The Importance of Name Selection

What’s in a Name?

A toddler sits observing a pile of sleeping neonate puppies.
Young puppies being keenly observed for name determination.

(Applies to dogs, humans, horses… any species that recognizes that a unique sound refers specifically to them alone).

As you may have noticed, every APAW dog has a very special and unique name that is carefully selected for them; a name that wouldn’t even be _appropriate_ for the vast majority of other dogs in the program, never mind _perfect_ for another.

“… because names can have an effect on self-concept, names can indirectly influence how we act. However, research into the ways names affect people has uncovered a link that shows that our names–or at least other people’s reactions to our names–influence the way we behave even more directly.” ( — H. Edward Deluzain;

‘Names’ vs ‘Words’

This is why nearly every APAW dog receives a ‘word’ name; each name is chosen not only due to it’s special significance for that dog, but also for the instant emotional and intellectual reaction it will trigger in the majority of people who ever hear it… and thus will reflect positively from the person back to the dog, increasing the likelihood of the dog responding in the desired fashion.

Age at Name Assignment

Back when APAW kept for training nearly every puppy we produced, our puppies were each presented with their name before their ears opened around 3 weeks old, to be the first human sound they heard. We now wait to assign names once we’ve determined which pups will remain in our program and which will be placed. Regardless, once assigned their name is used over and over again through-out all of their positive interactions with people, at a much higher frequency than any other word or cue. By the time they are learning to wait or stay (as early as 6-8 weeks old), they are beginning to recognize their name as uniquely theirs, not to be shared with any other being.

Every day that goes by, their experience and understanding of their name gets stronger and stronger, and it becomes their identity.

Changing a Name?

If a dog or person’s name is going to be changed, it is only fair to do so _before_ they come to identify the name as their own.

Silver Poodle's stoic face - the face is shaved pure white hair with black nose and eyes, and the long hair of her topknot and ears is dark gray
“Galaxy” – APAW’s Across The Universe CGC-A CGC-U TKN

We do not permit name changing for trained dogs placed through APAW. Any new owners of puppies sold after 12 weeks of age are strongly encouraged not to change the name, or to choose something which sounds similar.

When APAW accepts a dog over this age into our program, the dog is not automatically given a new name. If they know their name – they respond to it happily and attentively and in a different manner than they respond to other words – then they will keep their name.

Only if it is considered unsuitable – slang, derogatory, poor impression, etc – will it be changed, and if the dog liked their name the new one will sound similar to respect and build upon the dog’s prior good associations.

If the dog has _negative_ associations with their name or no recognition at all, that is when I will choose a new name, so that the dog may start fresh – new sounds, new expectations, new life, new attitude – all geared towards making them the most successful assistance dog they can become.

A Uniquely Perfect Name

Anyone who has worked/trained with an animal extensively will probably recognize that the name of the animal is so uniquely ‘them’ that there never could have been another name – if a different name had been chosen in the beginning, the animal would have grown up to be a different being… genetically the same, but a different personality and therefore a different thought process and different influences for making different decisions.

Toddler and fluffy brown Poodle puppy snuggled on couch
“Locket” – APAW’s Key to the Heart

To quote again H. Edward Deluzain;

“The process that gives names their influence is the so-called self-fulfilling prophecy. Briefly explained, the self-fulfilling prophecy works this way. A man introduces himself to us as Percy. Immediately, our unconscious mind goes to work dredging up all the images and associations we have with that name. Without realizing it, we develop a mental picture–a set of expectations–of what a Percy is like. This mental picture causes changes in our own behavior that are so subtle that we are not aware of them. However, Percy picks up on the messages we are sending by our actions, and he makes unconscious changes in his own way of acting to satisfy what he thinks we expect of him. In other words, we set up a situation which forces Percy to behave the way we think Percys are supposed to behave.”

While I (Jillian) accept name suggestions from everyone with each litter, I do not let others actually match a name to a specific puppy to be kept by APAW (unless I have already approved the name for that pup). Homes who are acquiring a young pup from APAW obviously have full selection of their desired name, with only our light request to give higher preference to a name beginning with the letter the litter has been assigned.

In order for the name to be the most perfect name for that dog as an adult, it needs to be matched to the characteristics that the dog already has, or be chosen to balance negative characteristics in the preferred direction.

This even goes beyond the meaning of a word, right to it’s very sound – words/names/sounds can be soft or sharp, light or heavy, weak or strong, loud or quiet…


**NOTE – this name concept only applies to the call name (not the registered name), as that is the name which the dog is aware of and responds to the reflection of others’ perceptions.

Service Dog activates handicap door
“Eager” – APAW’s Eager To Please, working Service Dog


What names have you given your pets?

Why and how was their name selected, what does it signify, and most importantly – in what ways have they grown into it?



If you’ve found this concept interesting, please share the article with others you think will enjoy it!


APAW Vision

Why was APAW created?

APAW began in 2007 as a one-person non-profit organization dedicated to training Standard Poodles (as well as occasional Minis/Toys and Poodle mixes of any size) as Service Dogs to aid partners with mobility impairment and Social/Therapy Dogs to visit and work with others through settings such as nursing homes, hospitals and schools. As an ultimate goal, APAW has always intended to branch out to providing Poodles for every type of working role, including Search and Rescue, various types of other scent detection, hunting, and assorted performance sports such as agility, obedience, disc, freestyle, and certain aspects of protection.

APAW founder and trainer Jillian (Gartner) Emerson quickly realized that there was a strong need for a carefully designed purpose-breeding program to focus on breeding dogs with suitable temperament, structure and health characteristics to graduate as working Service and Therapy Dogs. From our inception, APAW has been dedicated to acquiring and strategically breeding purebred Standard Poodles towards the many characteristics needed for these roles. After our initial period of accepting mixes and rescues into our training program and finding none able to meet minimum criteria for graduation, we shifted our focus entirely to purebred Poodles with known backgrounds. APAW separately has also cultivated high-intensity working temperaments suited towards the other roles in which we wish to provide Poodles.


Ups & Downs

APAW’s size has fluctuated over the years, even renting a dedicated facility for a few years and building a volunteer base equaling the work hours of multiple employees, though financially never reached the ability to hire. For a few years founder Jillian was able to receive a meager salary for her round-the-clock care and training of the dogs in addition to all other aspects of running the program, but ultimately needed to return to pure volunteer status.

Current Status

Eventually Jillian got married and APAW moved into a converted garage space at her home. Jillian now is raising her young children and APAW has been down-sized to the base level of maintaining the genetics of the carefully cultivated breeding program, and finishing out the training of Service Dogs for clients who were on the waiting list prior to the program’s redirection.


Welcome to Jillian’s APAW Blog!

A selection of APAW dogs in-training/working, 2012.


Left; Atlas and I after competing in rally and weight-pull.

My daughter reading to  pregnant Dawn.

Welcome to my blog!

Let me introduce myself; my name is Jillian (Gartner) Emerson, and I’m a service dog trainer, Standard Poodle breeder, and homeschooling mom of two young children. I raised my first assistance dog puppy when I was 11 years old, and have been involved in the industry ever since – volunteering, interning, and temporary employment through a large local organization, then moving across the country to pursue formal education in the field, followed by returning home and starting my own program with a focus of filling a huge gap in the industry… that is, the focus of purpose-breeding purebred Poodles for the characteristics required for assistance work, and training/placing many of the Poodles as service dogs for partners with disabilities.

The organization I founded is American Poodles At Work, Inc, also known as APAW. It’s always been a small program, but the size has fluctuated over the years and at it’s largest APAW was renting a 4,000sf facility and had 100+ hours of volunteer assistance per week, in addition to my own volunteer round-the-clock role. APAW has worked towards the requirements set forth by Assistance Dogs International, but has not remained large enough to apply for accreditation. Over the years APAW has graduated over 15 fully-trained service dog teams, and many therapy dog teams, partially-trained young adult dogs who’s owners have completed their personal task training, and many more dogs placed as assistance prospects, emotional support dogs, performance dogs, as well as a few show and breeding dogs.

I’ll be writing articles on many dog-related topics, with particular focus on the assistance dog industry, training (for assistance as well as in general), and running a breeding program with a purpose.

As with nearly everything in life, there are many correct answers and opinions. The information I share is the perspective I have come to develop based on many years of learning from others combined with my own experiences over those years. I do not suggest that my philosophy or methods are the only “good” ones, and I encourage my students and followers to learn from many sources rather than to take any single source as gospel. 

My hope is that these articles are interesting and educational, offering both insight and perspective into topics that are often not discussed beyond those individuals actually participating.

Feel free to request topics that are of interest to you – I guarantee there are other people who would like to hear about it too!

Best, Jillian