What's In a (Dog's) Name? How to Pick the Right Name for Your Dog

by Kyle Kittleson

Dog owners in Los Angeles and San Diego call Tully's Training for a variety of reasons; their dog barks too much, jumps on guests, pulls on the leash, etc. They ask us for help on potty training, nipping and biting, or how to keep their dog from chewing up their brand new pillows. They ask us how to keep their dog entertained or how to train a German Shepherd. They ask us gross questions like, "why does my dog eat its own poop" and puzzling questions like, "why does my dog sneeze when he's on his back?" The point is, we get asked about everything—except, how to properly name a dog.

Naming your dog is a crucial part of training and can sometimes mean the difference between a well trained dog and a confused dog.

In this week's article I am going to discuss the logic and psychology behind naming your pup, how to properly name your dog, and the most common dog names.

What's In a Name?

For most dog owners, the name of their dog has personal meaning. Maybe you named your dog after your favorite literary character or family member. Or, maybe you just named him "Rocket" because it "sounded cool." Whatever you decided to name your dog, you probably named it because it has some sort of personal appeal to you. That's fine! But there is so much more to consider when it comes to naming your dog.

Say My Name!

Your dog does not identify with his name like you and I do. As humans we really connect with our name. It is on our credit cards, it is how we introduce ourselves, and we even wear jewelry with our initials. When we get married we practice saying our new name and have strong feelings about it (good or bad). When we meet someone with the same name, there is a strong feeling that comes over us - a mixture between that's awesome and I had it first. We have strong connections with our name and we assume that our canine counterparts create the same connections. They don't.

Your dog does not think, "I'm Rufus and I am a beautiful dog! It is nice to meet you, Bruno." That is how humans think, not dogs. (And heck, maybe your dog does think like that—but there is no way to know for sure.)

What we do know, however, is your dog understands that his/her name has something to do with them. This is true regardless if you have trained their name to mean something specific or not (more on that in a bit). Overtime, they hear their name thousands of times in connection with things that happen to them. For example, "Rufus, let's go outside!" Or, "Rufus, who's hungry?!" Eventually, they learn that when they hear "Rufus" something is about to happen to them. This is why your dog probably trots over to you or looks up at you when he hears his name.

So what does all this mean?

It means that your dog's name is simply another command.

Name = Command

When you ask your dog to "sit," he sits. When you ask your dog to "stay," he stays. It is no different when you say your dog's name. When you say your dog's name you are asking him to do something. Do you know what you are asking him to do? You need to.

Most dog owners use their dog's name for EVERYTHING! They shouldn't. Saying "Rufus" with excitement means "come!" Saying "Rufus" in a deep, stern voice, means "No!" Although most dogs can understand the differences in tonality, it is still confusing to use the same word for different commands. For example, you wouldn't say "sit" to have your dog go to his bed, would you? Every time you say your dog's name and expect a different behavior, you are confusing your dog. You need to stop doing that.

With my dog Callie, her name means, "look at me for more direction." Once I get eye contact from her, I ask her for the next behavior. That can be, "come," "sit," or any other behavior she knows. The only thing I expect her to do when I say her name is to look at me. That's it.

One time my boyfriend, Chase, and I were at a park and he started calling Callie's name. "Callie! Callie! Callieeeee!!!!" Callie stopped what she was doing and looked intently at Chase. After he called her name a third time, she went right back to what she was doing. In Callie's world she was doing exactly what she was supposed to. Callie thinks: You called my name. I looked at you for more direction. The only direction I got was to look at you. I'm bored with this. Back to sniffing this stick. Callie was 100% in the right and Chase was 100% in the wrong. Frustrated, Chase told me, "she doesn't come when she's called." I said, "You didn't call her. You only asked her to pay attention to you. She did! If you want her to come to you, you have to say 'come'." Armed with this new insight, Chase yelled, "Callie!" Callie looked directly at Chase. He then said, "Come!" Callie ran right over.

It is up to us to be clear with our communication. It is not up to our dogs.

Note: You have to train these things—you can't expect your dog to know them innately. Of course, if you need help training your dog, contact us to set up your free consultation.

How To Name Your Dog

Short Names Are Best

When naming your dog try and stick with one or two syllable names. Rufus, Callie, Kana, Hank, Smitty, Kai, Sophie, are all great dog names, for example.

The reason we want one or two syllables is that it makes it easier for the dog to learn his name. Imagine naming your dog, "Leonardo Da Vinci" or "Margarita." That is a lot of sound to take in. Your dog doesn't know English. If you were learning a new language, wouldn't you prefer to start with the smaller, easier-to-hear words? Give your dog the same advantage.

I was first turned on to this idea of one to two syllable names when I worked with sea lions. Professional animal trainers learned that the animals responded better to shorter names. I applied this same concept to dog training and found the same results. Shorter names work better. Plus, who wants to be the person at the dog park yelling, "Leonardo Da Vinci, Come!"

Avoid Nicknames

Just like any command, you want it to be used consistently. I would't say "sit" sometimes and "put cha butt down" other times. So, with your dog's name stick with one name and try to avoid nicknames. This will be hard (I call Callie "Cal" all the time). But the more you can be consistent with name calling, the better. So if your dog's name is Thomas, call him Thomas, not Tom. If your dog's name is Betsy, call her Betsy, not Bet Bet.

Get Unique

I live in California with a dog named Callie. I can't tell you how many times I am walking around Los Angeles and some girl in ear shot of Callie says, "I love living in Cali." The girl, of course, is referring to California, but in Callie's world, she is supposed to look at this girl for more direction! While I find it hilarious, Callie finds it confusing. So, consider choosing a name that is unique to avoid this confusion.

Most Popular Dog Names

We agree with Rover.com, Bella is the most popular dog name. We have so many dog training clients in Los Angeles and San Diego, California who have dogs named Bella. We are pretty sure this is because of Twilight!