A misconception that we hear frequently is that pets, especially older pets, cannot learn a new name.

This misconception prevents some people from adopting an animal they love, because they don’t like the pet’s name.

We’re here to dispel that misconception and teach you the process of renaming your pet.

The Process

If you are going to change your pet’s name, we recommend having the name picked out before bringing your furry friend home. That way, you can immediately start the process of renaming.

Starting this process as soon as they come home will help adjust them into their place in the house and will quicken the length of time it takes to teach them.

We have found that the best way to teach a new name is through positive reinforcement.

According to Very Well Mind, positive reinforcement “involves the addition of a reinforcing stimulus following a behavior that makes it more likely that the behavior will occur again in the future.”

In this case, the behavior is responding to the new name. Positive stimuli that will help your pet learn their new name include

  • Cuddles,
  • Kisses,
  • Toys,
  • Treats,
  • And more!

Just remember to immediately reward your pet after saying their new name. If you don’t reward them quickly, they might not associate the reward with the name, or they might begin to associate another behavior (such as getting on the couch) with a reward.

Along with positive reinforcement, there are other techniques to help your pet learn their new name.

  • Take your pet to a quiet place: When practicing with them, you want to be free of distractions for the both of you. Start off in a place where they are comfortable, but alert.
  • Combine their names: If your pet is having trouble with the new name, add it onto the end of the old name (ex. SpotFido). When they adjust to the combined name, you can slowly start to drop off the old name and just use the new name.
  • Use a happy voice when saying their name: If you start off in a harsh tone, your pet could think they are being punished, and have a negative association with new name.
  • Practice when they aren’t paying attention: After some time practicing the new name, use it when they aren’t focused on you. This could be on a walk or when they are in a different room of the house. This will give you an idea of how much more you need to work on the new name.
  • Drop the rewards: Once your pet has started adjusting to the new name, you can gradually begin to decrease the number of treats or amount of time snuggling with your pet, until they don’t need any rewards and respond to their new name.

Factors to Consider

Although any dog or cat can learn a new name, there are some factors that can make it easier or harder for your new pet to adapt.

Pets are easier to rename when they are younger. This is because some younger animals haven’t learned the name they already have, which makes it easier to change their name.

Think about how long your pet has had their current name. It will be easier to rename a pet that has undergone name changes in the past, like at a shelter.

The best instance to rename a pet is if the pet has been mistreated. They already associate their current name with bad memories; give them a fresh start in a loving home with a new name.