What does it mean to be a responsible dog owner?

Being a responsible dog owner is easy, but it involves many things. It means making sure that your dog is not a nuisance. Basically this means being a "good citizen." It means making sure that your dog does not roam freely, destroy property, chase livestock, maul children or other animals, leave excrement behind where he goes in public, or become a nuisance barker, or in other ways decrease the quality of life of others in your community. It boils down to proper control, good training, cleaning up after your dog's messes, and providing your dog with enough physical exercise and mental stimulation that he does not create his own "vices" out of frustration.

Dogs were meant to share our homes with us and be our companions. That is the right reason for getting a dog. People who get dogs for the "wrong" reason, often end up regretting their decision to get the dog in the first place, and the dog often becomes relegated to the backyard tied to a doghouse and forgotten about. Or, the dog is "thrown away"--surrendered to an animal shelter or dog pound to get rid of the burden. Dog ownership should not be a "burden." If you get a dog for the right reasons and are committed to giving that dog the love, care, attention, socialization and training that he deserves you will be able to honor your commitment to being his partner and caregiver his whole life long.

Where does responsible dog ownership start?

Responsible dog ownership starts before you even get a dog. You should put a great deal of thought into adopting a dog, because you must make a commitment to that dog for his lifetime. You should research the breeds which you think would be best for you based on the breed's "job description." Border Collies and Jack Russell Terriers are smart--you see them in all of the television commercials. But if you won't be happy with a dog that will need enormous amounts of mental stimulation to keep that busy mind from creating games of its own (like redecorating the house or chasing/biting/shredding the children), then you should choose a dog that is a little "easier" to maintain. If you think you want a Labrador, but you don't want to invest the time to properly train him, and he grows up to be 80 pounds of trouble bouncing off the walls, don't you DARE cart him off to the animal shelter and tell the people "he just got too BIG!" If you research the breed, you would KNOW how big he was going to get, and you would know that Labs are very energetic animals that need training for basic control and an outlet for all of that natural energy (he needs a "hobby," like flyball).

A young dog will require extensive amounts of proper socialization to grow up to be well-adjusted. Puppies need to be taken out to meet people of all different shapes and descriptions. They must be exposed to all kinds of sights, sounds and environments as a youngster, so that when they are older, these sights, sounds, people and environments will not be scary to them. A puppy needs to have a great deal of time devoted to proper housebreaking. You can't just turn him loose in the house and punish him if you find accidents. You must constantly monitor his whereabouts and activities, taking care of the "food-in, food out" business at regular intervals. A puppy needs to be learn routines and some human vocabulary, to get along in our world. He should be trained to obey simple commands, so that he will do what he is told when you need him to do it (like, "go to your bed," "be quiet," and "leave it alone"). Some basic obedience skills are also very important, so that your puppy will stay when told, walk on a leash and come to you when called. If this sounds a lot like having a child, you're right! And it should! The commitment should be the same.

Perhaps in doing your research, you find that you do not have the time in your life for a new puppy. There are many rescue groups out there which have older dogs available for adoption. These dogs have often already been housebroken, and may even have received some training. The original owner may have had to part with the dog for health reasons, or because they were not prepared for the enormous undertaking that was in store for them, and they let the dog learn all kinds of bad habits which were intolerable to them. Sometimes the dog just proved to be more energetic than the family would have liked (they should have gotten a STUFFED dog!). Regardless of the reason, there are any number of excellent "second-hand" dogs available through these rescue groups.

If you're not fussy about the breed characteristics, and feel like taking potluck, you could adopt a mixed breed. If you can determine the parentage of the dog, you may get an idea about whether or not he'll like water, pull a sled, retrieve, or do whatever else it is you might like to do with your dog. Mixed breeds are wonderful dogs. They have a "pedigree" just like everyone else does. It's just that sometimes, no one bothered to write it down. They're just as noble, just as smart, and just as worthy to be your lifelong friend as any of the registered purebreds. All dogs are EQUAL in value. When you pay more for a registered purebred, you're paying for the record-keeping and the registration. You're paying for paper! Your dog will love you the same, no matter what his parents looked like.