Is it OK to Change a Rescued Dog’s Name?

While it’s common for adopters to change the names of their rescue dogs many worry that doing so will confuse the dogs or cause them even more stress as they adapt to a new family. We’ve gone both ways.

We started out fostering our dog, Jason, from FOWA Rescue in New Jersey. It didn’t take long before we fell in love and adopted him into our family. At that point, we were comfortable with his name and never thought about changing it.

Our foxhound’s shelter name was Belle, and we changed it to Bella. It kind of felt like a “christening” to us as we welcomed her into our family.

Shirley Pallito, vice president of FOWA Rescue, said that about 25 percent of adopters—typically those who take home puppies—change the dogs’ names. With adult dogs, she said, people want to know how long they’ve had the names and if they know their names.

Is it OK to change a rescue dog's name? The answer is...sometimes.

How attached are rescue dogs to their names?

Volunteers at FOWA Rescue typically won’t change the names of owner-surrendered dogs or dogs pulled from other rescues, if those dogs respond well to their names.

When choosing new names for strays or for rescues who don’t know their names, volunteers draw inspiration from a dog’s looks and personality. Cute names, Pallito said, often catch an adopter’s attention and can help place the dogs into loving homes.

For example, a dog name Jezebel was pulled by FOWA Rescue from a shelter in Tennessee and renamed Maggie Moo, because she was black and white and looked like a little cow.

“People loved it and followed our little cow dog’s posts on Facebook,” Pallito said. “There was another dog we named Maybelline because she looked like she had perfect eyeliner on. Her new family agreed and kept the name.”

Is a name change stressful or confusing for rescue dogs?

Pallito believes there’s no problem changing names when it comes to puppies. Adult dogs, she said, adjust when their names are changed slowly or when they are given a similar-sounding name.

“When we had a dog named Haybale come to our rescue we fully expected the adopters would change that name,” Pallito said. “They took it slow—by first using ‘Hey Bailey’ and eventually just calling her Bailey.”

Trainers at Riverdog Canine Coaching believe it’s a good idea to change an adopted dog’s name. It’s easy, they say, for dogs to learn a new name. In addition, giving the adopted dog a new name often helps the adoptive owner emotionally claim the dog as a family member rather than subconsciously seeing the dog as belonging to someone else.

Sherry Woodard, Best Friends animal behavior consultant, said she’s never found changing a rescued dog’s name to be a problem. According to Woodard, dogs generally respond just fine to name changes or to nicknames, if the names are properly taught and maintained with a positive association.

Properly socialized dogs want to come when called, because they look forward to spending time with their humans, the trainer said. Woodward said creating a positive association with a dog’s name has many benefits including:

  • Calling your dog’s name to interrupt or distract him or her from a behavior you want to stop. Be sure to use a happy tone, so that she doesn’t associate her name with a reprimand.
  • Use the positive association your dog has with her name to help her get comfortable with scary situations. For example, if passing something that scares her on a walk, call her name and get her attention. This will help distract her and she’ll eventually realize that the scary thing isn’t so scary after all.
  • Dogs who know their name and have good recall can be called away from a potentially dangerous situation.

Is it OK to Change a Rescued Dog's Name?

How to Choose a New Name for Your Rescue Dog

In an online survey conducted by Pet Sitters International (PSI) the majority of pet owners gave their pets human names or chose a name that described an action or personality trait, such as Twister, Sweetie and Trouble.

Twenty-three percent of owners chose names that resembled their pet’s physical appearance, such as Brownie, Snowball or Spot, and 18.5 percent chose a famous person’s name, such as Cher or Sylvester.

Naming Tips from Dog Experts at PSI

Experts at PSI offer the following tips when it comes to choosing a name for your dog.

  • Consider names that your dog can easily recognize.
  • Dogs respond better to one or two-syllable names.
  • Choose a name that’s easy to call out and avoid tongue twisters.
  • Study your pet’s behavior for inspiration when choosing a name.
  • Avoid using names that sound like training commands. For example, Spirit sounds like “sit” and Kay sounds like “stay.” Dogs may find it difficult to distinguish between words that sound similar.
  • Consider names that will suit your pet through his or her entire life.
  • Researching baby names along with their meanings might help you to find a name that perfectly suits your dog.

There are plenty of online sources offering lists of popular dog names that might provide inspiration when choosing a name for your dog. Training experts caution against choosing the most popular names like Bella and Max. That can cause confusion, they say, for example at the dog park when three or four people are calling dogs with the same name. We don’t have that problem with our Bella because she’s always on a leash.

How to Teach a Dog His or Her Name

Woodward recommends the following when teaching a dog his or her name.

  • Fill a treat pouch with about 100 pea-sized soft treats.
  • Take the dog to a location with few distractions.
  • Have a treat ready in your hand, and when your dog looks at you, say his name once in a happy tone of voice and give him a treat.
  • Interact with him briefly, then wait for him to look away and repeat the exercise.
  • Make sure that you only say the dog’s name once per exercise. Repeating the name too much will diminish your effectiveness at getting your dog’s attention.

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Images via Thinkstock.


Marie W
Marie W7 months ago

thank you

Richard B
Past Member 8 months ago

thank you

hELEN hEARFIELD9 months ago


michela c
michela c9 months ago


Caitlin L
Past Member about a year ago

thanks for sharing

Cindy S
Cindy Smithabout a year ago


Leo C
Leo Custerabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing!

Patricia P
Patricia Pabout a year ago

I have had 3 adult and 1 puppy rescued dogs. I changed all their names and never had a problem. They catch on really quick.

Kathy G
Kathy Gabout a year ago

Thank you