3 Reasons for Using a Fake Name for Your Service Animal in Public and 5 Tips for Choosing the Best One for You

Photo Caption: a black lab that's outside by a park railing laying in the shade and looking out beyond the railing.

I took my seat on the Paratransit vehicle, across from a colleague, a lady with her dog guide. The third traveler on the vehicle asked the lady what her dog’s name was; her reply totally took me by surprise.

“What did she just call that dog? That’s not that dog’s name!”

That was exactly what I was thinking. The other rider said hi to the dog using this fake name and then went about his business. The driver dropped him off, and immediately I asked the lady why she gave the guy a different name for her dog. You will discover her answer as we provide 3 reasons why you, also, may wish to use a false name for your service animal in public. Then we will offer 5 tips for picking the best made-up name for your service animal.

The Problem

Traveling with a service animal (a guide dog in my particular case) has many benefits; the admiring public often is not one of them. Sure, it’s great when people tell you how cute your dog is; it’s much more troubling when they want to stop and “Converse” with him, repeating his name time and time again.

Based on the incident outlined above and another similar one I witnessed a few months later, I decided that the “Fake name” idea was a good one. Here are 4 reasons why you also may wish to adopt this strategy.

#1. Safety

While the tasks each service animal performs differ widely, dog guides certainly must concentrate on their work; a dog guide’s mistake could be fatal to the dog and the human it guides. Even in situations where severe injuries and death are not likely, safety is a top priority!

Nothing can prevent onlookers from speaking to your dog, and ultimately you, the handler, are responsible for keeping your dog focused on its work. Nevertheless, you can avoid some dangerous situations by giving strangers a fake name when they ask for one. Each of my guide dogs have react quite positively to hearing their names; they almost always do not react at all if you use a false name. If your dog doesn’t react when you call it by a false name, it is likely to pay much less attention to a stranger who uses that made-up name, keeping both you and your dog much safer.

#2. Distractions

While distractions are related to safety, something can distract a dog and be more of an annoyance than a major safety issue. Again, you cannot remove all possible distractions, but you can remove this frustrating one. Your dog may react to hearing, “Hi, doggie!” But it assuredly will react to, “Hey Juno (or whatever its actual name is!)” You probably can think of many situations where your dog got distracted. While the distraction may not have affected safety, it may have led to the dog misbehaving or losing focus, causing you to correct the dog. If the stranger called the dog by a fake name, the dog probably didn’t react, wasn’t distracted, and didn’t get corrected.

#3. Fun

Ok, this concept may seem strange to some of you, but some people wish their dog’s name was different. Maybe you really don’t like your dog’s name, but, for the dog’s sake, you continue to use it. In public, however, why not use a made-up name? Not only would it, in this instance, lessen distractions and improve safety—it also lets you pretend, even if only for a short time, that your dog had the name you would have chosen instead of its name that you really have trouble tolerating.

Perhaps you have no interest in changing your dog’s name, but you du enjoy pranking others. Giving someone who asks a made-up name for your dog, if nothing else, is a way to prank, fool, or trick someone, and if you’re a prankster, you can have your fun and be safer at the same time. Incidentally, the lady on the Paratransit vehicle cited each of these three reasons when explaining why she used that false name.

5 Tips for Choosing the Best Fake Name

So you’ve decided to try using a fake name for your dog in public; here are 6 tips for picking the best one for you.

#1. Differs Totally from Dog’s Actual Name

Since the goal is for the dog not to react to the name, it should be totally different from the dog’s real name. For instance, if your dog’s name is Hannah, you would steer clear of Ana, Briana, Angela, and maybe any name starting with the letter H. Names like Sally, Trish and Meg would work.

#2. Differs from the Name of a Dog You Are Around Often

You’ve selected a name you like for your dog, but you run into a problem; it sounds too much like the actual name of a dog someone else has at work. Your colleague’s dog is named Larry. You realize that Gary probably isn’t a good name since it’s too similar to your colleagues’ dogs’ name. If this happens, pick something very unique so you don’t cause another dog handler unnecessary problems.

#3. Gender-Neutral or Fits Dog’s Gender

We don’t want to stifle your creativity; nevertheless, you probably don’t want to call your mail dog, Jennifer or your female dog, Rex. You don’t want someone to say something like, “No really! What’s your dog’s name?” Choose a name that is believable, or the stranger may realize you’re “Playing” them which just might lead that stranger to develop a negative opinion of people with disabilities.

#4. Not Offensive

It happens! You come in contact with someone who makes you uncomfortable and may even be a threat to your wellbeing. Even so, it’s best not to use a false name that is offensive or draws too much attention to yourself. Your dog can’t go by “Killer”, “Cujo”, or some other name that makes it out to be overly aggressive. The last thing you want is for someone to call your bluff and try to hurt you or your dog. Using a name that implies that your dog is aggressive draws undue attention to you and the dog—attention you definitely don’t want or need.

#5. Something You Like

If you’re going to use a fake name, make it something you like, especially if you aren’t thrilled with the dog’s real name. Also, if someone’s going to use the name to try to get the dog’s attention, it might as well be a name you would like your dog to have.

Final Thoughts

Here are a few things to consider as it relates to giving people a fake name for your dog.

Don’t Expect the Dog to Respond to It

Whatever situation you come up against, it’s unwise to use the dog’s fake name when you want it to obey you. Use the dog’s real name, and speak at a lower volume, or use hand signals to get the dog to do what you want. In some instances, you don’t need to use a name at all. Many times I’ll say something like, “Come on Mr.” or “Let’s go, boy!” My dog still pays attention, and I didn’t have to use his name.

Admittedly, such a scenario may make you decide that you can just take your chances with just telling people your dog’s real name. I found, though, during my most recent trip to train with a new dog that distractions in public places were easier to handle if the inquisitive public didn’t know my dog’s actual name and couldn’t distract him in that particular way. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide if this method will work for you. Maybe you can try it when you go somewhere you won’t go often so you can see if it works well for you.

Avoid Using a Fake Name with People You See Often

One time you probably do not want to employ a false name is around family, work colleagues, or around people you will know well. You are around these people and, in most cases, you can teach them not to use the dog’s name in a distracting way. They will ask how your dog is doing and may use its name, but that usage usually is not distracting.

We have discussed reasons for using a false name in public for your service animal and provided tips for picking a name that works for you. You may wish to try it and see how well this method works for you. Let us know your thoughts and opinions in the comments or through social media.

Second photo caption: A female black lab laying down on a white couch with her head resting on a man’s legs. The dog is looking at the camera.





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