Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Renaming Your Rescue Dog

A frequent question those in rescue hear from new adoptees, is whether or not it's 'okay' to rename their dog.  As people, our names have value and many of us aren't quick to assume to rename a dog.  Often we desperately want to, and look for approval in that action.  Even if we don't like our own names, we know they come with a story and have grown to define us.  Beyond the symbolism, we grow concerned that our new pets will deal with enough new change, let alone a new name to learn!

I think first we have to admit that our dogs aren't humans, and won't lament at a new name.  "Darn, I really liked Sparky.  I can't believe this new lady is calling me Sam!"  Secondly, dogs on the whole seem to identify with inflection and tone.  You can say 'No' in a certain way, and 'Joe' the same way, and they will likely hear the same thing.  (This is often why trainers advise against using a pet's name when we scold them.. so they identify definite negative words or sounds with something definitely wrong!)  When I was a little girl, my dad would call to my dog, "Do you wanna' go for a ride in the truck?!" to which my dog would react.. well, how you can assume!  My brother and I quickly learned that by saying any random arrangement of words in the same way would yield the same result.. "To ew kanna go por a wide in the ruck?", etc.  Looking back, perhaps we shouldn't have teased him so!

Dawn, our beloved founder who passed, always recommended people rename the dogs they adopted from her.  "A new start," she'd say.  On the whole still symbolic, as they may not recognize the change.  All the same, perhaps they do.. for the same reasons I mentioned above regarding using a dog's name while we scold them.  We should never truly 'scold' pets..  all corrections should be done in an authoritative, calm manner.  But perhaps your rescue dog's name was used negatively in the past.  Perhaps the previous owners were awful, and the only way they've heard their name in the past has negative connotations.  If a cruel owner yelled at 'Buck' all day long, well surely that word means something awful and brings with it bad associations.

It becomes almost easier to identify when we should actually keep their names versus renaming them.  If our dogs came from healthy, loved backgrounds and were surrendered for innocently enough reasons, likely their existing name is okay.  All the same, that shouldn't mean you need to feel obligated to keep it.  I've heard and read many times that great pet names are those which are simple, and ideally 1-2 syllables so they are easier to recognize.

Never forget that whatever name your dog has, or will have, it grows easily accustomed to all the ridiculous things you will no doubt end up calling him anyway!  They learn..  and they learn that all the silly nicknames mean the same thing.. 'Come here for some hugs!' or 'good boy!'.  Even if you keep 'Tommy' named 'Tommy', you may no doubt end up calling him 'My little Tommers' or something silly and awesome.  Before you know it, he responds to 'Tom Tom' and is no worse for wear!

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