Perhaps I’ve a Northeastern tone when I say “scee” that didn’t quite correctly register with his Californian ear.
Once he was ensconced in his new home, where he could clearly hear me without the exciting cacophony of his fellow Weimaraners the the Friends for Pets rescue shelter, however, he did not seem easy about being called the name by which he was identified on the microchip that some human companion at some point had given him.
“Caesar! Caesar! Come!”
For a good long while, during the brief few weeks I foster-cared Caesar, the only response he gave to my calling out his name, loud and clear, was to look down and to the side a bit, his eyes turning back towards me to cautiously cast a glance.
Before Caesar had been luckily placed with Friends for Pets, we know he had a series of harrowing encounters too sad and graphic to detail here, the single word “emaciated” having to suffice.
Whether his tentative head turn and wary look back at someone distinctly calling him “Caesar” without the distracting sounds or his fellow dogs which might muddle what he heard was due to cruelty or neglect, one can never really know.
To someone foster-caring him and observing his reactions closely, however, it was a good guess.
So what to do? His open smile and trusting approach to every single human, dog – and yes, even cat – in his range of detection, his lack of any separation anxiety upon being left alone at home made this fellow the dog I could not pass up. As detailed in a previous article here, I did adopt him. Then, however, it was a matter of what to call him.
Can a human really change a dog’s instinctive reaction, good or bad, to the one name to which he always responded?
Is it confusing or even harmful to their behavior to change a dog’s name?
Can it change their mood?
I am not a professional animal behaviorist, but after several years of closely observing a series of Weimaraners I helped to foster-care, as well as those I have watched for friends over a long period of time, and indeed the last four months with the Weim-formerly-known-as-Caesar, the answers seem to be yes, no and yes.
Particularly at rescue shelters which protect and care for dogs of a particular breed where it may be easier to mistake one similar-looking dog for another, those found as strays or saved from a city pound are given a name if they have none.
Depending on how long a dog may have been living at a shelter, the name they come to associate with themselves was almost certainly assigned has been for a relatively short period of time.
Certainly, if an adopted dog, particularly one who has had some rough patches in life before finding safety and attentive care at a rescue shelter like Friends for Pets, responds to the name they were dumped off with by cowering or in any other way displays fear, hesitation or ambivalence, a name change might not only be fine to make – but necessary, if they are to begin overcome the problems and issues associated with their initial name.
In the case of the Weim-formerly-known-as-Caesar, an identification chip inserted in him indicated that was his given name.
The fact that repeated phone calls to inform those people at the number listed on his chip were never returned and, in fact, that their voicemail service abruptly ceased was not a good sign.
The grim circumstances under which this fellow was found and luckily rescued by a good Samaritan and his horrific physical condition strongly suggest that whoever first called him “Caesar” were guilty of neglect and likely more than that.
It would explain why they did not want to be contacted or traced.
And why he dropped his head hesitantly and looked sideways with fear whenever he clearly heard me call him by that name.
What should he be renamed?
That was for me to decide, settle on and stick to.
“Trying out” a bunch of names to see what a dog might respond to is a huge error; the dog is not going to be immediately responding to a new name, usually not until about a month. Seeing which one the dog might fancy is really about what their human companion fancies. Dogs don’t place value judgement on a name. A male Boxer is not going to be mortified if you call him Tiffany, nor will a female Beagle hide with shame if beckoned by Big Boy.
And while I confess loving a shot or two of that black booze which packs a punch by that same name, this fellow was not named for the alcoholic beverage.
In fact, the famous liquor in the squarish bottle derived its name from the same activity by which the Weimaraner breed was developed in 17th century Bavaria, hunting game.
In German, “Jaeger” means “hunter” and “meister” means leader, so “Jaegarmeister” means leader of the hunt.
To mark his new life with me, I made only a slightly Americanized change, calling him “Yeager,” because he was all about Yay! and not so much about Yog.
So, easily enough, this new fellow would be christened Hunter. For about four days, I persisted in calling him that: Here Hunter. No Hunter. Stay Hunter. Good Hunter.
For him, it wasn’t really sticking. For me, it wasn’t really working. Come on dude, I ruminated, you’re a writer. Must you be so literal?
Being adopted after just two weeks of being foster-cared was perhaps a happy adjustment for the Weim-formerly-known-as-Caesar.
However, this new home would only continue for about twenty days, at which point I’d be making a three week trip home to New York State over the holiday season.
It was surely a bit disorienting to be returned to the shelter for another stretch of time, only to be finally picked up and brought back again to his permanent home. I didn’t want to add to this fellow’s confusion.
After nearly a week of tirelessly insisting that he was now Hunter, all-out research on the issue of changing a dog’s name did uniformly suggest that one shouldn’t attempt to change names too often or too quickly. One more new name, I thought, and that’s got to be it.
The magically balanced sound which many sources claims is ideal for a dog’s name suggest it should be merely two syllables, and pronounced with hard emphasis on the first syllable and a softer one on the second.
So, I decided to stick with that “Hu-” sound and find a good second syllable to round out his permanent name.
Hulu? Iconic – a decade ago.
Hulbert? Almost. It means brilliant grace in old Teutonic but it also seemed presumptuous.
Hurley? Dogs throw up too often for that to even be funny.
Humphrey? That’s the one; the name means peace-loving guardian – which sure describes this dog. Already having a 1967 Ford Fairlane convertible named Muriel, however, the combination of those two names was also that of the 1968 Democratic candidate for First Lady. Rapidly, Humphrey the Weimaraner sounded dated.
Hutton? Name a dog after a commercial investment company? Meh.
While pondering dog names in early December, I planned my visit home. This holiday break would be the longest period I’d be back in my part of the country for some time, seeing many close relatives I had not been able to for a few years.
Not just siblings and parents, but cousins and aunts who lived in towns along the Hudson River Valley, like Valhalla and Woodstock, there was another in Red Hook I remembered.
And I mused about calling him not just Valhalla and Red Hook but also Rhinebeck, Tarrytown, Poughkeepsie, Hyde Park, Kingston, Kinderhook and Catskill (Catskill for a dog?), since these evoked memories of idyllic summers and winter vacations. I nearly settled on Woodstock. While it is technically a tw0-syllable name, it did seem to roll out in a way that was “all preamble,” a matter which my friend Laura admits can be an unfortunate custom of the author’s. And Woodstock was a bird. Snoopy was the dog.
Then – the big duh! How obvious! Not the town, not the valley. The river!
Majestic, pure, consistent, flowing: that’s what I thought about what I consider to be the most beautiful river in the world, just a few of the words that swirled in my mind as I had my most recent moments of authentic peace, with a dead cellphone and a half hour before the train heading to New York from the Rhinecliff Station last May.
Thirty minutes to simply breath the honey-suckle and watch its water with respect and awe. The Hudson.
The Hudson River.
Within ten seconds of deciding it, I realized – how could he be named anything but Hudson?
Hudson. Hud. Huddy. Hudson.
There were a few techniques I tried which seemed to expedite his response to “Hudson.” When we began walking with one of those extendable leashes which let a dog can feel free to safely roam a bit rather than constantly “heel,” I would gently retract the leash at the same time I called out “Hudson!”
Whatever he was sniffing out, the sudden retraction startled him enough to give me full attention.
As he turned to face me, I crouched down and opened my arms to him with an animated, “Very good!”
I did not do this often, no more than twice on a walk – not just because I wanted him to enjoy his time outside but also to make it unpredictable, so that calling out “Hudson” would be more indelible if done just once at the start of the walk and once towards the end of the walk.
I tried giving him treats each time I said his name, as many recommend. But with Hudson, just knowing that there might be one, crumbled, tiny bit of treat in my pocket was enough for give to forget why he was walking and simply obsess on my pocket.
So I gave up the establish-a-new-name-by-associating-it-with-treats tactic.
Another method which I introduced after an initial phase was using the full range of my voice to indicate commands or my feelings about something he was doing, all intended as a call to attention.
As in, “Hudson?! Who knocked over this garbage can? Do you know who, Hudson?”
Or, “You want the ball Hudson? Who wants to run and chew the tennis ball to shreds? Is it you, Hudson? Yeah, Hudson, you!”
I even composed a little song, the only one I can sing with a tone that resembles its intent.
With apologies to the Hill Sisters who wrote that natal anniversary tune known ’round the globe, it went like this: “Huddy Hudson, who knew? Huddy Hudson, its true. Huddy Hudson…Huddy Hudson….Huddy Hudson – that’s you.”
After a few renditions, Hudson seems to be forcing a smile and did that quizzical head turning which dogs do when they hear an unearthly sound. I stopped singing.
He seemed happier not hearing it. Then again, he’s always happy. A happy dog. Happy the dog?
I shall leave well enough alone. He is Hudson and he owns it.