What’s in a name: a trainer explains the importance of your dog’s name


My last several dogs had all been adults when I got them and had come with names, so when I finally got a puppy, I agonized over just the “right” name. I think it took me three weeks to finally settle on the call name “Merlin.” Why did I have such a hard time? Because your dog’s name is something you are going to use more than you could ever possibly imagine, and choosing the wrong name can cause trouble with training.

The Name Game

For most dogs, their name is the first thing they learn. With that in mind, it should be something easy to say and pronounce for you, as well as anyone else who may work with your dog.

Shorter is usually deemed better. In fact, dogs used for herding almost always only have one syllable names and rarely do they have three. You meet a lot of herding dogs name Bob!

The reason for this is that a short name is quick and easy to say. Since often you are saying your dog’s name before a cue, you want to get it out fast. In addition, shorter names are easier to understand over long distance. Try standing across a field from someone and have them call out “Bob.” Then have them call out “Lavender.” The longer name, with more syllables is hard to understand. Your dog may not get that you are saying her name over long distances.

Other things that may cause trouble:

  • Names in a foreign language. They will be harder for your vet, dog trainer, groomer, pet sitter, etc. to pronounce.
  • Names that sound too close to cues you will later use. For example, Silt and Sit. If you are not good at enunciating, your dog is going to get these two confused.
  • Names that are cues. Sure, you can name your dog Sit, but then you will have to use a different word for “behind on the ground.”

Video: Dog Training Made Easy: Teach your dog to know their name - Part 6/25

Have Fun Naming Your Dog

This doesn’t mean your dog’s name can’t be unique! While every third sheep dog may be “Bob,” there are certainly thousands of names and words that have just one or two syllables that you can use. For example, a friend of mine just named her new puppy Turk. It’s simple, unique and won’t be confused with any of the usual cues.

And, if you really fall in love with a long name, there’s a couple things you can do. If your dog is registered, you can use the long name in her registered name and then shorten for the call name. For example, one our dogs is named Casanova, but we call him Nova for short. This is one of my favorite memes. The dog would probably end up being called “Five” or “Miles” most of the time.

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