Sharing our lives with our pet dogs is incredibly special. Dogs make us laugh, keep us company, share adventures with us in the great outdoors and attend our get-togethers for important occasions, so it’s not surprising we feel as though they’re a huge part of our family. We owe it to our best friends to understand what they need from us to keep them healthy and happy, making sure we’re always there for them, in the right way.
So, when we welcome our beloved canine companions into our homes, what exactly are we responsible for and how can we meet our responsibilities safely and appropriately?
Safety first –- dog owners’ legal responsibilities
It’s up to us as owners to ensure our dogs are safe at all times and not going to create a nuisance or danger for anyone else.
Dogs must wear collars with identity tags whenever they’re in public spaces and also be microchipped
The Control of Dogs Order 1992 requires owners to ensure their dog’s collar and tag clearly state the owner’s name and address. It is also helpful to include your telephone number so that you are immediately contactable should someone find your dog straying. Owners can be fined for non-compliance so it’s useful to have a spare tag engraved in case your dog’s tag goes missing. In Northern Ireland it is an offence for your dog not to wear the correct collar identification and non-compliance could result in a maximum fine of £1000. The Dogs (Licensing and Identification) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012 also requires all dogs in Northern Ireland to be both microchipped and licensed. frequent feeding.
Dogs must be suitably restrained when travelling in cars
Rule 57 of the Highway Code states ‘when in a vehicle make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so that they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves, if you stop quickly. A seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are considered safe ways of restraining animals in cars’.
Being responsible when you’re out and about with your dog
Vet care is essential for your dog and every dog should be registered with a local vet. Dogs must be kept up to date with vaccinations, worming, flea and tick treatments, and have regular check-ups. For dog owners on a low income the PDSA, Blue Cross and RSPCA/SSPCS/USPCA may operate subsidised vet care in your area.
Puppies are normally vaccinated from 6-8 weeks and have an initial course of one or two injections, but your vet will advise on the correct protocol for your individual dog. Vaccinations cover dogs from canine distemper, parvovirus, canine hepatitis and leptospirosis, all of which can be highly infectious to other dogs, costly to treat and potentially fatal. For some diseases, an annual booster injection will be needed to maintain immunity. Your vet may also recommend a kennel cough vaccination depending on your dog’s lifestyle.
Contact your veterinary surgeon to discuss vaccination timings and protocols for your dog.
Dogs need regular flea, tick and worming treatment because these parasites can spread diseases and cause health issues in dogs and can also potentially lead to health concerns in people. It is important to contact your veterinary surgeon to obtain advice to ensure your dog is appropriately treated.
Neutering is the general term used to describe the surgical removal of the parts of a dog’s body involved in reproduction, so they are unable to breed and have puppies. Neutering is performed by a veterinary surgeon while the dog is under a general anaesthetic.
Neutering prevents unplanned pregnancies so is a responsible way to help prevent dogs finding themselves without homes.
Grooming your dog helps to keep their coat clean and healthy, so even dogs with short coats can benefit. Dental hygiene is also important so teaching your dog to have their teeth cleaned is another valuable activity. Gradually getting your dog used to being handled, brushed, having their teeth cleaned and, if needed, having their nails clipped also allows you to check for anything unusual on their body and can be a great way to bond.
Pet insurance is extremely important as it will help to manage unexpected veterinary fees. Some vets also offer payment plans where the cost of preventative healthcare, such as vaccinations and parasite control, is split into monthly payments so it’s worth discussing with your veterinary clinic the options available to you.
One of the best privileges dog ownership can offer is that of the responsibility for our best friends’ happiness. So, what makes dogs happy and how can we help?
We all benefit from a space of our own so create a comfy, cosy den where your dog can safely rest undisturbed. Sleep restores energy levels and dogs can spend typically up to half the day snoozing, puppies and older dogs even longer, so they need the opportunity to rest well. Giving your dog their very own bed in a quiet spot away from the main thoroughfare of the house means they’ll have somewhere all of their own to relax in whenever they wish.
Fresh water available at all times, and a balanced diet, will provide for your dog’s nutritional needs. This is worth discussing with your vet as your dog’s dietary needs might depend on their stage of life or their breed, for example giant breeds might require specific nutrients while they’re growing. Puppies will need frequent meals, the number per day depending on their age, and adult dogs should be fed at least once a day. However, daily amounts can be split over two or three meals to avoid a dog becoming very hungry, which might make them feel frustrated. And of course, additional food treats are generally welcomed by most dogs…but should be given with consideration for managing a healthy weight!
It is important to make sure your dog maintains a healthy weight and body condition for their size, shape and stage of life so it’s useful to monitor this with your veterinary clinic and seek advice if your dog appears over or under weight. It’s also important to know which foods are toxic and harmful for dogs so you can keep them safe.
Dogs can benefit from having a basic structure to their day, which means they soon learn when they can expect to be fed, taken outside, have playtimes, training and quiet times at home. Routine can help prevent a dog from becoming worried or frustrated about what might happen and when, especially within busy households. For example, a dog who understands that they are taken out for a walk after their owner has finished breakfast and tidied up can learn to settle and wait patiently during this time.
However, as long as their needs are met, dogs are generally adaptable at times when owners might plan the day slightly differently, such as weekends and holidays.
Dogs are social animals and generally enjoy company, although just like us they are individuals, and will all feel differently about how much interaction they would like from day to day and from whom. Some dogs enjoy physical contact but are likely to have areas of their body they feel more comfortable being gently stroked than others. Many dogs prefer to have areas such as their shoulders or chests stroked, rather than their paws or faces. But again, every dog is an individual and how much touch they would like at a given time might depend on how they are feeling at that moment. Some dogs might just prefer to be near you and simply share the space together.
Dogs generally enjoy being part of things, and it can be fun to plan activities which your dog can join in with. There are many places where dogs are welcomed and can accompany you, as long as they feel comfortable doing so and are able to settle and relax around new sights, sounds and smells. There are lots of skills you can teach your dog to help them enjoy companionship throughout your life together. However, it is just as important that dogs learn to feel comfortable and confident being left alone for short periods as this is something most dogs are likely to experience.
Playing with your dog and having a fun-filled experience together can help to strengthen your relationship while giving your dog the opportunity to exercise their body and brain. Shop-bought or home-made toys which offer a range of different textures and actions enable owners to be very creative about games and provide dogs with a great amount of variety. Playing with you can also teach your dog valuable skills such as patience, sharing, focus and problem-solving in an exciting and happy way. Link to play video tutorial?
Walks are an important part of most dogs’ lives and mean so much more than just going outside to go to the toilet. Going for walks provides the chance for dogs to exercise as well as explore their local surroundings, gaining a vast amount of information from sniffing their environment. The amount of exercise your dog will need will depend on lots of factors such as their age and development, breed or type, and health so discuss exercise with your vet to make sure you’re getting it just right for your dog.
Pet dogs don’t need to win prizes for obedience, finding lost items or jumping around an agility course – although these activities can be great fun for many dogs! Most dog owners need their dogs to walk calmly on a loose lead, come when called, meet people and other dogs politely and settle down when they need to stop and talk to someone, work on the laptop, have lunch in a café or a pint in the pub. And owners want their dogs to do these things even when life is at its most exciting, such as when there are visitors to the house, tempting picnics around, other dogs running around or kids playing football.
The good news is that it can be great fun to teach your dog all these valuable skills!
This content is reproduced with kind permission from the Dog's Trust