What does being a “responsible dog owner” actually mean?
As a dog owner (hereafter referred to as Guardian) in NSW you should comply with the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and the Companion Animals Act, complying with these acts is what we refer to as Responsible Dog Ownership.
Knowing what your responsibilities are as a dog Guardian ensures that your dog has minimum standards of welfare and is treated humanely, can live safely and is not a nuisance to the community. If you comply with these acts then you will not end up in trouble with the police, in court, or receive a fine from the RSPCA, Animal Welfare League or your local Council.
Because reading legal jargon is a real bore I’m going to break down Responsible Dog Ownership into plain English for you!
The Hierarchy of Dog Needs gives a good visual of everything our dogs needs not just to survive but to thrive. However our focus will be mostly on the Biological Needs and the Force-Free Training Needs as they pertain to Responsible Dog Guardianship in NSW.
- Proper Nutrition – Feed an adequate balanced diet. Commonly we think of malnourished, skinny dogs as having poor welfare but you should not over-feed your dog so that they become overweight. What does your dog’s body condition look like?
- Fresh water – Supply clean cool water at all times. Especially in summer make sure your dog’s water supply is not in direct sunlight and it may be prudent to have two different supplies of water if your dog is prone to knocking a bowl over.
- Sufficient exercise – this is not just for their physical health but for their mental health as well. Bored dogs can become destructive, lonely, try to escape or become nuisance barkers.
A small older dog may not need as much exercise as a 2 year old border collie for example, be sensible and realistic as to how much exercise your dog needs and provide that for them.
Exercise could be a long walk where your dog can sniff to their hearts content, a jog on leash or game of fetch or tug for example. Play with your dog!
- Shelter & Temperature Control – provide a safe place and sleeping area for your dog to retreat to. It should be big enough for them to stand up and turn around in. It should keep them dry, out of the wind, provide warmth in winter and cool in summer. Dogs want to be near their human family, if you can also provide a bed inside for them then that is great, otherwise place the kennel as close to the house or rear entry as possible.
Especially in summer at all times of the day your dog should have access to a shaded area. Consider giving them a splash pool. In extreme weather bring your dog inside if you can. Our extremes are usually in summer and your dog will appreciate the fan or air conditioning as much as you do.
- Safety – Ensure you have adequate fencing that will confine your dog to your property so that it cannot escape. Adequate fencing also keeps other dogs and animals out of your yard, and can protect them from being tormented from passers-by. Dogs should not be left tethered (chained up) in your yard.
Always have your dog on a leash when you leave your premises, unless you are in a designated off-leash area. The dog should be held by the leash by someone capable of controlling the dog (this may exclude the elderly, frail, or young children depending on how large and strong your dog is)
- Gentle Grooming – this is not an obvious one to most, but actually people have been convicted of animal cruelty for failing to groom their dog. If you have a non-shedding breed, or any breed crossed with a non-shedding breed such as a Poodle or Maltese for example, you must regularly brush and clip your dog. Failing to keep their hair short, failing to remove dirt and dead hair from your dog if you do not brush them regularly or bathe them can cause pain and other health issues to your dog.
- Gentle Veterinary Care – Protect the health of your dog and speak to your vet about the required vaccinations, regular worm control (you could get worms from your dog if you don’t!) including heartworm and control of fleas (and ticks.)
Dogs should be desexed. Female dogs that are not desexed require a fully enclosed pen, including a roof. Dogs are “in season” for 3 weeks, usually twice a year. Dogs that are not desexed may roam and try to get into your yard to mate with your female. Please prevent unwanted litters – our pounds and shelters are already full. It is cheaper and easier for you in the long run to desex your dogs. As a bonus registration fees are cheaper for desexed dogs.
- Microchip AND lifetime register your dog (you only have to do this once in NSW!) This will increase the chances of your dog being returned to you if they are ever lost or stolen.
Ensure your dog is wearing a collar and tag with your contact details on it.
- Have a plan for your dog to be taken care of if you are ill or go on holidays. If your dog is going into a boarding facility, inspect the premises beforehand. Make sure they comply with the code of practice No 5 for Animal Boarding Establishments. Read reviews and get references. You could also get someone to live in your house and pet sit, your dog could also stay at a friends or relatives house, as a last resort you could get someone to come once or twice a day to make sure your dog is well and has food and water.
- Train your dog – Find a qualified professional force-free trainer (recommended by the RSPCA) to help you. The following websites have a list of trainers in NSW (and other states)
Pet Professional Guild Australia
Association of Pet Dog Trainers Australia
Got a puppy? Attend a reputable puppy preschool run by a PPG or APDT trainer. Training your dog will enhance your relationship and bond with them, dogs that are well behaved are pleasurable to live with and are not a danger or nuisance to the community. Early training can prevent many nuisance behavioural problems from occurring in the future. They will also provide advice on socialisation (so that they are confident and happy around other people and animals) and general care of dogs.
Got a rescue or adult dog? You CAN “teach an old dog new tricks,” it’s never too late for a dog to learn good manners and get help with existing behavioural problems.
Dogs that are well cared for and trained are generally not a nuisance by way or escaping, being aggressive to strangers or other animals, and disturb the peace by barking incessantly.
So that’s an easy to read guide to being a Responsible Pet Guardian, I hope you found it helpful. In addition my next blog will be “common fines for dog owners – and how to avoid them” so stay tuned.
ps – don’t forget – it’s your duty as a responsible dog guardian to pick up the doody