Much ado about “responsible dog ownership”

it's more than just being kind to your dog


There’s lots said these days about something called “responsible dog ownership,” but like art, people often can’t define it — they just know when they see it.

The definition of “responsible” includes the conduct of an obligation or a duty. It is definitely the dog owner’s duty to provide basic needs for his pets and show dogs, but beyond the basics, the issue of responsibility gets fuzzy.

Responsible dog ownership has a few foundation tenets, but beyond that framework, it can vary considerably. Few people would argue that these tenets include keeping Fido at home, treating him kindly, and providing good food, fresh water, adequate shelter, and appropriate veterinary care.

Responsible owners take seriously the duty to prevent canine pregnancies that add to animal control burdens — and shelter deaths — in the community. Sterilization is the easiest, most practical, and perhaps safest method of preventing unwanted litters and has other advantages as well: it prevents reproductive system infections and cancers; eliminates the annoyances of dealing with female dogs in season; and helps moderate the temperament of male dogs.

However, these advantages do not translate to “responsible dog owners spay or neuter their pets.” Pet owners who choose to keep their pets intact should not be considered irresponsible as long as they use another method to prevent production of unwanted litters.

Keeping Rover at home

Responsible dog ownership does include keeping the pet at home. Ohio has leash laws that require dogs to be under control at all times, so failure to confine the dog can result in a citation and a hefty fine.

But more important than the law is the need to maintain a good neighbor policy and to protect the dog from injury. Some owners keep Sassy home with a fence. Others always walk her on a leash and take precautions to prevent her from slipping out the door when the kids go out to play. (Baby gates and dog crates come in handy here.)

A dog kept at home can’t dig in the neighbor’s garden, mug the neighbor’s kids or pets, frighten joggers, soil lawns, or get in fights.

Keeping Monster quiet

Noisy dogs can be a nuisance in close-knit neighborhoods, apartment complexes, and condo developments. Dogs barking at night waken babies and keep adults from nodding off; dogs barking during the day bother second shift workers and irritate frayed nerves.

Most dogs who bark too much are either kenneled outside or left alone for hours at a time. Most dogs that bark too much can be taught to keep quiet except when alerting to a stranger.

Keeping Rambo clean, well-fed, well-housed, and healthy

Although there is much debate over dog food, any food that maintains the dog’s health is appropriate. If you want natural, buy natural. If you want to make your own, do so. If you want to buy a grocery store brand, fine. If preservatives don’t bother you, fine. Just buy or make a balanced food you can afford and monitor the dog’s condition. If his coat’s too dry or he’s too fat or thin, or you get tired of huge piles to clean up or if he doesn’t like it or doesn’t digest it well, explore the possibility of changing foods.

Daily, weekly, or even monthly baths are neither necessary nor recommended for healthy dogs. However, responsible owners do monitor their pet’s skin and coat condition and take appropriate measures to keep them healthy.

Cleanliness in the yard, the neighborhood, and the whole community is an important part of responsible dog ownership, so clean up after your dog on your own property and in public. Appropriate housing can vary with breed. A dog with a thick double coat can sleep outside all year as long as he has an insulated house, is protected from wind, direct sun, and precipitation, and has plenty of clean water and nourishing food. A dog with short hair should not sleep outside in cool or cold weather, and toy dogs should never be sent outside to sleep.

Dogs should have an annual checkup by a veterinarian and be placed on a preventive medicine program for rabies, distemper, parvovirus and other diseases. Many owners include heartworm preventive in that list, but some responsible owners are reluctant to give monthly heartworm preventive to their pets. Some owners prefer a homeopathic approach to good health and some use a combination of homeopathy and traditional medicine.

In a nutshell, responsible dog owners protect their pets from injury and disease, protect their neighbors from transgressions by their pets, and avoid unwanted litters. How they do so should be a matter of personal preference. If dog owners do not select the easy way, they should not be treated as “irresponsible” as long as the goals — no unwanted puppies, no nuisances, no neglect — are achieved.

Norma Bennett Woolf

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