What is the Best Way to Rename a Dog?

R. Kayne

It is actually very easy for a dog to learn a new name, which is good news if you need to rename a dog! Rescued dogs, adopted dogs, and dogs that are placed, such as retired greyhounds, often learn new names when starting out in their new lives. In cases of mistreated dogs, it might even be “therapeutic” to rename it, as the old name will likely be associated with abuse.

Border Collies are extremely intelligent, so they should easily adapt to a new name.
Border Collies are extremely intelligent, so they should easily adapt to a new name.

Some people suggest that the new name should rhyme with or sound similar to the old name to make it easier for the dog, but this is unnecessary. When you rename a dog, the dog remembers the new name because of positive associations – interactions associated with the name. The name itself is meaningless, making it just as easy for a dog to learn the name “Jack” as “Sir Lancelot.” Feel free to rename your dog whatever you like.

Dogs that are high-strung or have been abused might require extra time to catch on to a new name.
Dogs that are high-strung or have been abused might require extra time to catch on to a new name.

If you know the dog’s old name, the best way to rename a dog is to follow the old name with the new one for a week or so. For example, if the dog’s old name is “Barker” and the new name is “Theo,” call the dog by saying, “Barker Theo,” stressing the last name. As you praise and pet the dog, use the new name repeatedly and exclusively. Use phrases like, Theo’s a good boy! and Does Theo want a treat? If the dog looks away, call his familiar name, and when you have his attention, repeat the question using his new name. Many dogs will learn to respond to the new name in just a few days.

Dogs can easily learn new names.
Dogs can easily learn new names.

You might be forced to rename a dog because the original name is unknown. In this case, associate the new name with positive attention as above, and repeat the name often while having direct eye-to-eye interaction. The dog will learn to pay attention quickly if his or her new name comes with attention, praise, petting, playing, treats, and meals. To get the dog’s attention, you may have to whistle or clap. Once the dog is looking at you, use his or her new name lavishly and enthusiastically.

Positive reinforcement in the form of edible treats often helps a dog learn a new name.
Positive reinforcement in the form of edible treats often helps a dog learn a new name.

Dogs are intelligent animals with a wide emotional array. They are loyal and protective, and they can become jealous, excited, nervous, happy, and depressed. Just like people, every dog has a different personality. When you rename a dog, be patient if your animal companion takes a little longer to come around. Dogs that have been abused or displaced or those that are high strung by nature might require more time to make the associations. Persevere with positive reinforcement, and your pooch will catch on!

It may be therapeutic to rename a rescued dog.
It may be therapeutic to rename a rescued dog.

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Discussion Comments


I recently got a dog named Hawkeye from the shelter. I'm not a fan. I'll try out Sam with the tips above.


So a former roommate who is, and always has been, a real irritating fellow (to put it nicely) had to leave for a few months on business and decided not to take his dog. Along with not taking his dog, he didn't leave any instructions of care on the animal.

So we renamed it. He wasn't too happy when he got home to a dog that didn't listen or go near him and two roommates who gave him notice the following week.

Remember folks, name on a lease is not a license to be a jerk.


One thing I've always found kind of odd is those people who name every single dog they have the same name. I guess I can understand if it's a tradition, and I'm sure it makes calling them easier, but still, wouldn't it make you sad to name your new dog the same name as one that you had that died?

I guess that's just not for me.


I once adopted a dog who had kidney failure, and after getting him all nursed back to health we decided to rename him in honor of his recovery.

It may not be the most creative name in the world, but we went with Lucky -- because that's what he certainly was after recovering from such a serious disease!


One good tip to keep in mind when you're naming or renaming a dog is that dogs respond the best to one syllable names with consonants at the beginning and the end.

It's easier for them to pick up on a name like Jack, Sam, or Gus, since it's short and has a clear beginning and end. This makes it easier to train them too, since they can hear their name more easily and distinguish it from commands.

This is another thing to bear in mind when naming a dog -- you probably don't want to give it a name that's going to be too close to any command you may give it. For instance, if you plan on teaching your dog to roll, then Rolo probably isn't the best name, since that will be confusing to them. They won't be able to tell it you're instructing them or calling them.

Just some things to bear in mind...


I rescued a pit bull named demon. Despite his name, he is the nicest most docile dog.

When I first got him, I decided to rename him. He is black with a pink nose and eyelids. He has a couple of scars on his face and across his back. He also has white socks and a white diamond above his nose. As you can guess, he looks a little intimidating, and with a name like Demon, it takes a little while for people to warm up to him.

I tried for about a month to get him to take the name Roscoe, but he wouldn't respond to anything else. We decided to let him keep his name. It doesn't really suit him, but he's an awkward dog so for that reason it suits him.

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