exceptions. Some dogs are better in that regard than others. However, the average dog doesn't really care.

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The dog will need to adjust to you, your family, and a new home. During that period they will adjust to new name if you want a new name. Learn a name is not harder than learn a command like sit.

I used to foster with a local adoption agency (they moved). Foster would care for the dog Monday through Friday and the dog was at the agency being shown on the weekends. A dog could be taken on trial or returned - they did not want a dog in a bad fit. I fostered a girl named Kitty that was just a mess. I had her for 8 weeks and during that time 2 trials returned her. The agency finally said would you just take her as she loves you and rejects anyone else. I said OK but I will not foster and they said fair enough. I gave her a stage name of Miss K and she responses to either.

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The criticalness of this really depends on the dog. I currently have a lab/beagle I inherited. I trained her to be fully therapy ceritifed (P.P. B+)... but she is not "bright". I love her, but she doesn't really understand her "name". She -does- understand and respond strongly to a very specific whistle that I use to call her in the wilderness. Pretty sure she thinks that's her "name". Which make sense as it's much more distinct than "words". She also responds stronger to hand signals than verbal commands.

That said... I have had, and known, dogs that immediately recognize thier English name. Even as young as 1 year. With a dog that smart and socially observant, if you call them something else I'm sure they will adjust shortly. Only downside I can think is getting confused when they hear thier old "name". Not a big deal, in my opinion, so long as no one is still actively calling them by old name.

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