Rules of Responsible Dog Ownership


In talking with a few people about Take Your Dog to Work Day, and about dogs in public in general, it's become clear that a lot of people who have issues with dogs in public places or work places really have issues with dog owners who don't act responsibly. And I can understand that. As I hope I made clear before, I think it's a necessary part of dog ownership to make sure your dog isn't a PITA to other people, at least to a reasonable degree. I also think it's part of the responsibility of someone like me, who wants to see the places for dogs in our society expand, to show how that can be done without inconveniencing anyone. In that spirit, I decided to start a list of rules for responsible dog ownership. Please feel free to add other rule suggestions in the comments--this list is a work in progress.

Rules for Responsible Dog Ownership

1. Keep your dog on a leash in public places. With the exception of places that are explicitly leash-free, like dog parks and private yards, I believe dog owners, no matter what size their dogs are, should keep their dogs leased when they aren't at home. Even if you completely trust your dog to stay right with you and you're only walking through the neighborhood, I still think the dog should be leashed. This is both for the dog's protection (particularly from cars) and for the peace of mind of anyone you encounter. Because the truth is that no matter how trustworthy you know your dog is, someone out there is going to be afraid of him/her, and it's going to freak that person out to see the dog without a leash and not under your physical control. People don't need that.

2. Accept and respect that some people don't like/are afraid of/are allergic to dogs. And that your dog, no matter how great you think s/he is, is not an exception to this rule. People should not be forced to interact with your dog if they don't want to, no matter what their reasoning is. Do not assume people want to interact with your dog without asking them, and if they say no, respect that. This goes for the street, the work place, and anywhere else.

3. In this spirit, don't let your dog approach people. People should approach your dog (and as a sidenote, they should ask before doing so, even though a lot of them won't). No one should be put in a situation where s/he is forced to deal with your dog if s/he doesn't want to, unless it's at your house and you've made clear that dogs are part of the package at your house and they shouldn't come visit if they can't deal with that. And even at your own house, anyone who has to be there for a job (delivery person, work person, etc.) should not have to deal with your dog. Ever.

4. Do not expect your dog to train itself. Dogs have to be taught how to act in a given situation. They don't pick up on social cues, at least not human ones, and they can't read your mind. Train your dog to behave properly (not jump on people, not bark, whatever) BEFORE you take him/her in public. Start with safe situations, move up to more challenging ones. It's not the dog's responsibility to figure out what constitutes proper behavior and adapt, it's your responsibility.

5. For God's sake, don't let your dog jump on people. I don't care what kind of dog you have, if it weighs 5 lbs or 150, it should not be allowed to jump up on people.

6. Or lick them.Same thing. A lot of people don't appreciate dog kisses, and your dog shouldn't put its tongue on people.

7. Do not allow children to mishandle your dog. I think this is really important. Even if your dog is the most mellow creature on Earth and kids could do whatever they wanted to him/her and s/he wouldn't mind, you still shouldn't let this happen. While I don't think kids should learn to be afraid of dogs, they do need to learn to approach them with caution and not mishandle them. Just because your calm, well-trained dog will allow kids to stick their fingers in its mouth and pull its tail doesn't mean all dogs will, and we don't want anybody to get hurt.

8. Take care of your dog's health. Obviously keeping your dog healthy is part of dog ownership for the dog's sake, but since I'm focusing on dog-people interactions, it's also vital for people's sake. A great number of attacks by dogs are attacks by sick dogs. If your dog has an untreated medical condition or is in pain, in may act in a way it otherwise would not (just like many people). Don't let that happen.

9. Pick up the poop. This really ought to go without saying, but apparently it doesn't. When your dog shits, pick it up and throw in a trash can. Even if nobody saw it happen. Duh. Similarly, don't let your dog urinate on people's flower beds, or walk through them or dig them up. Or pee on their tires. Or display any other nasty potty behavior.

10. Maintain control. This is really the bottom line rule. If you can't control your dog's behavior and make sure that the people around him/her are safe and not bothered, then you need to work more with the dog before you take him/her out of your own space. Dogs are a privlege; they come with responsibility. If you don't take this responsibility seriously, you shouldn't have a dog.

A good start, I think. More?

Edited to add more rules:

11. Don't leave your barking dog out all day/night. Dogs bark. It's part of what they do. Fine. But if your dog barks all day or all night if you leave him/her out in your yard, then s/he probably shouldn't be left out in your yard. Constant barking will annoy the hell out of your neighbors, and it's likely a sign your dog isn't having a very good time either.

12. Don't breed or buy while shelter pets die. I know people disagree with this, but this is my list, so I'm adding it. I don't think buying or breeding dogs is responsible behavior given the plethora of wonderful dogs who are killed every year in shelters. And that's all I'm going to say about that, since I've blessed you all with that particular rant before. More than once.


Train your dog to behave properly (not jump on people, not bark, whatever) BEFORE you take him/her in public. i've been thinking that next fall i might be ready to get a dog (though now that i'm considering moving i probably won't be able to afford it, but the intent is there) and i've been looking at dog training sites and i read one guy who said that the best way he's found to train puppies is to take them to a dog park, make them go f-ing bezerk, and start training them when they're dead tired. i kinda like that method. great list. especially about not jumping or licking people. i love dogs more than anything but i don't want it on me. a person who can't control their dog isn't really a person i want to be around, i've found.

I think this sounds terrific. I'm storing up your advice for future reference, because I'd like to own a dog one day. I also have a question - my neighbour has a large dog (a mastiff, I think, but I'm not sure) that barks and barks and barks and barks and barks. All day. Allll daaaaay. Does this mean he is in some kind of distress, or is he just being a dog? I mean, if he's bored or lonely, I'd be more than happy to volunteer to take him for walks and play with him, but I don't want to piss off my neighbours by implying I think they're bad dog owners or anything.

It's hard to say, Sofiya. Some dogs bark because they are bored/lonely/unhappy. Some alert bark at every leaf that blows by. Some seem to bark just to hear themselves bark. However, I don't think it's very responsible to leave your dog in your yard all day/all night if s/he barks constantly. It's an annoyance to your neighbors, and chances are the dog isn't very happy. I think it would be nice if you made an offer to walk or play with the dog, assuming you sort of know the neighbors and it wouldn't be too weird. However, you should probably get a feel for the dog before you take it out on a leash alone, especially if it's a good sized dog (and if it's actually a mastiff, it could easily weigh more than you do). You don't want to get pulled all over the city.

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