Guide to Responsible Dog Ownership


Among companion animals, dogs stand unmatched in their devotion, loyalty and friendship to humankind.  Owning a dog is a privilege and a responsibility.  They depend on us to provide basic care such as food, shelter and veterinary care – yet they deserve so much more.  If you are considering brining a dog into your life, think seriously about the commitment that dog ownership entails.  If you already have a dog, you can maximize your relationship through proper care, training and exercise.

The following responsible dog ownership tips guide you from the moment you first think about getting a dog through all stages of dog ownership, and help ensure that your relationship with your best friend is a long and happy one.

Planning for Your Pet

Recognize the Commitment
Dog ownership is not something to be entered into lightly.  Owning a dog is a long-term emotional and financial commitment.  Before deciding that a certain dog is right for you, you must make an honest assessment as to whether your home is right for any dog.

Find the Right Dog for You
You need to make sure the breed you choose suits your lifestyle.  Each of the 153 breeds recognized by AKC has a distinct personality and characteristics that make it uniquely suited for particular family settings.  With the incredible diversity of purebred dogs, there is a “right dog” for everyone.  Begin determining what qualities you want in a dog by making a list of traits that are important to you.  Consider size, energy level, grooming needs, trainability and temperament.  Then conduct research to find which breeds best fit your profile:  visit for information and direct links to National Breed Club websites, or head to your local library or bookstore and consult the AKC Complete Dog Book. 

Meet the Breed
Once you have narrowed your selection to a few breeds, meet some dogs of these breeds in person.  Each dog is an individual, so don’t make a decision based on the great temperament of your neighbor’s dog alone.  Attending a dog show is a great way to see different breeds first hand and to meet breede4rs – long-time experts on their breeds.  There are more than 16,000 AKC events each year – so that means there are plenty in your area. 

Find a Breeder or Rescue Group
Where you get your dog or puppy should be one of your biggest concerns.  You have a much better chance of being satisfied if you get your dog from a responsible, ethical breeder whose primary concern is to produce dogs of high quality, good health and stable temperament.  Also, know that puppies aren’t for everyone.  If an older dog better suits your lifestyle, consider adopting one.  The AKC website has information on breeder referral and online breeder classifieds for puppies, as well as breed rescue groups who save dogs that have been lost, abandoned or surrendered.

Get It in Writing
When you purchase or adopt a dog, information about the sale or adoption should be in writing.  An AKD registration application should be provided if you purchase a puppy.  Make sure the breeder completes the appropriate sections of the AKC registration form and signs it.  Expect responsible breeders to insist on a contract.  The contract should include details regarding any fees, spay-neuter agreements, health guarantees and living arrangements.  It should also include instructions on what to do if the dog, despite your best efforts, simply doesn’t work out for your or your family.  Most responsible breeders will insist that the dog be returned to them in you cannot keep it.  When adopting a rescue dog, veterinary records and any history that is known about the dog should be provided.

Living Responsibly with Your Dog 

Register Your Dog
Send the completed, signed registration application to the American Kennel Club.  Your dog will then become part of the world’s largest registry of purebred dogs and will be eligible for two months of free pet healthcare insurance as well as a variety of competitive events.  If your rescue a purebred, consider applying for a Purebred Alternative Listing (PAL) number.  This number will allow your dog to participate in AKD events such as Agility, Rally, Obedience and many others.

Dog-Proof Your Home
It is essential that you have a secure method of keeping your dog on your property.  If your yard is not fenced, consider a large dog run or invisible fencing.  If your property is not fenced in some way, stress to family members that the dog must be leashed at all times when taken outdoors, both for his safety and yours.  Inside, keep electrical cords, cleaning solutions and other poisons out of a puppy’s reach.

ID Your Dog
Your dog should wear an identification tag with your name, address and phone number at all times.  This will increase the chances of your dog being returned to you if he gets lost or runs away.  Consider a microchip or tattoo to permanently identify your dog.  These methods may prove invaluable in recovering your dog should he become lost.  Enroll your dog in AKC Reunite, the nation’s largest database for recovering lost pets.  For more information, visit

Provide Shelter
Ideally, your dog should live inside with you as part of the family.  If that’s not possible, he needs a sheltered area outside.  The shelter should provide shade in summer and warmth in winter.

Watch the Heat
Dogs can succumb to heat stress in a matter of minutes.  Do not leave your dog in the car when the temperature is even mildly warm.  When your dog is outside, he should have a shady place to lie down and plenty of fresh, cool water.

Travel Safely
Keep your dog safe in a car by using a crate or by attaching the dog to a seat belt with a harness.  Never let your dog ride free in the back of a pickup truck or allow him to hang his head out of the car window.

Veterinary Care
Have your dog examined by a veterinarian within a few days of his arrival.  Schedule regular veterinary check-ups, and be sure to keep your dog’s vaccinations up-to-date.  Parasites such as fleas, ticks and worms can cause serious disease.  You may also want to research and consider pet health insurance.

All dogs should be groomed regularly for their health and best appearance.  Clip your dog’s nails, keeping them short will keep him comfortable, prevent injury to his feet, and may save the surface of your floors.  If you can hear your dog’s nails click on a hard surface, they probably need to be trimmed.  To prevent tooth decay and gum disease, clean your dog’s teeth regularly.  Most dogs will tolerate a “doggie toothbrush” and a flavored paste if introduced slowly and gently.  You can also give your dog products such as hard biscuits, rope bones and nylon chews to help keep his teeth clean.

Dogs need regular exercise to ensure continuing good health and prevent destructive behavior.  The research you did before getting your dog means you know how much exercise your breed typically requires, so make sure to meet that need.  Take your dog for walks or to a local dog run.  Play “fetch” in the yard.  Regular exercise benefits your dog’s health and well being and helps ensure that he’ll be a pleasure to live with.

Teach Basic Commands
Teach your dog basic commands such as sit, stay, come and down.  Training your dog will make your life easier, and will fulfill your dog’s desire to learn and please you.  To find an AKC club that offers classes near you visit the “Dog Owners” section of

Whichever method of housetraining you have chosen – crate training, paper training or litter box – make sure that all members of the family enforce it consistently.  Accidents happen.  Be prepared by establishing a procedure for clean-up.  Teach your dog from the beginning the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behavior.  If something is “OK” today, your puppy will think it’s OK forever.  Make sure that every member of the family enforces the house rules.  Consistency is the key to having a well-behaved pet.

Socialize Your Dog
Expose your dog to different people and settings regularly.  Take him to the park, to the pet store, on a walk through town.  Praise him for accepting petting from friendly strangers and for behaving calmly around people and other dogs.  The more your dog learns of the world, the more comfortable he will be in it.

Respect Your Neighbors
Not everyone will love your dog as much as you do.  Keep your dog on your property.  Don’t force your dog’s company on a neighbor who isn’t comfortable with it.  Always pick up after your dog.  Carry a plastic bag or two with you when you walk your dog, and dispose of the waste properly.  Prevent nuisance barking by making sure your pet has plenty of attention and exercise.

Supervise Play with Children
Children and dogs can be great companions, but they also require supervision when playing together.  Very small children should never be left alone with a dog, no matter how stable his temperament, and kids should be taught basic safety rules such as asking before petting any dog and avoiding a sleeping or eating dog.

Spay and Neuter
If you do not plan to show your dog in AKC Conformation events, you should consider having your pet spayed or neutered.  Spayed or neutered dogs can participate in AKC Obedience, Agility, Rally, Tracking and many Performance Events.

Get an AKC Canine Good Citizen ® Certificate
After your dog knows the basic commands, take his education to the next level.  Your dog can become an AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGCTM) by passing a test designed to demonstrate good manners and acceptable behavior in everyday situations.  The CGC program has become a standard for recognizing obedient dogs and responsible dog owners throughout the country.

Set a Good Example
As a dog owner, you are responsible not only for your own dog’s well being but for the status of dobs everywhere.  One irresponsible dog owner in town can make life difficult for dog owners all over.  Owning a friendly, clean, well-mannered dog reflects positively on the species and may help to protect our rights to own companion animals.

Leave Breeding to the Experts
Breeding should only be done for the advancement of the breed.  If you are thinking about breeding your dog, consult your breeder for advice.  Consider all the consequences and expenses of breeding a litter before you do so.  Any animals you bring into the world are forever your responsibility.

Protect the Right to Own Dogs
Be aware of any legislation developing in your city or state that may compromise the rights of responsible dog owners.  Often, negative legislation is proposed in response to an incident that occurred because of an irresponsible dog owner.  Become an active voice against legislation directed against specific breeds, or at a minimum, promote responsible dog ownership among your own friends and family.  For more information, contact AKC’s Government Relations Department at

Enjoy Your Dog’s Abilities
A canine mind is a terrible thing to waste!  Your local AKC dog club is a great resource to discover what your dog can do.  Many clubs offer educational seminars, training classes and health clinics.  It’s also a good place to start to enjoy a variety of AKC events with your dog.  Email for more information on club offerings.

Adapted from the AKC publication “Guide to Responsible Dog Ownership,” which is available from the AKC Customer Service Department, 919-233-9767 or


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