Dog Names and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies


Shortly after deciding to keep my first-ever “foster failure” (a dog who was meant to be a foster only, but who found his forever home with me), I asked my husband to take some care with his name; he’s the namer in our family. I’m terrible at naming animals; he’s terrific and funny. But given that this was going to be a dog that we’d have for a long time, not a foster dog just passing through, I had some criteria I wanted him to take into consideration.

Although I would technically have veto power if he came up with a name I hated, he can be quite persistent in calling a dog something he has decided on, despite what the dog’s subsequent owners later decided to name the dog. For example, a couple of years ago, I fostered a short, middle-aged Border Collie-mix who had recently had puppies, and had a rumpled, pudgy appearance. She was surrendered to the shelter where I volunteer as “Mary,” but Brian decided she looked more like a “Brenda,” I have no idea why, and he still calls her Brenda when he sees her, when my friend who adopted her comes to visit. So I really didn’t want him to get attached to a name I didn’t like.

My criteria were these: Nothing scary-sounding or ironic; I wanted something unambiguously friendly and approachable, like the dog I was hoping my puppy would come to be. Because, as the largest puppy in the litter of pit-mixes, he was obviously going to be a big, strong dog, I wanted something non-threatening – not anything like Bane, Thor, Atlas, or Butch. Nor did I want to over-correct with something wimpy, like Angel or Bubbles. I was looking for something nice and neutral.

The night we had the naming discussion, we were looking at the puppy in question, who was lying sprawled at our feet, his brindle coat gleaming. Without even one misstep or “bad” name, after a few moments of contemplation Brian said, “How about Woody? That coat looks like wood grain, like the side of an old Woody station wagon.”

I loved it immediately, and it was pitch-perfect. It certainly did describe his beautiful wood-grained coat, and it was friendly and approachable, like the cowboy Woody in the Toy Story movies.

Never did I consider the whole self-fulfilling prophecy thing.

Never have I owned a dog so drawn to chewing up wooden things.

It started with table legs and chair legs, and the corners of tables. That got him put outdoors more often, where he graduated to the corners of our deck and deck railings. That prompted the purchase of a portable kennel, erected in a shady corner of the yard, and outfitted with a nice, new doghouse. Keep in mind he’s not being banished there for any length of time; it’s just a safe place to put him when I go to the store or gym, say, and no one is supervising him. Like an idiot, I didn’t consider the folly of buying that really cute, comfortable wooden doghouse.

His recent fascination: living wood. It started with some scruffy old rosebushes in the front yard. As I watered them, I noticed that some branches had wilted and turned brown. That happens when the stems are chewed through. Whoops.

But then I started noticing green leaves on the lawn under our young apple trees, and, looking more closely, saw that he had apparently jumped up and grabbed the ends of low branches and chewed them. Maybe he saw the little, green, growing apples as balls he could play with, I don’t know. My husband is not that observant, so I neatly clipped the ends of the chewed branches and picked up the leaves and hid them in the yard waste bin. This happened a few times, but I still somehow wasn’t ready for the sight of the bark chewed off the base of the tree. THAT sight made me instantly nauseous. Five years of watering that tree, through a drought, no less. Five years of anticipating our future apple crops, and the tree might not survive its debarking.

In my defense, I should add that Woody is not, as it sounds, left without supervision all that often; it always happens in a short window of time, when I’m distracted with something else. The other day, I left Woody chewing a giant rawhide on a mat on the deck on the side of the house while I watered shrubbery in the front of the house – which took maybe five minutes. When I came out back to water the garden in the back, I found some chewed-off branches on the tomato plants – and yet Woody was there, lying on his mat on the deck, chewing the rawhide, as if he had been there the whole time (but clearly wasn’t).

I know this is a phase and it will pass, and I’m trying everything I can think of to manage and contain the teething part of adolescence. I run him almost daily. I’ve gone through several large bottles of Bitter Apple. He has a million other things to chew on, things of all types and levels of hardness: rubber, plastic, rawhide, bully sticks, dried yak cheese, for crying out loud! His preference is wood. And I just did not see that coming.

Have you ever named a dog something that turned out to maybe be a mistake?


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