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Healthy Pets

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Naming Your Dog or Cat

The science and fun of choosing a name for your next pet.
By Roxanne Hawn
WebMD Pet Health Feature
Reviewed by Audrey Cook, BVM&S

Your pet's name isn't just about fun and creativity. It's also key to training, which affects your pet's safety and health.

Taught properly, pets’ names get their attention and alert them to act upon whatever comes next. Dog and cat names also lay the foundation for the human-animal bond, often with numerous, humorous nicknames sprouting up. Nelly-belly or Anna-banana, anyone?

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Are You Obsessed With Your Pet?

You've probably heard urban legends about the elderly lady who has dozens of cats, the guy who collects snakes and never leaves his house, or someone who spends thousands on clothes for their pet. When Kim Swank, 35, of Layton, Utah, spent $10,000 on treatment for a cherished family member, it wasn’t for her spouse, sibling, or parent -- it was for Wilson, her beloved Pug. "People would approach my husband and say, “I can’t believe you paid 10 grand to keep a dog alive!” My husband’s reply was simply,...

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“I almost always pick people names,” says Cathy Lester of Centennial, Colo. “I think it’s more dignified and adds a lot of personality. I like offbeat names, something I haven’t heard before.”

Lester trains her dog to compete in obedience, agility, tracking, and herding events and prefers shorter, distinct names - usually two syllables. She named her new border collie puppy Victor because of the movie Young Frankenstein, in which Victor pronounced “Wictor” cracked her up.

Beyond humor, check out the science behind choosing dog and cat names.

Dog and Cat Vocabularies

"Absolutely, dogs and cats can learn their names," says Christopher Pachel, DVM, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist in Portland, Ore.

Names, after all, are words. And a growing body of research is attempting to track the mental abilities of pets, and dogs in particular.

Chaser, a border collie trained by researchers at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., is the newest star of canine intelligence. She understands the names of 1,022 objects.

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, Pachel says.

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