Ask the Trainer | Noodling around for a name?

Carla Brown
Special to the Sun

TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. – We recently adopted a dog. The shelter had given him the name Noodles and we would like to change it. He was at the shelter for about a month. Can we change his name and if so, how do we do it?

– Noodling a name change

Dear Noodling,

You can most certainly change your new dog’s name. Chances are he didn’t really learn his new name at the shelter and he probably didn’t develop a very positive association with it! A name is just another human word to a dog, however some names are better than others. When we say names like Killer they are often said in a way that infers negative meaning, whereas a name like Champ infers the opposite. Primarily, you want your dog to have a wonderful association with whatever name you choose. Don’t use his name if you are angry or frustrated. It will build a negative association and it is much more effective to walk over and get him.

Once you have determined his new name, it’s time to build a positive association with it. Get about 10 really good treats, say his name in a happy voice and give him a treat. Repeat until you have used all the treats. Do this exercise 2-3 times per day until he looks at you expectantly when he hears his name. Once he’s responding well in your house, start working outside and in other locations. This is called generalization. He needs to respond outside as well as he does in your house.

Saying your dog’s name should always be the first step in getting their attention before giving them a cue. If you can’t get their attention, you may as well just stop because they aren’t hearing you. I like to teach an additional attention sound for times when the name doesn’t work. My favorite is “Bop Bop Bop” said in a high-pitched, fast tone. To teach this, do the same exercise you did with the name followed by a treat, just replace the name with Bop Bop Bop. A higher pitched, quick sound tends to break through concentration better than a long, low sound. Once the dog looks up, I can give another cue like “Come,” “Leave it,” or “Sit.”

– Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog Training and Education Center in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email her at

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