Most of those who have dogs think that they are responsible dog owners—and most are. After all, why would you have a dog if you were not going to be responsible? Responsible doesn’t mean perfect: every day, a dog will get out, go on a merry adventure, and—hopefully—make it back home. Often, these dogs have been let out by their owners, or have bolted from the front door in plain sight. An occasional escape of course doesn’t make you an irresponsible dog owner, things happen. However, there are many things that you can do to be a responsible dog owner.
Plan ahead before you get a dog. Will you be able to take them for daily walks?  Can you afford to feed them and take them to the vet both for check ups and if they get sick? Do you have appropriate space and a fenced-in yard for a dog to be able to play freely? Do you have time to play with them, train them? Are you home during the day, and will your dog be spending minimal time alone? Does anybody in your home have a dog allergy or asthma? These factors are all important in determining if you should get a dog.
Keep your dog on a proper leash outside.
If you have a secure, fenced in yard, your dog may be able to play freely in the yard off of a leash. However, if this is the case, your dog needs to be able to respond promptly to commands, such as stay, if the gate is opened so that they do not bolt when they see a chance for freedom! When out for walks in the neighbourhood, a leash is important both for your dog’s safety and that of other dogs. Your dog may be friendly, but if provoked by another animal, things can go different directions than anticipated! A leash allows you to control your dog.
Note as well, I wrote a proper leash. I have been out with my friend Stephen and his Guide Dog, Murray, in the past when we encountered a dog on a very long piece of what appeared to be some sort of wire in a rubberized casing—it was not a proper leash. This “leash” was far too long, and the owner did not have adequate control over the dog, which could have put other dogs, including service dogs, at risk—more about that in a moment.
Do not ever leave your dog in a hot or cold car.
Even if you think you will just be a minute, never leave your dog in a car during extreme temperatures. You may go in the store, run into an old friend, and 25 minutes later, you have not started your errand! The temperature in cars can rise very quickly in summer—and cool very quickly in winter. If you do not have another person to stay in the car with your dog while you run in, take your furry friend home first.
The same goes for tying up your dog unattended outside of a store. You know he or she is yours, and he or she is friendly, but those of us wandering by don’t. Plus, if your dog really is friendly, you wouldn’t want someone stealing your friendly pup!
Being left alone in unfamiliar situations can also be stressful for your dog, causing them to act in ways that are not normal for them. If they’re alone, being at home or in a familiar place is the best place for them to be!
Keep your dog’s vaccines up to date.
The first step to a happy dog? Keep them healthy! Keeping dogs healthy is quite straightforward—take them to the vet regularly, make sure their shots are up to date, give them any medicines they need, including those for heartworm, and be on the lookout for signs of illness or that your dog is just not acting him or herself. As well, ensure your dog is microchipped, to ensure their safe return home if they do get lost.
Be aware of other dogs—especially service dogs
As I mentioned, I’ve spent a lot of time with my friend Stephen and his Guide Dog, Murray. During these times we’ve had interesting run ins with other dogs—and I know the ones I have seen are just the tip of the iceberg. If you see someone with a service dog, pull your dog to the other side and let them pass. Do not let your dog interact with the service dog if you can help it. If your dog is prone to barking, it may be helpful to take another route, although most service dogs have good concentration skills, they are still dogs! Keep your dog close as you pass a service dog—they will likely ignore your dog if your dog does not do anything unexpected.
If you are approaching a person who is working with a guide dog specifically, it can be helpful to let them know that you are there. I have on occasion called out to people with other service dogs letting them know we were passing with Murray (“We are passing on your right with a guide dog”, only to realize later that this was a sighted handler! Better safe than sorry—in this case, she had not seen us yet. In another instance, I was at a career fair with Gerry and his guide dog, Brody. Another woman was there with a guide dog, and I briefly left Gerry and Brody to go let her know that we were around with another guide dog—especially as I noticed her dog pulling toward Brody as she was talking to someone at a booth!
Whether approaching another pet or a service dog, having your dog trained to heel without pulling at the leash, or “leave it” and ignore other dogs, is a good skill to work on—since spending time with my friends with guide dogs, I always say that if I ever train a dog, “heel” will definitely be one of the commands we work on!
Clean up after your dog.
Keep everybody healthy by cleaning up after your dog. Make sure you take bags with you on walks—if you forget, do your best to come back and clean up. Keep your eyes open for doggie-bag stations in public areas and apartment complexes—they’re becoming more and more common, for those oops moments!
Keep an ID tag on them always.
Coming up soon, we’ll be launching pet ID tags on My Identity Doctor, for our furry friends like Burton the Shop Pup. Always ensure your dog has proper identification on their collar—inside the house or out. This might include license tags per your local animal services requirements, along with a microchip tag and whatever other tags you think are needed to identify your pup—their name is important, as is your phone number! For dogs with medical conditions, our medical ID tags and medical key chains might be a good choice to draw extra attention to their special needs.
What else do you do as a responsible dog owner? Let me know in the comments!