In recognition of the AKC’s Responsible Dog Ownership Days, I thought I’d reflect on what it means to be a responsible dog owner, as it’s a very subjective topic.
Some people believe simply providing food, water and shelter is the only responsibility of owning a dog. I’d say that’s the bottom line, lowest common denominator of responsible dog ownership. Below are some thoughts on what it means to responsibly care for, train and breed dogs. Which do you think are most important?
The Basics: As said, providing your dog with quality diet, water and shelter from heat/cold/precipitation are the bare minimums of responsibility. I’d add sufficient exercise and interaction to that list as well.
Socialization: Raising a puppy that has had proper socialization during the first 12 weeks of age will make a difference in its character and psychological stability for the rest of its life. Safely introducing your puppy and allowing it to meet and interact with other dogs teaches it how to behave around other dogs, and what the proper protocols and canine rituals are. Failure to socialize your dog can handicap it; creating a fearful or aggressive dog that will have difficulty interacting with other canines.
Exposure: Like socialization, exposing your puppy to varied surroundings, situations and environments will produce a well-balanced dog in the long run. Introduce and allow your pup to safely explore as much as possible during the first few months of life: people (both sexes, various races, adults and children, different types of dress), surfaces (grass, concrete, blacktop, metal, wood, linoleum), environments (an office setting, store, the car, loud and quiet areas, lots of busy people, water, loud noises) and, of course, other dogs.
Healthcare: From puppy wellness visits to follow-up vaccinations and annual exams, healthcare will be one of the greatest costs of owning a dog, along with feeding costs. Maintaining vaccinations and worming don’t just keep your dog safe and healthy, they help stop the spread of sickness and disease throughout the community as well. Getting your dog medical attention when something is wrong is an act of responsible ownership, but I’d argue that preventative healthcare (including flea and tick control) is just as important, if not more so.
Containment: Keeping your dog safe and secure in a fenced yard or kennel is acting responsibly toward your dog and community at large. An unsecured dog poses a risk to himself, and can cause problems with neighbors. When on walks, using a leash can keep your dog out of trouble with other dogs and from running and jumping on people passing by.
Cleaning up after: Like the popular children’s book says: Everyone Poops. When at home, keeping the yard or dog’s kennel clean is the humane thing to do. When on walks, bringing disposable baggies to clean up after it is the responsible thing to do.
Identification: An ID tag with your contact information is the minimum of responsibly owning your dog. Consider a microchip that is registered with an agency such as Avid or Home Again. Used in combination with an ID tag, it’s the best way to get your dog back should it become lost. New collars and ID tags include QR codes that when scanned with a smartphone provide more detailed information and more contact possibilities.
Training: Raising and caring for a puppy are the foundation of responsibility, but training is what defines responsibility. An out-of-control dog doesn’t serve anyone’s best interest – especially the dog’s. A dog that doesn’t know how to behave or listen, will only cause you problems – the result being that the dog is left at home when he could be out and about with the family. Thoroughly teaching a dog sit, stay, heel and here under all circumstances are the basics of a well-trained dog. To take it to the next level, consider training to the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen standard.
Follow local laws: Getting along with your neighbors and those you encounter on the street is part of responsible ownership. Follow all licensing and leash laws, and make sure your dog isn’t being a nuisance to your neighbors with excessive barking – something that can not only strain relationships, but can get you in trouble with the law.
Spay or neuter: If you’re not planning on breeding your dog, consider spaying or neutering it. Not only will it eliminate the possibility of an unintended breeding, it can be healthier for both sexes of dog.
Breeding: Responsible breeders do more than just pair two purebred dogs together. They understand how genetics work and how they can better their breed as a whole. From conformation to utility to genetic screening of parents and puppies, responsible breeding requires an understanding of the breed standards, of the two dogs being bred and the puppies they’ll produce.
While there are many more responsible actions of owning a dog, this is a solid foundation to start with. What else would you include on this list?