As we get closer to Responsible Dog Ownership Month, the question may come up: “How do I know if I’m actually being a responsible dog guardian?”
It’s an interesting question and people will have varying ideas of what it means based on their culture, experience, personality and beliefs. As a positive dog trainer, I get to work with a wide variety of people with sometimes differing ideas on what it means to be a good dog guardian.
Today, I’m sharing my Top Ten Ways to Be A Responsible Dog Guardian. You’ll notice that some of them may feel like “no-brainers” to you and I’m happy for your dog that you feel that way. There may also be some that are new and maybe even some you don’t agree with and that’s OK. Consider your view and how you would grade yourself in that area based on who you are and what you do.
Top Ten Ways to Be A Responsible Dog Guardian
#1 – Health – Responsible dog guardians attend to the heath of their dog. This means giving them enough exercise, feeding nutritious food, maintaining a healthy weight and providing routine and emergency medical attention so your dog stays fit, healthy and pain-free throughout his life.
#2 – Fun – Good dog moms and dads make sure their dog has enough fun and stimulation in her life. This means outdoor romps, meandering sniffy walks and intellectual stimulation through games and training. It also means fun with you and fun with other people and dogs.
#3 – Love – This may seem obvious but when I say “love” I mean love your dog like family. Don’t consider giving up your dog when he gets old an incontinent or you have a baby and now he’s an inconvenience. I know in the Northeast where I live we tend to treat our dogs like children more than other parts of the country but you don’t have to consider your dog your child to make a lifelong commitment to his care. Depending on the breed, dogs will live 8 – 18 years, if you won’t make the commitment for the entire life of your dog, don’t get a dog.
#4 – Safety – Your dog likely knows nothing of poison and traffic. It’s the responsibility of the dog guardian to make sure your dog can’t eat anything that will poison her, can’t escape the yard and run into the street and is safe around other dogs. For example, dog parks can be a terrific fun place or they can be like a prison yard full of fights; it’s your job to know when it’s safe to go in or opt out, use gear your dog can’t escape from and make sure there are no weak spots in your backyard fence or poisonous plants in your home.
#5 – Training – The number one reason people give up their dogs is a lack of training. Responsible dog guardians train their dogs in basic behaviors and any required behavior modification. This can be through a group class, private trainer or lots of Youtube videos. Responsible dog guardians use only positive training methods and take the time to make sure their dog knows – at a minimum – the basics.
#6 – Neighborliness – Just like you wouldn’t have a screaming loud party in the wee hours on a school night, responsible dog guardians don’t let their dogs bark all day, run free around the neighborhood, stress out the mail carrier and generally be that dog in the neighborhood that everyone rolls their eyes about. It’s up to you to ensure your dog is well-behaved and a good neighbor. If you adopt a dog with some issues, let your neighbors know you are working on training and that the problem is temporary.
#7 – Patience – I’m always telling my dog training clients that 50% of dog training is patience and consistency. Your dog will inevitably do something that annoys you. This is your moment to redirect your dog to a more positive behavior. Never lose your temper with your dog and yell or terrorize your dog. She won’t understand and it will damage your relationship. Use environmental management and training to keep your dog from doing things you don’t want. You will get frustrated at times, that’s a given. It’s your choice whether you give in to your frustration in a way that makes the situation worse or you take a deep breath and show your dog a better way.
#8 – Awareness – In many ways, dogs are a lot like human children. In some key ways, however, they are very different. Responsible dog guardians educate themselves about dog psychology and behavior so that they can respond appropriately to their dog’s behavior. The more you learn about the science of how dogs think, learn and communicate, the better guardian you will be.
#9 – Advocate for your dog – As your dog’s guardian, you are very much like his parent and it’s your job to advocate for him at the vet, the dog park and on the street. Trust your gut! If a dog is playing too aggressively with your dog at the park and the other owner says it’s fine but you don’t agree, put a stop to the play. Take your dog out of the situation. Other people may see things differently and have different boundaries for their dog. YOU get to decide what is best for your dog and act accordingly. Never be afraid to question medications, get a second opinion or walk away from a situation you aren’t 100% comfortable with.
#10 – Realistic Expectations – This one trips up so many people. If you grew up watching Lassie or other dog movies, you may have expectations for your dog that she will never be able to meet. Society gives the impression that dogs arrive at your home fully trained and able to do everything every other dog can do. That just isn’t reasonable. Just as every child is special and unique, every dog has his strengths and weaknesses. We all have certain dreams when we think about getting a dog and the reality can often be very different. Believe me, I’ve been there and I get it. It’s helpful to remember that although we may not always get the dog we wanted, we almost always get the dog we need.
If you adhere to these Top Ten Ways to Be A Responsible Dog Guardian you will easily win a dog Mom or Dad of the Year award. Meet your dog where he is. Accept her talents and limitations as you would a human you love, take the time to train your dog and manage her environment and you will both live happily ever after!