Downeast Dog News

What’s in a Name - The Importance of Choosing and Using Your Dog's Name Wisely

By Don Hanson, ACCBC, BFRAP, CDBC, CPDT-KA | Jul 01, 2019
Photo by: Debra Bell

Your dog’s name is an essential signal you will use when you want to communicate with him. At its most basic, to your dog it means, “pay attention to whoever said my name,” and if you want it to work at its best, it should mean, “paying attention to whoever says my name results in yummy rewards!”

Choosing A Name for Your Dog

If you adopt a puppy from a breeder or a shelter, you will be able to name him anything you want. However, I suggest you spend some time thinking about the name you pick. There are personal factors to consider, as well as practical considerations.

Practical Considerations for a Puppy Name

Choose a name that is at most two syllables; a name that is short and distinct. While Princess Margaret could be a marvelous name for a dog, its length may make it less effective. I would suggest you use Princess, Maggie, or Mags for training. Short names are easier for dogs to recognize.

Choose a name that is unique and will not sound like a verbal cue you use for training or the name of someone in your home. For example, “Clown” could be a great name for a dog that is an incessant goofball. However, it sounds like the verbal cue, “Down.” That could make things confusing for your beloved Clown, so perhaps “Goofy” would be a better name. Avoid selecting a name that is similar to the names of others, animals or people, that live in your household. Having a Joe, Moe, and Beau all in the same house could become very confusing. Moreover, those names also sound like “No,” a word that most pet parents use far too often — [Sidebar on the word NO].

• If you follow the above suggestions, your dog’s name can be anything you want it to be.

Practical Considerations for an Older Dog

Most older dogs we bring into our families will already have a name. If the dog already responds cheerfully to his name, keep the name even if you are not fond of it. We adopted our dog Shed when she was five years old. We were told the name was an abbreviation for Sh**head, which was definitely a reason to not like the name. However, Shed responded to that name with joy and enthusiasm, so that remained her name.

Our dog Muppy was picked up as a stray in Mississippi when she was about 18 months old. She was pregnant so went into a foster home for 8-weeks where she was named Marlene. Somewhere between her foster home and her transfer to a rescue in New Hampshire, she became Molly. When we got her, she did not respond to either name and so we took some time to get to know her personality. After about a week, she became “Muppy.” She has been with us for six years now, and everyone agrees the name suits her well.

Personal Considerations

It’s your dog so you can name her anything you want; however, other family members may wish to have a voice in the matter. I suggest the adults have veto power so that they can ensure that the name is practical as noted above. For example, it is entirely within the realm of possibility for a child to believe that “Mister Fancy Fluffy Pants” is the best name ever, but I suggest you meet them halfway. Get the puppy something (a bowl, a bed, a collar, etc.) labeled “Mister Fluffy Pants” but agree to use something shorter for training, perhaps “Fluffy.” Whatever you choose for everyday use is the name that should be on your dog's ID tag and microchip records.

If you got your puppy from a breeder who will register the litter, the breeder might have a say in the puppy’s registered name. Our Golden Retriever, Tikken, was bred by Mariner Kennels and was born on Martin Luther King Day. Mariner considered her to be part of the “Freedom” litter and wanted her registered name to include the words “Mariner” and “Freedom.” Our choice for Tikken’s registered name was “Mariner Freedom Fighter,” which led us to the name Tikken < FMI – >.

Do not feel compelled to choose your dog’s name on the first day or before you bring your puppy home. However, recognize that you do not want to wait too long. From the moment my wife and I met Gus before we chose to take him home, we knew he was a “Gus.” The longer he was with us, the more we were convinced we chose wisely. With Tikken, Dulcie, and Muppy, it took us some time to select the name that suited them.

Practical Considerations for All Dogs

NEVER use your dog’s name in anger or frustration. Doing this just once may cause your dog to want to avoid you. It can take lots of work to recover from this mistake.

Frequently reward your dog with food for responding to his name < FMI – < >



Many dogs hear the word “NO” far more often than they get a reward for doing something their person wants or like. The more you reward a behavior you like, the more often it will occur. To address a behavior you do not like, manage to prevent it. It is that simple.



Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( ) in Bangor, ME where he has been helping people with their pets since 1995. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC), and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). Don is a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) and is committed to PPG’s Guiding Principles and the Pain-Free, Force-Free, and Fear-Free training, management, and care of all pets. Don produces and co-hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show, that airs on Z62 Retro Radio WZON (AM620) and WKIT 103.3-HD3 and is streamed at every Saturday at 9 AM. Podcasts of the show are available at, the Apple Podcast app, and at Don’s blog: The opinions in this post are those of Don Hanson.