A pet by any other name

Want just YOUR dog to come when you call them? When it comes to the pet naming game, choose wisely… Just like human names, monikers for our animal mates go in and out of fashion. That’s why, if you want your dog to have a name that stands out from the crowd (so that only your four-legged friend responds when
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16th February 2023

Want just YOUR dog to come when you call them? When it comes to the pet naming game, choose wisely...

Just like human names, monikers for our animal mates go in and out of fashion. That’s why, if you want your dog to have a name that stands out from the crowd (so that only your four-legged friend responds when you call them) you may have to seek out a name that’s not so in vogue.

According to Agria Pet Insurance, over the last five years, puppy names in the UK’s top 10 have largely stayed consistent with Bella, Willow, Daisy and Lola leading the charge for female pets, whilst Teddy, Milo, Buddy and Reggie maintain the top spots for male dogs.

This means, if you opt for Bella or Teddy, when you call out for your dog in the park, rather than just your own canine chum rocking up, you could also be greeted by the Cockerpoo from down the road, a friendly Frenchie and a curious crossbreed you’ve never seen before.

A name less ordinary

Agria suggests that if you’re looking for a less common name, female names with the biggest fall from grace include Roxi, Libby and Peach, in addition to male names Spike, Nacho and Alan (have you ever met a dog called Alan?).

To really stand out in the dog park you could opt for human names which, according to research by language learning platform Babbel, have become extinct over recent decades. For the boys, these include Graeme, Horace, Melvyn, Nigel and Royston. For female dogs, how about Bertha, Beverley, Hilary, Kerry, Mandy or Phyllis?

The top 10 male puppy names, according to Agria Pet Insurance, are: Teddy, Milo, Buddy, Puppy, Reggie, Cooper, Loki, Max, Charlie and Bailey

Naming our pets creates an important bond with them

Giving our pets names is what lays the foundation for the human-animal bond. It’s also key to training. Dogs Trust states: “If you can get your dog’s attention as soon as you need it, by using their name, you can help to keep them safe. Remember, it takes time to build focus, so patience is important. Being able to gain your dog’s attention at any time is an important life skill. It will give you both confidence, wherever you are and whatever adventures you might be having.”

The top 10 female puppy names, according to Agria Pet Insurance, are: Bella, Willow, Daisy, Lola, Ruby, Poppy, Rosie, Mabel, Bonnie and Nala

What’s more, according to experts, our pets really do learn their names.

"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.”

The most popular male cat names, according to Joii online pet care are: Milo, Loki, Simba, Leo and Charlie

According to Dr Pachel, 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. He advises: “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.”

Nicole Ellis, a certified dog trainer – who named her dog Rossi – recommends choosing a name that ends with a vowel, stating: “This matters because dogs distinguish frequency ranges at a much higher level than we do. With a vowel name, it’s really easy to get their attention.”

The most popular female cat names, according to Joii online pet care are: Luna, Bella, Nala, Lola and Willow

However, it’s advisable to avoid picking a name that’s similar to those of other pets and family members, as this could lead to confusion. If you’re Rita and Peter with a cat called Rosita, then naming your dog Zeta is probably not going to work too well. Likewise, a name that sounds like cue – Kit and sit, Beau and no, or Nate and wait – may also puzzle your pets.

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. Use positive reinforcement so your pet learns that hearing their name means that something good is about to happen – such as a walk or a game.

The Dog People’s Irene Keliher advises: “Your dog will hear their name over and over and will learn to respond to it when learning commands. In fact, veterinary behaviourists agree that dogs recognise their names because something happens after they hear them. In other words, it can be more of a ‘cue’ word than a personal identifier. That means your dog needs to respond to her name and associate it with good things – so teach her to recognise her name with plenty of treats.”

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 them as they should always associate it with good things.

Helping you to help your pets live their best lives

Burgess Pet Care is a British, family-owned company and one of the UK's leading pet food manufacturers – and its story goes back more than 300 years. Using the expertise and experience built over the centuries, today Burgess produces high-quality, award-winning pet foods.

At Burgess Pet Care, we’re focused on helping pets and pet people understand more about the importance of healthy nutrition and caring for their animal companions in the best way possible. Here are some of the ways we can help:

  • Got a question about caring for your pets or about the best way of feeding them? Ask our vet >>
  • Looking for helpful advice for your pets? We’ve lots of great tips to help you give your animals the best life on our pet care pages >>
  • Want to stay up to date with the latest news, trends and pet care advice? Head over to our Pet Talk blog >>

Is your pet a Burgess pet? Join the Burgess Pet Club for exclusive offers and rewards.

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