Ask Dog Lady: How to rename a dog

Monica Collins

Dear Dog Lady,

What is the best way to go about renaming an adult dog? He is going on 4 years old. He had a happy life in the past. Do I wait until he has adjusted and doesn’t have so many new things? Do I do it gradually over an extended period of time? Or should I rename him now in the first week, according to the “new place, new name” theory?

Brigid Marie

Dear Brigid Marie, before we rename dogs, we should examine the rationale for doing so. Dog Lady thinks of the rabbi who adopted a Puerto Rican street dog named Jesus. Sometimes, the reasons are obvious. A large shelter dog with “Killer” or “Brutus” for a moniker is a prime candidate for a fresh start to ratchet down the scare factor. Some dogs demand new names.

If your dog enjoyed a happy life before he came to you, you would be wise to rename him with a moniker that has the same syllables and sounds as his previous name. For example, if the dog is named Bailey, you might rename him Haley or Caley -- something that retains similar tonal flavor.

Familiarity breeds comfort in canines. If the dog was named Buster, do not rename him Dizzy -- the sounds are discordant. Such dissonance confuses the dog. And, yes, rename the dog as soon as possible so the adjustment curve is shorter. You can also keep the old name and tack on a new name. Call the dog by the two names for a while and gradually drop the old name. Repeat the new name over and over. In the beginning, give a treat when he responds to the new moniker.

Humans agonize over dog names, but dogs don’t care about these labels the way we do. They respond to sounds when they figure out those sounds are meant for them.

Dear Dog Lady,

'Tis the holiday season, and being in a festive mood I bought my dog Max (a 75-pound pit bull/Labrador mix) a pair of reindeer antlers. His coloring is such that he truly looks like a reindeer with them on, not to mention the fact he looks adorably funny. We got them at the pet store the other day and I made him walk home with them on. He did a great job of wearing them on the short walk home and didn't try to shake them off. When we got home, however, he gave me a look that said, "You owe me."

My question: Do I owe him?


Dear Brian, your dog sounds like a sweetie -- as if he’d do anything to please you. Dog Lady has a warm-fuzzy feeling from reading your note. You don’t need the antler test to be reminded of your dog’s devotion. At the very least, you owe Max a meaty meal, a tender tummy rub and a long outing -- sans funny headgear.

Monica Collins offers advice on dogs, life and love. Her Web site is Contact her at