Adopting an older dog can be the ideal addition to your family. Not only are you giving the dog a new and loving home, but it will give you love, companionship and so much more in return. It will take time for you both to learn to communicate effectively with one another, however – for the dog to learn your commands and expectations and for you to learn your dog's personality and behavioral quirks. Both sides of that communication start with the dog's name – but how can you change a dog's name after it has recognized a different name for years?
Choosing a New Name for Your Dog
You may never know your dog's old name, but if you do, it can be helpful to choose a new name that sounds similar to help your dog recognize its new moniker. Similar sounds such as the same first initial, the same number of syllables, the same vowels or a new name that rhymes with the old name will be easiest for the dog to recognize and learn. For example, if the dog's former name is Roger, Robber or Dodger could be a good new name.
If you don't know the dog's former name, however, you can still choose a new name for an older dog without difficulty. Opt for a name that is bold to pronounce so the dog will hear it clearly, and choose a name that is distinct from other pets or human family members so there will be no confusion if the dog hears different names. If you have another pet named Casper, for example, names like Jasper or Cap would not be easy options for your new dog to learn.
Speaking Your Dog's New Name
How you use your dog's new name is the most important factor in helping your pet learn to recognize and respond to its new name. Use a firm, commanding tone of voice when speaking your dog's name, but be sure to use a positive tone rather than a sharp or negative tone that could be frightening or discouraging. You want your dog's name to catch their attention, but not to scare, confuse or anger your pet.
Training Your Dog to Learn a New Name
There are a number of tricks you can use to help your dog learn a new name. Once you have decided on the new name…
Use the name frequently so the dog has more opportunities to hear and recognize its new name. Address your dog by name when praising, feeding and playing with your pet, always using the same good tone of voice so it is easy to recognize the name.
Keep the name consistent every time you address your pet. Do not use nicknames or other endearments, which will just confuse your dog and make it more difficult for them to learn a new name. Be sure all family members are using the dog's name consistently.
Use positive reinforcement whenever your dog correctly responds to its new name. Praise, treats, petting and other attention can teach your dog that it has behaved well when it reacts properly to its new name, and it will learn how important that name is.
Try short training sessions to teach your dog its new name. A quick training session of just 3-5 minutes can help focus your dog's attention on its new name without creating frustration or boredom with repetitive commands.
Avoid bad associations with your dog's new name. Do not use your dog's name when reprimanding or disciplining your pet, or they may learn to fear the name and will not respond to it effectively when the name is used positively.
All older dogs can learn new names, but they may not all learn a new name at the same time or as easily. Depending on the name and how you use it, it may take just a few days for your pet to adjust to a new name, or it could take several weeks for the dog to feel comfortable with a new name. In time, however, your dog will recognize its new name and there won't be any confusion with what to call your beloved pet.