Responsible Dog Ownership
Dog ownership may be a right, but it comes with responsibilities. Basic care of food, water and health needs are a must when owning an animal. Responsible dog ownership goes beyond this. If you are planning on getting a dog, you need to consider what is involved in owning one before making the commitment. If you already own a dog, consider whether or not you are really doing your part as a responsible dog owner.
Basic needs must be met
The minimum health care needs for any dog include providing sufficient fresh food and water daily, routine preventative vet care and medical attention should he become ill or injured, basic grooming, and providing adequate shelter.
Sufficient fresh food and water means that if you have a large dog, you cannot give him a cup of water and a handful of food and call that feeding. He needs more than that. It means the quality of the food must meet minimum standards. Feeding him a bowl of rice might fill his belly, but it does nothing to provide him with nutrients. So the amount of food and water provided must be enough for a dog of his size and the food must be nutritional.
Routine vet care would be preventative care and consists of annual exams, flea and tick prevention, heartworm prevention, and vaccinations according to your veterinarian's recommendations. Should an illness or injury occur, it is necessary to seek medical treatment and to follow your veterinarian's instructions.
Basic grooming needs vary somewhat but with all dogs it would include keeping the nails trimmed and cleaning the teeth. It also means keeping the coat and skin clean, which may require brushing or bathing depending on the individual dog. Basic grooming of a dog with a longer coat also involves regular brushing to keep the coat free of tangles or haircuts.
Adequate shelter can be indoors or out and provides the dog with protection from the elements - wind, rain, cold, heat, snow, ice. Adjustments to his shelter may need to be made. A dog that is fine outside on a moderate fall day may get too cold in the winter and need to be brought inside or need a better insulated dog house. In a hard driving rain, that dog house that was sufficient may unexpectedly become flooded. It's the responsibility of the owner to take this into consideration and to make necessary changes.
Dogs are social animals requiring mental and physical stimulation
Being social animals, dogs require attention and exercise. They shouldn't be left alone all day every day. Set aside time when your dog will have structured interaction. This should include interactive play, training and relaxing in your company. Make sure the dog gets enough exercise for his breed. Some breeds are very high in energy and need a lot of exercise, some are low energy and need moderate amounts of exercise. Learn what is right for your breed as well as for your own dog. If you're a couch potato and you have a high energy dog, it's not really fair to ask the dog to curl up and sleep all day. It would be better if you change your lifestyle to meet the dog's needs.
Interactive play means that you and the dog are playing together, rather than just handing the dog a ball and letting him amuse himself. Being a part of his playtime allows for more social development, a stronger bond, enables you to define some of his boundaries.
Socializing the dog is an important part of training and involves getting the dog familiarized with anything he might encounter in his life. The ideal age for socializing is when he's a puppy, between the ages of about 6 weeks and 16 weeks old. If you have an older dog who hasn't been socialized, you can still do so; the process may take longer. House training is also ideally done while they are puppies, but again, this can be done with an older dog as well. House training includes teaching him where it's acceptable to potty and teaching house manners, such as not chewing on furniture.
All dogs benefit from basic obedience training. Training your dog also makes him a welcome member of society. Some of the things that all dogs should be able to do include lying down, staying, coming when called, walking on a loose leash. Responsible owners should also teach their dog some basic manners, such as not jumping on people, releasing toys and other objects, and leaving things alone. Training can be worked into other times when the dog is with you in addition to a formal training session where you work specifically on things like recalls, heeling, stays, etc. Dogs need mental stimulation in addition to physical, and teaching some basic commands helps to provide that.
There are times when it is necessary to leave the dog alone for several hours. In these times, he can have toys that have treats inside them to give him a mental challenge and a physical one. If you need to be away for most of the day, consider bringing him to a doggy daycare or hiring a dog walker to come to the house.
Keep your dog contained and controlled
With approxiamtely 75 million dogs in the US, and near 45 million households owning dogs, our pets have the potential to become unwelcome nuisances. There is an increasing tendency for places to disallow dogs. It can be difficult to rent a home with a dog, dogs have been banned from parks in some municipalities. There also is a small group of people that want to make owning a dog illegal. Every dog owner who does not take adequate measures to be responsible, gives those who wish to see dogs unwelcome more justification for their cause.
Dogs should be confined to your property and kept under your control any time they are off your property. Options for confinement and control may vary depending on where you live. While a secure fence is suitable for keeping the dog on your property, some places don't allow fencing, or restrict fencing in ways that it what you can put up won't contain a dog. Fencing also doesn't work for every dog. Some learn ways to break out or to climb over. Fences can be expensive and not having one doesn't mean you can't contain your dog. Without a fence, alternatives include tethering and boundary training. Dogs who are well trained can be supervised while being allowed to play in the yard.
When taking the dog off your property, he should always be either leashed or under your verbal control, with the exception of places that are designated as dog parks - and even there, you should always be able to control him if necessary. If he is leashed, he still needs to be managed. A dog who is running around being a menace at the end of a 15 foot retractable leash is not being handled responsibly.
Also, you should be sure your dog can be identified in case he does get loose and someone else finds him. Collar tags, a microchip or a tattoo are options for identification. Each has its pros and cons, so do some research and decide what is best for you and your dog. Keep a current photo of your dog so you can show it to shelters and vets and use it in flyers or ads should the need arise.
Another important aspect of preventing your dog from becoming a nuisance is to clean up after him and to minimize barking.
Owning intact dogs adds to the responsibilities of the owner. Simply owning an intact dog doesn't give you sufficient cause to breed the dog. There is a lot of research and learning that should be undertaken prior to breeding. You should know about the breed including potential temperament and health that can develop problems. You need to learn about whelping and raising litters, caring for the dam and have a mentor. Prior to breeding, health testing must be done. Breeding should be done to improve the breed.
If you own an intact dog, it is necessary to prevent that dog from unwanted breedings. That means maintaining extra supervision with males so they don't go finding bitches in heat throughout the neighborhood. Males can find a bitch in heat up to five miles away. If you own an intact female, learn how to tell when she's coming into heat and make sure that at those times there is no way for a male to reach her. Be aware that males will climb over, dig under, or rip through a fence to get to her. Even if they don't, it is possible for a breeding to occur through a fence. Do not leave a bitch in heat loose in a yard.
If you are not able to breed responsibility and prevent unplanned litters, it would be better to spay or neuter your dog.
Plan for emergencies
A responsible dog owner should include their dog when preparing for emergencies. While it may be easy enough to budget for routine vet care, you should consider how you'll pay for a medical emergency. There may be insurance policies that help; you also should have some money set aside "just in case".
Plans should also be made for caring for the dogs if something happens to you. Some things to consider is having someone who is willing and able to take the dogs in. This should be put into writing as well as instructions for their care. Carrying a card in your wallet stating that you have dogs at home alerts emergency crews to the need to ensure that they get looked after, and a sign clearly displayed at the house informs rescuers that there are pets to rescue. Be sure to include instructions regarding care for the dogs in your will.
Also, when making plans for disasters be sure to include the dogs in those plans. An emergency kit should include supplies for the dog - food, water, first aid supplies. Know in advance where you can go with the dogs should the need arise.