Naming your pet is one of the most fun parts of having an animal in your life – but what should you choose? It seems that the days of Scamp or Socks have long gone, with humans now preferring to bestow their four-legged pals with popular children’s names.
According to a recent survey published in the Independent, the most popular names for male dogs are Alfie, Charlie, Max, Oscar and Buddy. For female canines, the top five are Poppy, Bella, Molly, Daisy and Lola.
When it comes to cats, there’s a similar theme, with Charlie, Oscar, Alfie, Max and Milo scoring highly for the boys and Poppy, Bella, Molly, Tilly and Daisy top picks for girls.
From Huggs to Hokey Cokey
Of course, there are always those who like to opt for a more unusual choice of name. So, if you’re looking for inspiration, pet rehoming charity the Blue Cross has compiled a list of rather more noteworthy names of the animals they’ve cared for in their rehoming centres. They’ve looked after female dogs called Huggs, Ali McBeagle, Tempo, Zola and Jolly, and male dogs named Tatty, Puzzle, Mr Bumblebee, Harpo and D’Artagnan.
Some of the cat names are even stranger – they’ve had female felines called Toe, Hungry Hippo, Juice, Spaghetti and Comfy and male cats bearing the slightly bonkers monikers of Geoffrey Boycat, Stampy, Lego, Hokey Cokey and Earl Grey.
And of course, many pets have more than one name, often with humorous nicknames evolving over time – Maisie Moo, Kizzy Whizz, Poppy Poppet, Coco Pops anyone? So how on earth do our pets know we are talking to them?
I require your attention
Beyond the fun and a chance to show a dash of creativity, giving our pets names is what lays the foundation for the human-animal bond. It’s also key to training, which affects your pet’s safety. Taught properly, pets’ names get their attention, for example, when you need your dog to come back to you, or to alert your cat, rabbits, ferrets or rats that it’s dinner time.
“Absolutely, dogs and cats can learn their names,” says Dr Christopher Pachel, a veterinary behaviourist in Portland, Oregon, USA. “Names, after all, are words. And a growing body of research is attempting to track the mental abilities of pets, and dogs in particular. It’s not yet clear if pets understand the abstract concept of a personal identifier – that they hear their name and know that you mean them – or if they simply hear it as word that means certain things may happen next.”
Teaching a pet to recognise their name takes time and it’s helpful if you’ve chosen something that is short and distinct, usually with two syllables. According to experts, certain consonants such as K, P and D create sounds with more energy, which activate more audio receptors in the brain that get your pet’s attention. Softer consonants and vowels trigger less of a brain response.
“We know that giving a short, choppy command in an up-tone of voice is something that encourages motor activity (movement), whereas long, slow, soothing tones generally do not,” comments Dr Pachel.
How to teach your pet their name
Animals learn by association, so if your pet does something and is rewarded, the action is much more likely to be repeated. Here are some top tips on teaching your pet to recognise their name:
- Use positive reinforcement to teach your pet name recognition. The idea is to teach your pet that their name means something good is about to happen, such as a walk, a game or a tasty treat.
- Remember that animals don’t speak English, so keeping an upbeat tone of voice and friendly, unthreatening body movements is essential.
- With some treats on hand, say your pet’s name and then using an indicator, such as a word like ‘yes’, immediately give them a treat. Wait a few seconds and then repeat. Do this for five minutes several times a day.
- After a few sessions your pet will begin to associate the sound of their name with a tasty treat. Now you can begin to call them when they are busy doing something else. Call your pet’s name and as soon as they turn or move towards you, say ‘yes!’ and immediately given them a treat.
- Repeat this exercise several times a day and in as many different environments as possible and your pet will begin to respond to their name reliably.
- Avoid using your pet’s name too casually, otherwise it will become like white noise and easy to ignore.
- Never use your pet’s name to correct or punish them as they should always associate it with good things.
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