The name game

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Part of the fun of bringing your new dog or puppy home is naming him. The choice of name is important, as you’ll be using it for years to come. Unlike a human child, you don’t have to worry about damaging his ego by giving him a ridiculous name. However, your choice may impact you, your dog, and your relationship more than you might expect.

There is a saying among dog people that dogs will live up to their names. In the case of my Gemma, this is certainly true. Part of her registered name is “Treasure” and she is priceless to me. A friend named her lab Rowdy. As she laughed while he leaped five foot off the floor and dragged his nails down the length of her back door and when he placed his paws on the dining room table and attempted to eat the food off my plate, I thought what a self-fulfilling prophecy his name had become. Not because the dog understood his name and wanted to live up to it, but because she had decided that he just couldn’t help being wild. How your dog’s name will impact you is something to consider when selecting the correct moniker.

Another thing to think about is how other people will respond to your dog, based on his name. “Psychology Today” recently published an article detailing an experiment about this. For the study, the author assembled 291 university students. Each was given a booklet. On the first page was a paragraph explaining that the purpose of the experiment was to judge the ability of the students to determine the personality and intentions of a dog by looking at his behavior. It went on to say, “We will show you a brief video clip of a dog named Ripper, interacting with a person. Watch the dog carefully because we will be asking you some questions about Ripper’s behavior.”

The students did not know that the dog’s name was not the same in each booklet. About half of the students received “tough” names in the description, such as Killer, Assassin and Butcher. The other half of the group was told the dog had more positive sounding names such as Champ, Teddy and Happy.

After reading the description, the observers were shown a brief video clip. In it, a man walking into view. Barking was heard from off screen, and a German Shepherd appeared. The dog ran to the man, barked at him and jumped up and placed his paws on the man’s shoulders. The man pushed the dog away, and the dog ran, barking, from the scene. Following this viewing, the students turned over the page in their booklet and found a list of adjectives that included both positive attributes such as friendly and playful, and negative attributes like aggressive and dangerous, that they were to choose from to describe the dog’s behavior. When the name given the student in the opening paragraph was a tough name, the student was three times more likely to select adjectives painting a hostile picture.

The students were then asked to write a few sentences to describe what they had seen. Those who thought the dog had a tough name were more likely to describe the scenario as a threatening one, while the other students described the same scene as if the dog were playing or socializing.

This study makes it clear that people interpret a great deal about your dog’s behavior and personality based on his name. If your friendly Pittie runs out to someone wagging his tail and you call “Slasher, come here!” the person is likely to think you were calling him back from an attack. With so many breeds under ready suspicion of being vicious or threatening, it might be better to grace Rotties and Dobes with appellations such as Cupcake or Buddy.

Another consideration when naming your dog is how easy the name is to use. I personally prefer two syllable call names, so a dog joining the family named Sam quickly became Sammie, while Naomi was quickly shortened to Omi. Before deciding on a name, pair it with some common commands and decide if it will work. A friend decided against naming her lab pup Hero because she used the obedience command “Here” and thought it would cause confusion.

Naming your new buddy is part of the fun of ownership. Spend time getting both the right sound and the right message, and you’ll be proud to introduce your pooch to people.

Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years. Readers are welcome to send their questions to: info@TrainMyK-9.com. Information provided here is a basic overview of issues. Specific health or behavioral concerns should be discussed with your veterinarian or qualified animal trainer or behaviorist.

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