~ ABC Dog School ~
   What we name a dog depends on our impression of the dog in question, or what sort of impression we want the dog to make on others, or even the impression we have of ourselves.  We may choose a macho name, a silly name, the name of a favorite celebrity or book character, something grandiose, smacking of heroism, or even something facetious.  I might call my Newfoundland, Tiny, or my Chihuahua, Killer. 
     It matters little to the dog what we call him, as long as we don't call him late for dinner.  (Sorry.  I couldn't resist.)  The truth is, a dog does not understand that his name is his label, his identity.  He has no such concept, nothing in his mental makeup that understands what a name is.  He hears a word, which to him is merely a sound that you make, and if we attach importance to it, teach him to respond to it, he gets the idea that when he hears it, he should listen up.  Something important will follow.

   What follows may be a command word, such as sit, come, down, or something like, let's go out, let's go in, do you want a treat?  A name is an attention word, and we need to teach the dog to respond to it.  We can do that by saying his name when he is close to us so that all he has to do is turn his head to look up at us, and then he gets a reward for doing that...praise and a treat.
     One of the most important commands is the recall..."Fido!  Come!"  If the dog has accepted me as his leader, his Alpha Wolf, so to speak, he will be much more cooperative.  And if the attention word I use has a hard sound to it, he will be more apt to pay attention to it.  A hard sound is more authoritative, just as correction sounds are hard sounds, as when his mama growled at him just before she nailed him with her teeth or paw.

   This doesn't mean that his name should sound like a growl or a correction.  In fact, we should not use the dog's name at all when correcting him.  A good stop-it sound is Aghhh!  Or Ah-ah-ah!  Or even, Stop it!  If the word used is No!, it should be said in an authoritative manner, for a dog only knows if we are pleased or displeased by the tone of our voice.  His name is neutral, and should be used primarily in a positive way, spoken in a firm but pleasant manner.  Still, "Granite! Come!" may get better results than, "Marshmallow! Here!"  We do want the little guy to take us seriously sometimes.
     Since our dogs do not equate a name with who they are, we can easily change it.  When I got my Irish Setter out of the pound, I knew his name was Gonzo because he had been a 4-H project in our club.  No one took Gonzo seriously.  Pairing this name with a breed of dog known for its clownish nature might seem like a good match, but it wasn't getting him any respect.  Or was that because he acted like a dodo in the obedience ring?  I figured Gonzo needed a new image, beginning with his name, and some serious obedience training.  We were going to show them what he was made of.  So Gonzo became Gunner and earned his CD title.

   The process of changing Gonzo's name involved using both names together for awhile...something like, Gonzogunner, or Gunnergonzo, as I recall.  Since then, I have rescued dogs from the pound, or taken in drop-offs, with not an inkling of the dog's former name.  For a person, changing identity would be somewhat traumatic, I suppose, but for the dog it is just a matter of learning a new attention word.  Even if one knows the dog's name and chooses to change it, the name response method described above would be helpful, and you could even do both.
     So we've considered the sound of the name, hard as opposed to soft, for the sake of being more apt to getting the dog's attention without screaming.  Another consideration is the length of the name, that is, how many syllables.  If you are never going to teach your dog any obedience commands, this might not be an issue.  But, if you are, try pairing any prospective name with the command words you will be using.  For instance, how does it sound to say something like, "Morning Glory, sit!" or "Dingleberry, Down!"  I have a friend who named her Siberian pup, Tornado.  It was probably a great name for him, except that when we started teaching him to heel, it was a bit of a mouthful.  So she ended up shortening it to 'Nado, which worked out okay.
     Three syllables can be too much, but one can seem too little.  When I rescued Bud and Lucky, Bud's name was, Ralph.  Well, I was married to a Ralph, and one Ralph in the household seemed like enough.  Besides that, I didn't really care for it as a name for a dog.  I guess I chose the name, Bud, because it seemed like it was in the same category as Ralph...sort of a good ol' boy kind of name. 

   But, the name seemed too short.  Not caring to call him Buddy, I added to it in the Walton manner.  You know, John-Boy, Kevin-Boy, or whatever the rest of the Walton boys were called.  Only I used the word Dog, instead of Boy, like my dad used to do.  So Bud became the Bud-Dog.  Then Gunner, who already had two syllables, became the Gun-Dog, and Duke, who had already become, Duker, became also, the Duker-Dog.  Things can get out of control sometimes.
    One name that was problematic for me was that of my little Jack Russell Terrier, Shea.  It would have been long enough for obedience training, not that I ever did any of that with him, but to me, a name that short just seems incomplete.  Like I've only begun to say it, but there's no more to come.  Shea is a soft sound, too, and Terriers need something hard, being somewhat obedience-challenged.  As for calling him, Shea-Dog, well, it just wasn't him.
     One day when we went to the vet, who happened to have been his vet before I got him, it was mentioned that his previous owner often called him Shea-Shea.  Ah hah!  She had difficulty with that short little name, too!  I had tried calling him Shaeffer, in an effort to remedy the problem, and that would have been as good a name as any, but I just didn't like it that much.  But now I had the answer.  And so that is why he went by Shea-Shea for the rest of his life.  In case you were wondering.
    Where I really messed up was with my first dog...Tater.  Now how in the world, you may ask, did I come up with that?  It happened this way.  I had been wracking my brain for just the right name for my my new puppy and nothing had gelled.  It had to be something special because I already loved him immensely, and we were going to be togethr for a very long time.
     One day, while he was lying on his back on my lap getting his fat little tummy rubbed, I came up with this little joke.  "Hey, let's call him Tater, cuz he's got a sprout!"  Well, my dad latched on to that, and because I didn't come up with anything else, that poor pup grew up answering to Tater. And Sprout.  And Tatelyba, because my kids couldn't pronounce Tater-Dog accurately in those days, which is what my dad called him.  This was not an awe-inspiring name, to be sure, but he wasn't an awe-inspiring dog.  He was, however, all that I needed him to be.
     Alas, I've not been blessed with good naming skills.  I didn't do too bad with Logan, Conner, Ivy, Harley, and Nikita, but there were others that I had to come up with fast because the vet needed something to put on the medical card, and I'm not a speed-thinker.  I figured I'd come up with something better, but it didn't happen, so there was Dottie, Busch, and Bud.  Perfectly good names, but not my style.  And then there was the Beagle who had two other names before I settled on, Dixie.
     When Tater was several years old, I met someone with a long-haired German Shepherd named Rommel, and I thought, "Now
there's a name!"  But, Rommel would never have been right for my dog.  Although his grandpa was a German Shepherd, Tater looked more like a Beagle. In all the years since then, a suitable dog for that name has not come my way, except one, who already went by the unlikely moniker of, Boop. And that was just too original to do away with!  Besides, he'd lived with it for seven years.  But, if I ever get a macho dog of German origins who needs a name, you can bet I'll call him, Rommel.
What's In a Name?
Copyright 2004 Carole J Sulser