Having a dog can bring you a world of happiness. But people sometimes forget that with this comes a world of responsibility and commitment. Dogs can live 15 years or more so having the means to care for a dog for the duration of its life is the crux of responsible ownership.
Hopefully, you will not have rushed into the decision of buying a dog and will have thought long and hard about the commitment. Responsible onwership comes into play long before you purchase your dog as you plan for its future. With so many different dogs to choose from, it is worth remembering that not all will suit your family and lifestyle. Consider the needs of the dog you are thinking of buying before bringing it home. For instance, large and active dogs will be far more comfortable in a rural setting where there is amble space to exercise, while smaller dogs may be just as content living in a city flat.
Likewise, some dogs will get along well with children and other companion animals, while other breeds may prefer a house without small infants or cats to distract them. If you choose to adopt a shelter dog, you will find that some are happy to be left alone for a couple of hours, whereas others will fare badly unattended, even for a very short period of time.
All dogs require human companionship during the day and while some will cope with a short separation, no dog should be left for hours at a time (especially not when they are new to the home). If you are adopting, shelter staff will fill you in on their dogs’ unique needs and characters and will help match you to the most suitable companion.
Before getting a dog, it is important to do your research. If you have friends with dogs, talk to them about their experiences of dog ownership. Research the breeds you are most interested in and decide whether they are appropriate for your family and lifestyle. Talk to experts and only buy from a reputable breeder that provides all the relevant paperwork. If you are thinking of adopting, talk to kennel staff and explore all your options together.
Cost is the last thing to consider before getting a dog. Be prepared to spend a small fortune every year on your dog’s care. Costs include food, toys, bedding, collar and lead, as well as bigger expenses like vet bills, training classes and pet insurance. Some of these things can be worked on a budget but when it comes to pet insurance and vet bills, there is no knowing how much they will set you back. It may also be worth thinking about third party insurance, just in case your dog causes an accident or injury to someone else. Being a responsible owner involves not only the well-being of your dog, but the well-being of other animals and people when they are around your dog.
Once you have your dog, responsible ownership really comes into play. Take the time to bond with your new addition and have patience while it finds its feet in its new home. Consider how you would feel being uprooted into a new environment with different faces, voices and routines. Cut your dog some slack, but don't neglect its early training and socialisation, as the sooner your pooch gets used to the house rules, the better for everyone and the happier your dog will be.
If you are adopting a puppy, training and socialisation are best started early, from the moment you bring your dog home. Most dogs adopted from shelters will be in their adult years and past their most adaptable stage. This means they might take longer to obedience train and may be harder to socialise, although the ground-work is usually laid at the shelter before a dog is re-homed.
Obedience training and socialisation are vital parts of responsible ownership as dogs with rules are happy dogs. Consistency is key in training as a dog will easily become confused and upset if it doesn't know where it stands. A well-trained and socialised dog will also be better behaved in the home and around strangers and other dogs. Puppy classes and regular walks in the park are great ways of exposing your dog to the outside world, complete with new sights, sounds, smells and other animals.
As your dog's owner, it is your responsibility to keep your animal under control at all times and prevent it from being a nuisance to others. This includes making too much mess and noise. Do not let your dog off lead if you have any doubt as to its good behaviour and obedience. Sight and scenthounds are particularly hard to control when out-and-about as they are easily distracted and may run off before you can tether them. Responsible ownership also extends to clearing up after your dog if it fouls in public. It is an offence to leave dog waste in areas used by the public such as pavements and footpaths.
Make sure you factor exercising your dog into your daily routine. Large, active dogs require 30-60 minutes of exercise every day. No matter the size of your house, playing indoors is no substitute for what the great outdoors has to offer. For more information on how much exercise your dog needs, visit the related blog.
On a rainy day, simple activities such as running up and down the stairs and hunting around the house for a hidden treat or toy will give your dog the exercise it is missing out on while inside. Mental stimulation is also important, especially for dogs with a working history. Ensure you always feed your dog a quality diet that is high in protein and vitamins, with the right balance of carbohydrate. To read more about the importance of a quality diet, click here.
Once you've brought your dog home, you should be thinking about having it micro-chipped. Every year, hundreds of dogs are euthanised in the UK because their owners cannot be traced. If you micro-chip your dog as soon as possible, you have a better chance of being reunited with it should it go missing (something which is even more likely if you have just welcomed a new dog home). Your dog should also wear an identification collar with your home address and contact details clearly shown, as wardens can pick up 'stray' dogs that aren't wearing one.
The decision to spay/neuter your dog should also be made early on. If you adopt a shelter dog, the chances are it will already have been micro-chipped and neutered, although make sure you ask about this. To learn about the health and behavioural benefits of having your pet fixed, click here.
Whether you purchase a puppy or adopt a rescue, your new dog should be taken to the vet for an initial check-up once you've bought it home. The vet can examine your dog's teeth, ears and nails and administer its first vaccinations and worm/flea treatments. These will need to be done on a regular basis (vaccinations; yearly, worm/flea treatments; monthly).
Most shelters will ensure your dog is up-to-date on this score before they re-home it. If you are new to dog ownership, the initial vet visit is the ideal time to ask any questions you might have and get the advice you need. Don't wait until your dog gets ill before taking it along to the vet, but factor in an annual check-up to keep on top of your dog's health. Make sure you groom your dog regularly and brush its teeth as, not only will this help you bond with your dog and build a level of trust, it will allow you to keep an eye on your pet's condition and observe changes should they appear.
If you follow this guide, you will make a great dog owner! As long as you recognise the lifelong commitment of owning a dog, as well as the investment of time and money that will be needed for up to a decade, you are well on the road to responsible ownership. If you have any advice on being a responsible dog owner, please share it with our other readers! Feel free to contact me directly with any further questions and/or suggestions for future blog posts: [email protected]
Written by Hannah Dyball