Ten Traits of Responsible Dog Owners
By Lynn Stacy-Smith
The month of February has quite a few different awareness events and in the end, all of them fall under the umbrella of being a responsible pet owner. In fact, that is what Love, Laugh, Woof is all about: being a responsible and forever owner from the moment your dog steps their first paw into your life until the last breath that they take by your side. So while every single month is Responsible Pet Owner month in reality, let’s take this opportunity to share ten traits of responsible dog owners:
1. Responsible owners spay or neuter their dogs: Responsible owners leave the breeding up to professional/hobby/show breeders who already have a demand for their dogs before they create the supply. By spaying your females you never have to worry about them going into heat (as messy and miserable as it is for human women) or having unwanted canine suitors lining up outside your fence to get to your female like Scarlett O’Hara at the barbecue. In the same way, neutering your male means that he can focus on being your best friend instead of searching out a mate and acting like a testosterone driven dog. Let’s face it, there’s a reason we refer to overly promiscuous men as “dogs”, right? Take that desire off your male dog’s mind and let him just be your best friend; he does not need a female dog to be his friend with benefits.
2. Responsible dog owners provide good medical care: I once had a vet who told me “thank you” for choosing to go with more elaborate tests to seek a diagnosis for my now late German Shorthaired Pointer Dutch. “Why are you thanking me?” I asked, legitimately confused. Dutch was my dog, a part of my heart and soul, why wouldn’t I do everything possible for him? “Not everyone goes this far to try to keep their dog healthy,” was their answer.
What an eye-opening lesson that was! In my mind proper medical care was a given. A sick dog went to the vet, period. You did everything in your power and budget to help them.
Responsible pet owners provide basic care like annual exams (or even better, twice a year), heartworm pills, and vaccinations. They also know how their dog looks and behaves when healthy, notices changes like acting lethargic or a change in appetite or lumps and bumps that appear, takes them to the vet, pays for testing and treatments and follows the vet’s orders for home care.
3. Responsible owners create a comfortable living environment: Today I shared via Facebook a heart wrenching video of extremely young puppies covered in flea bites, scabs and a horrible skin disease. All they had known was disease, misery, pain, suffering and filth for the few weeks since they had been born, and they were so young that they were not even ready to leave their mother. Luckily they had been rescued after their owner literally dumped them off somewhere. There was no sign of their mother and my heart breaks even more wondering what her fate is.
Responsible owners provide a clean, climate controlled, bug and pest free, safe, comfortable environment for their dog in their residence. Dogs are pack animals and want to be with their humans. They should live inside the family home with the human family, whether it is a family of one or ten, and be with the humans when they are home or safely in their own secured, climate controlled spot with access to water when the humans are away.
4. Responsible owners train their dogs what to do: Imagine being hired for a new job. Nobody tells you what to do, what they expect of you, or how to do it. When you try to do it your own way they yell at you for doing it wrong. That is what it is like for a dog who does not receive training. Although we are able to create loving bonds and incredible friendships across our different species, living in a human world does not come automatically to a dog. Training them what to do is responsible and gives them the confidence to go about their day-to-day lives with you with joy and the relaxing knowledge that they are pleasing you.
5. Responsible owners are calm, fair, kind and compassionate: Good leaders do not need to yell and use aggression to motivate and lead people. This is the same with dogs. Your dog needs you to be their leader, establish rules and be firm, but they also need you to be calm, fair, kind and compassionate. Anything else will just scare and confuse them and break their trust in you. The fact of the matter is that dogs living in a human world need you. Their entire life revolves around you, for love and companionship, food, water, and every basic need. Any good leader respects her team, and it is quite possible to respect and honor your dog while still being their leader.
6. Responsible owners provide quality nutrition: You don’t have to be able to afford the most expensive food on the market for your dog, but providing a good quality food made with safe ingredients is important. Dogs are like computers: garbage in, garbage out, and the better the food your provide the healthier your dog should be. If you are on a super strict budget, try to avoid anything with the words “animal” or “by-product” and the controversial menadione. Dog Food Advisor is an amazing website that can help you research particular brands of food.
7. Responsible owners exercise with their dogs: Whether you participate in an official dog sport like agility, or if long walks are your thing, responsible dog owners make sure their dogs get plenty of exercise and enjoy getting exercise together. There is a mind meld that you get with your dog when you are out exploring the world together.
8. Responsible owners make time for their dogs: Obviously life happens and sometimes you have to work long hours or go to human only events, but spending time with your dog is the whole reason you got them. One of the cruelest things you can do to a dog is to ignore them or stick them in a kennel or room away from their humans. Dogs are fun, they are comforting, and they are some of the best friends I know I’ve ever had, and all they ask in return is for our companionship. Even when I was a single dog owner with a full time job and an active social life, I made sure I carved out substantial and frequent blocks of time that were dedicated just to my dog Babe.
9. Responsible owners are their dog’s rock solid support system at the end of their life: I have lain on the floor of the vet’s office with four different dogs at different times in the last twelve years as the veterinarian gave them the two injections to end their lives. All four times I held my own self together, not showing my fear or my grief or pain until they had all passed on to the Rainbow Bridge. It was only after the vet told me that each of them was gone that I let myself howl with grief, finally able to let my own pain out. Why? Because I did not want to stress them, worry them, scare them, or have any sort of negative energy around them during the final moments of their lives. My job was to be their rock, after all of the times that they had been there for me, it was the most important moment for me to be there for them. There are no excuses to not be there with your best friend, I don’t care how hard it is or how painful. It is an unwritten promise that we give to them the moment we accept them as our dog.
10. Responsible owners are forever owners: From the moment your dog steps their first paw into your life until the final breath that they take with you by their side. Forever. Responsible owners do not surrender their dogs to kill shelters, let them loose in the woods and drive off to let them fend for themselves, list them on Craigslist or anywhere else “free to a good home,” tie them to trees, tape their muzzles, or any of the other truly evil things that have been done to innocent dogs to “get rid” of them. They do not give up on them or harm them in any way. Period. And if extenuating circumstances happen, they reach out to every rescue group until they can find a no-kill option, pay the surrender fees, and make sure that their dog will find a new, loving, forever home.
Please share this with anyone you know who is considering getting a dog or who is a new dog owner. Irresponsible pet ownership is, in my opinion, the primary reason for the massive pet overpopulation problem in this country. It is my mission to help educate owners to become forever owners to help reduce the number of innocent dogs who are surrendered and euthanized each year.