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What approaches and evidence is there that you can teach a dog a new name?

I am looking for specific techniques and sources that validate such claim.

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We have adopted 3 rescue dogs over the past five years; we taught each one of them their new names in a short amount of time by associating their new name with good stuff.

According to this article, dogs do not get personally attached to names like humans do; it's what the name is associated with, this is why experts recommend not using the dogs name if they are being reprimanded.

My source goes on to explain that we still do not know for 100% certain what goes on inside a dogs head, but we can deduce that a dog probably learns to associate the sound of their name the same way they associate things like their toys, the leash, or grabbing the keys to the car with good or bad feelings.

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As @Zaralynda commented, part of the answer can be found in this question: How can I tell if my cat knows his name?

However I don't think you are considering the right problem. There is no difference between teaching a dog a new name and teaching a dog his name. What is "teaching a name" in the first place?

The fact that we have to teach/re-teach its name to the dog actually tells the difference between dogs and humans: dogs learn their name by association (a sound associated with other actions on our part, he learns to perform an action on his own) while we know our name. The whole concept is totally different, dogs don't have the same level of self-consciousness as we have (reference, among others and references cited in the book).

So, as dogs don't understand verbal language and learn by association it is pretty easy to teach them their name, once you've defined what you expect them to do (usually look at you), see the other question mentioned above and my answer.

All of this suggests also that we usually overuse our dogs name. Depending on the way we say it/yell it, we expect the dog to understand subtleties such as "don't do this", "come here", etc. If the dog associates his name clearly, he won't be able to guess what we mean, if he understands clearly the tone of our voice, then its name becomes part of the ambient noise.

So we should not tell his name when we want to reprimand him. Of course we'll use it when we pet him, etc. so it is good practice to reinforce the action of looking at us when we say its name (he usually start training sessions with a few repetitions of that exercise every other day, or when perfecting his leash-training).

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  • I am totally with you that a name is something different for a dog than for a human. It is really just an association for dogs. But we are learning our name, too. We do not know our names from birth, we are learning it, because our parents teaching it us. But afterwards we start to identify us with the name. I am not sure when this process starts, but I can imagine that it has something to do with growing in self-counsciousness. – Haras Brummi Dec 12 '17 at 12:02
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I read a book about assistance dogs for blind people. Because of some circumstances, the assistance dog had to have a new name. When the trainer wanted to have his attention, he started to call him with the new name first. For example the dog's name was Henry but shall be Fred. Than he said: "Fred Henry, come here" Or "Fred Henry, sit". Or just "Fred Henry" and if the dog watched, he gave him a treat. After a while, when he recognized that he already had the attention of the dog when he said "Fred...", he stopped calling him Henry. How long it has to be trained depends on how intelligent the dog is, on the discipline of the trainier using both names and on the frequency of trainings.

We had a family dog named Ronja. She was really intelligent. When she did something funny or sweet we did not say "Look at Ronja, isn't that sweet" to the other family members, because if we did that, she stopped doing that and looked at us. So we started calling her "Hundevieh" (the english translation "damned dog" is much too hard, not comparable to the german meaning or emotion, but yes, it is not a common nickname). We used this nick just when we talked about her. We never teached her this name. But after some years it did not work any more. Ronja knew that we meant her by saying this name. She learned a new name.

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