Dog Training

The Science of Naming Your Dog

The science of naming your dog is a big decision, a decision that lasts throughout the life of your pet. Choosing your dog’s name should be fun, creative and meaningful, but also easily understood and comfortable to pronounce. Naming your dog is a lot like naming your child — everyone has a different opinion on what sounds good or what makes a good name. In regard to your dog, in the end whether you decide on a humorous name or a serious name, you are the person who is going to live with it every time you call your dog.

But —  did you ever stop to think about the science behind naming your dog? A dog name is not just a simple command; it is a title by which your dog will be referred to and what he or she will hear many times a day throughout their life. Believe it or not, some names are better than others for a dog to recognize and respond to.

What kind of name will a dog respond to best?

naming your dog
We named this rescue “Bear”as he looks like a grizzly bear when his hair grows out! Credit: Nancy Houser

Dog experts have done a lot of research working with dogs on the types of words and phrases that canines  easily recognize and will respond to. Scientific research shows that dogs can hear the ‘s’ sound much more intensely than humans, and that dogs respond best to words with two-syllables that include hard consonant sounds —such as Rosy or Lisa.

Canine experts found that hard consonants create sounds with more energy across sound frequencies and therefore attract the dog’s attention better. Harder sounds also activate more audio receptors in a canine’s brain than soft consonant sounds.

HARD g (the stop) = garden, go, gum 
SOFT g (like English “j”) = gem, giraffe, gym 
HARD c (stop /k/) = carpet, coin, cup 
SOFT c (/s/ sound) = ceremony, civil, cycle 

Names with these characteristics are more likely to be recognized and remembered by dogs, while dog names with three or more syllables are significantly more difficult for dogs to understand and memorize. Researchers believe that the reason behind this,  is that the more individual sounds are involved, the more the name can be easily misconstrued — a sense of “overload” in the dog’ mind.

A different study done on puppies found that when owners were trying to teach their puppies a new name — and they gave them a treat for responding to it and the more time it took between the beginning sound of the name and the food to be given — the longer it would take for the puppy to recognize its name over time.

Another thing to keep in mind is that some names sound similar to commands that you may give and therefore confuse your pooch. For example, the name Oliver sounds similar to ‘roll over’ and your dog would likely get them mixed up on occasion.

Once you name your dog, use it correctly

naming your dog
Credit: Wikipedia

Overuse of your dog’s name could cause them to disassociate with it, and they may end up just ignoring the name altogether. There’s a fine line between using a dog’s name enough times so they can learn it, and using it too much so they begin to disregard it.

Researchers who have worked with training a dog their name also found that “using the name first before saying a command” rather than the other way around seems to help the dog understand that you are directing the command at them. For example, instead of saying, “Sit, Sam,” you should say, “Sam, sit.” In the latter example, your dog is hearing their name first, so they know the comment following it will be directed at them.

Things to think about when naming your dog

Even if you do not care much about the science behind naming a dog and how it will affect the training and obedience, we have a few tips ready for you when naming your dog.

What you should do —

  • Pick a name that you and the other members of your family like. You’re the ones that will be using it over and over again, so it should be something you all think fits the dog.
  • Try out the name for a few days before you decide to stick with it. You may find that the name doesn’t fit your dog’s personality or that you just don’t like hearing it that often. Nobody says you have to stick with your very first choice.
  • Pick a name that will work long-term. You might dislike calling your dog ‘Puppy’ when they are 12 years old; however, other dog owners would actually find it quite amusing and refreshing.
  • Get some research done before choosing the name. If you pick something very common, it may create some confusion for your dog when you’re around other dogs in public places.
  • If you have more than one dog, consider choosing names that go well together, but also think how they will sound separately because the dogs may not always be together. Some people like naming their pets after famous duos like ‘Ernie and Bert,’ ‘Butch and Sundance’ or ‘Thelma and Louise.’

What you should not do —

  • Pick a name that will be offensive to others or embarrassing to say in public. Chances are that at the very least, your neighbors will hear you calling to your dog and you don’t want to cause any issues or be embarrassed to holler out your dog’s name whenever necessary.
  • If you adopt a dog that has already been named, don’t change it unless you absolutely have to. It can certainly be done, but it will be confusing to the dog for quite a while before they figure out the new name.
  • Picking a name that may intimidate or scare other people. Naming a large breed dog ‘Vicious’ or ‘Killer’ probably wouldn’t be the best idea if you plan on walking them around town or playing with them at the dog park.
  • Naming your dog after a family member or a close friend without mentioning it to them first. Some people may find this practice offensive. You may also want to consider how much time they will be spending around this person before you select that name. If you name your dog after someone in your household or a family friend that visits often, it may get very confusing for the dog to hear his or her name directed at someone else all the time.
naming your dogs
Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Choosing a name is as simple as that, but giving it more thought and picking a meaningful one will make this relationship between you and your canine much more special. Think about the science of naming your dog while you are making this decision; maybe you’ll be able to combine a good name with the best practice of naming your pet. Choosing a dog name that is easier for your pooch to understand and remember will greatly benefit you both in the long run. The faster your dog can learn the name, the easier it will be to train them to follow commands.


Article provided by David Cassady from

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