Can you change a dog's name?

April 19, 2024 - 7 min read
A drawing of a fluffy white dog is presented alongside a name tag. The name tag says "Hello My Name Is" printed at the top. Below, the name 'Simon' is crossed out, and below that is the name ‘Mr. Fluffers’.

For some pet parents, naming a dog can be as simple as choosing between “Bella” and “Daisy” and calling it a day. For others, it can be as momentous and arduous as picking the perfect name for a new baby.

Things can get even more challenging when your pup enters your life with an existing name assigned by a previous owner, breeder, or shelter. What if the name doesn’t quite align with the fresh start you envision together or simply doesn’t capture your dog’s furry essence? And on the flip side, what if changing their name creates unanticipated problems?

Energetic Australian Cattle Dog mixed breed dog on grey background

On April 3, 2024, ManyPets used consumer research platform Attest to survey more than 1,000 pet parents who adopted a dog with an existing name.

We explored their motivations for changing their doggos’ names (or keeping them the same); the creative inspirations they drew upon when picking a new moniker; how their dogs adapted to their name change; and the unexpected complexities that emerged. 

Let’s dive in.

How many people rename their dogs?

Fewer adoptive pet parents opt for a name change than you might expect. Only one-third (33%) of dog parents in our survey chose to rename their pups. 

This is still a significant percentage, of course. For pet parents who do choose renaming, the decision is often aimed at aligning the dog's name more closely with its personality or with the family's dynamics.

For pet parents who do choose renaming, the decision is often aimed at aligning the dog's name more closely with its personality or with the family's dynamics.

In the long run, it’s fairly rare for a dog to struggle with a name change. Dogs are remarkably adaptable creatures, often capable of learning and responding to new names with ease.  This flexibility opens up opportunities for owners to select names that they feel are a better fit for their pets’ personalities and the roles they play within the home.

Reasons why owners change their dogs’ names

So what drives a dog owner to choose a new name for their pet? The reasons are varied. 33% of the survey respondents who opted for a name change did so because they believed a different name would better capture the dog's unique personality or appearance. 

There were two reasons that were more common, however: 

  • 35%: The whole family came together to reach a consensus choice

  • 41%: “I just liked the new name better.” (Okay, fair enough.)

Interestingly enough, 7% of owners made the change to sever negative associations linked to the previous name. It’s understandable: For many rescued dogs, their names may carry the burden of a troubled past, and a new name may symbolize a break from those hardships and a hopeful step towards a nurturing future. 

For many rescued dogs, their names may carry the burden of a troubled past, and a new name may symbolize a break from those hardships and a hopeful step towards a nurturing future. 

Ultimately, a dog’s name is more than just a label; it's an acknowledgment of their place in a family and a marker of identity. It’s no surprise that pet parents often choose a name that complements the dog’s persona and their family's values—or a name that’s just kind of adorable.

Where do we get our dog name ideas?

So how do dog owners decide on a new name for their canine companions?

As it turns out, the sources of inspiration can be pretty diverse. 50% of dog parents said they simply liked the sound of the new name.  It’s not surprising: Pet parents use their dogs’ names in everything from commands to praise, so it's important to choose a name that’s enjoyable to say (and hear).  

Meanwhile, 35% cited their dog’s characteristics or personality as their biggest inspiration. (“Princess” was a top choice.) Other sources of inspiration included book/movie/TV characters (18%—shout-out to Nala), family/personal namesakes (13%), and even historical figures (9%—looking at you, Winston).

A white and grey Schnoodle dog on a beige background

Regardless of inspiration, changing a dog's name isn't without its complexities. Choosing a name based on a favorite character or good-old-fashioned auditory appeal may provide a fresh start, but it also initiates a transition period for pets and their parents.  

The process of teaching a dog a new name can be a delicate one, especially if the dog has already responded to a previous name for years. 

How dogs adapt to new names

If you were suddenly forced to change your name, you might be in for a challenging adjustment. But our canine companions boast astonishing degrees of cognitive flexibility. Of all the name-changed canines in our survey, 73% were able to adjust to their new names in just a few days. 

Of all the name-changed canines in our survey, 73% were able to adjust to their new names in just a few days. 

This rapid adaptation highlights a dog's innate ability to form new associations quickly, a skill that helps them fit into new environments and bond with their new familiesrapidly. However, not all dogs adjust at the same pace.

About 18% took a more gradual approach, slowly coming to recognize their new names over several weeks. A further 3% needed several months, and another 3% were still struggling to make the adjustment, according to respondents.   

This period of adaptation often involves a deliberate process of reinforcement from the new owners, who may use treats, praise, and affection to positively reinforce the dog’s response to the new name. Factors like a dog's age, past experiences, and training methods can influence how quickly and effectively the dog responds to the change.

A close up of a Lurcher dog's face on a beige background

Challenges of renaming your dog

Renaming a dog isn't always smooth sailing. Of the survey respondents who were encountering difficulties with the adjustment process, 36% reported that their dogs appeared confused at times, and another 36% said their dogs didn’t always respond to their new names. This confusion can disrupt training routines, basic recall, and everyday socializing, making it difficult for dogs to understand what’s expected of them.

Perhaps more intriguingly, 27% of owners observed that their dogs seemed to respond more readily to their previous names. This phenomenon is generally most common in dogs whose previous names were used during significant periods of their lives, such as during early training or while forming initial bonds. 

Despite their adaptability, dogs do have strong memories. 

Strategies for successful dog name changes

Renaming a dog isn’t always easy. Your dog can benefit greatly from a strategic and empathetic approach. Dog parents need to use the new name consistently during positive interactions to help forge strong new associations. 

You should call them by their new name during enjoyable activities such as feeding, playing, enrichment, or other affectionate moments. This helps build a strong, positive connection with the name, as well as quicker recognition. 

Remember, positive reinforcement is a cornerstone of any effective name change strategy. Rewarding your dog with treats, praise, or affection when they respond to their new name helps lock in their good behavior

Remember, positive reinforcement is a cornerstone of any effective name change strategy

For newly adopted dogs, or those without strong attachments to their old names, making a complete and immediate switch to the new name can be effective. Consistently using the new name and reinforcing it with positive interactions such as treats and praise can help the dog quickly associate the name with themselves, making for a smoother transition.

But if your dog shows a strong attachment to their old name or seems confused by a sudden change, consider a gradual transition. You might start by using both names interchangeably, or even together as a combined phrase —think “Buddy-Spike.” Then you can gradually increase the use of the new name while phasing out the old. This method can help ease your dog's stress and anxiety, which could lead to a gentler adjustment period.

What should you do if your dog is struggling with their name change?

Some dogs, particularly those with longstanding attachments to their previous names or those who have had significant experiences associated with them, may continue to respond better to their old names. In such cases, it may be wise to seek professional guidance. 

Dog trainers and behaviorists can provide customized advice and techniques tailored to the individual needs of the dog. Their expertise can be invaluable, offering structured approaches and modifications to standard practices that better suit specific situations.

A young Australian Shepherd puppy lies on a gray rug, chewing on a brown sock.

Among survey respondents who said their dogs had been struggling with the adjustment, 36% said they planned to continue working on name recognition training, and another 36% said they planned to consult a behaviorist. A handful of these brave souls—9%, to be exact—said they planned to try yet another new name.

Ultimately, you may simply find that your best bet is to retain your dog’s original name. Of the survey respondents who said they were struggling, 18% said they were thinking of doing just this. And remember, two thirds of respondents didn’t bother switching in the first place. 

Moving on with a fresh start

If you're considering a name change for your dog, remember that patience and consistency are your best tools. Use the new name positively and frequently, and reward your dog for their responsiveness. For those whose pets continue to struggle, keep in mind that resources like professional trainers are available to help guide you through the process.

Finally, remember that protecting your pet’s health is just as crucial as nurturing their identity. Dog insurance can help you stay prepared for every aspect of your pet's care, no matter what new adventures (or monikers) lie ahead.

David Teich
Lead Editor

David oversees content strategy and development at ManyPets. As Lead Editor, he focuses on delivering accurate information related to pet care and insurance. David’s editorial background spans more than a decade, including a pivotal role at Digiday, where he wrote content and managed relationships with media and tech companies. As an Associate Editor at Cynopsis Media, David wrote the Cynopsis Digital newsletter and interviewed executives and digital marketing experts in the TV industry. His background also includes film journalism. His diverse experiences in journalism and marketing underpins his role in shaping content within the pet care industry.