Responsible Pet Ownership--Dogs

By Lynn Buzhardt, DVM

Dogs can do lots of things. They fetch the paper. They patrol airports for illegal substances. They guide the visually impaired safely across busy intersections. Dogs do many remarkable things for us. But they aren’t capable of doing much for themselves. Responsible dog ownership includes many responsibilities that should be taken into consideration when deciding to adopt a pet.

The Bare Necessities

resp_dog_ownerResponsible dog owners must provide the basic necessities of life for our dogs: food, water, shelter. They can’t go to the grocery for food.  We feed them. Although some drink from the toilet, dogs don’t fill their water bowls. We do. Dogs may scoot beneath the porch when it rains, but they can’t build a house. We shelter them from the elements.

Providing the bare necessities is a constant responsibility. There are no vacations from feeding, watering, and housing your dog. If you are away from home, it’s your job to find someone to care for them.

Health Care

Health care is a big responsibility that involves keeping healthy dogs healthy and making sick dogs better. The bare necessities are the foundation of preventive health care. Feeding a nutritious diet on a regular schedule and providing clean water (the essence of life) are fundamental to your pet’s good health. And, since what goes in must come out, you can’t eliminate “eliminations” from the list of pet care responsibilities. It’s important that your dog have adequate bathroom opportunities. That means you (or a substitute dog walker) needs to be available at appropriate times.

Exercise is another important part of preventive care that helps maintain a healthy body weight. Obese dogs have more medical problems and shorter life spans than their leaner friends. Exercise is good physically (maintains bone and muscle integrity) and mentally (stimulates the brain).

Preventive medicine also includes warding off potential health threats such infections and parasites. It is your responsibility to have your veterinarian immunize your dog against diseases such as Rabies, Distemper, Adenovirus, Parvovirus, Leptospirosis, Bordetella, Influenza, etc. and keep up with booster shots to maintain that immunity. Keeping your dog parasite-free is simple due to the many convenient forms of preventives available. Your dog will need routine protection against heartworms, intestinal parasites, fleas, mites, and ticks. Since prevalence varies with location, ask your veterinarian which parasites and infectious diseases pose the most risk to your dog and the best way to prevent them.

Since your dog can’t drive to the veterinary clinic, you are responsible for taking him in for regular checkups. Routine examinations and laboratory tests (blood, stool) can diagnose problems in the early stages when they are most effectively treated. If your dog is diagnosed with a problem, it is your responsibility to nurse him through it. Some problems are resolved quickly, others take more time, and still others are ongoing and require daily care. And since Fido can’t measure his medication dosage, you have to be his at-home care giver.

One of the most important aspects of responsible pet ownership is having your dog neutered or spayed. There are so many dogs without homes or anyone to be responsible for them that it is in the best interest of the pet overpopulation for responsible owners to do their part to control it by having their pet spayed or neutered.


Dogs, like children, need guidance in learning “right from wrong” and “proper manners”. As their guardian, you teach them that chewing slippers is a no-no and jumping on guests is impolite. You make sure they know that stealing food from the dinner table is rude. It is your responsibility to set the guidelines for good behavior and provide consistent feed back to reinforce the lessons.

Guardianship means “guarding” dogs to keep them safe. You walk them on a leash so they don’t dart into traffic. You keep them in a fenced yard so they don’t wander away and get lost. You identify them with a microchip and collar tag in case they do become separated from you.

 You keep physical threats at bay by storing poisonous compounds out of reach and keeping electrical cords covered. You survey your home and remove potential dangers. In other words, you “dog (child) proof” your home.  And since dogs are perpetual children that never outgrow the need for protection, you never let down your guard.

Quality of Life

You provide your dog with the necessities of life, good medical care, and protect him from danger. But that’s not where your responsibilities end. You signed on to keep your dog healthy and happy when you chose him.

Your dog needs more than health and safety. He needs love and attention. Your dog deserves a good quality of life. He deserves to play a game of tag. He deserves to walk in the sunshine. He deserves to snuggle next to you on the couch. Dogs are social beings that crave human contact and it’s your responsibility (and pleasure) to provide it.


Preparing for the Responsibilities                                                                                         

A dog is a long term commitment. Hopefully he or she will be part of your family for many years. Before you commit to caring for a dog, think about your ability to fulfill these responsibilities.

Carefully consider your lifestyle and family situation and choose a dog that suits you. Assess the amount of time you have to interact with and care for your dog. Other family members may share the responsibilities, but be realistic about just how much help they will be. Can your arthritic parent walk your spunky Labrador? Can your young child remember when it is time to feed Fido? You can help the elderly interact with your dog and teach the young lessons in pet care, but cannot rely on them to provide the majority of your pet’s care. Evaluate your ability to responsibly parent your pet and incorporate him into the fabric of your existing family.

Now consider your financial situation. Dogs (even “free” ones) cost money. And the financial obligation continues for the life of the dog. Dogs always need food and preventive health care. And in the event of an illness or injury, medical expenses increase. Budgeting for recurring monthly pet care expenses is smart. Keeping a “rainy day” fund for medical emergencies is smart, too.

The Burden of Responsibility

It may seem like the burden of responsibility is too much. Dogs can not totally care for themselves so you have a lot to do. But, remember that the benefits of dog ownership outweigh the burdens and relish the responsibility!

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