Friday, September 16, 2016

Responsible Dog Ownership Goes Beyond the Basics

September is AKC Responsible Dog Ownership Month.

For me, responsible dog ownership is about more than the necessities. Food, shelter, water, and love are mandatory, but these alone do not make a responsible dog owner.

Some things vary amongst breeds and particular dogs, but I am going to touch on some that apply to my situation, northern breeds, and wolfdogs.

Responsible Dog Ownership is Adequate Containment

Northern breeds are notorious escape artists, often referred to as "Hairy Houdinis." This is widely accepted. In my opinion, a responsible dog owner has containment that is adequate for their particular dog or breed of dog. What qualifies as adequate depends on the dog or the breed.

Northern breeds, as a rule, should not be allowed off leash in an unfenced area. I never allow my particular dogs off leash, though I wish I could. But they possess little to no recall. I have a walkout basement with a dog door. This leads to a 600 sf outdoor area that my dogs can access at all times. This area is concrete, mostly to prevent dig out, but also to prevent mud tracking. This area is surrounded by 6 gauge, 6 foot tall, vinyl coated kennel panels. There are two gates. One leads to the big yard, which the dogs are only allowed in while supervised. The other gate leads to "the outside." The gate to the outside is double gated, with what I call an "airlock." This is to prevent escape via push throughs. Because I have pushy dogs.

An individual with a pug or a Chihuahua likely won't require the same measures, just as a dog with good recall can safely be allowed off leash. It all depends on the dog.

Though some are against it, my dogs always wear collars with tags, even in the house. They all have a "wild" look about them, but Faolan in particular does. Coyotes are rampant where I live, Faolan loves people, so if the unthinkable occurred and my dogs escaped, I would hate to have my sweet boy mistaken for a coyote.

Responsible Dog Ownership is Recognizing Your Dog's Limitations

Bruce cannot be trusted. Bruce cannot be trusted. Bruce cannot be trusted. It's pretty obvious. He has bit me, on more than one occasion. The open mouth hit to my head was the worst, and it wasn't even a true bite. So. Much. Blood.

Because of this, there are exactly four people I allow to interact with Bruce. He rarely goes places out in the world. When he does, he is muzzled. He does not get to interact with people or other dogs. He cannot be unsupervised around my cats.

I do this for three reasons. To protect Bruce. To protect people. To protect other animals. I recognize that he cannot be trusted, and I accept it. Do I wish he were as social as Faolan, or as reliable as Neeko? Absolutely. But I know he is not. I wish people with smaller dogs with similar temperaments as Bruce would recognize this about their own dogs. But they don't, and they regularly get away with it. Because of Bruce's size and strength, he and I could not get away with it.

Responsible Dog Ownership is Properly Representing Your Dog

Misrepresentation occurs often in the dog world. Bully breeds being labeled as "lab mixes" is a prime example. Long haired Chihuahuas are sometimes represented as Papillons.  But that is a story for another day.

Wolfdog enthusiasts are big on proper representation and preventing misrepresentation.

Neeko was a "wolfy" puppy, born at the right time of year, with some interesting behavioral and personality quirks. As an adult, she has some puzzling physical traits. Her height for example. She stands over 30" at the shoulder, yet weighs in at *only* 90 or so pounds. That height is pretty unheard of for German Shepherds and Malamutes, and her height/weight proportion is very atypical. Her coat pattern, her shed pattern and stark contrast between summer and winter coats, tail length, pasterns, and gait all hint at something wild.

However, she is a beautiful mutt. I do not know her heritage. I did not see her parents. She is reliable in the house, aloofly friendly to most strangers, learns easily, and listens pretty well. Most of the time anyways. She is pretty independent.

For these reasons, I cannot represent her as a wolfdog. I say she is a shepherd mix. Some unknowing person, with good intentions, might think "oh here is this beautiful wolfdog hanging out on some lady's sofa. I want one."  Then they get a very wolfy wolfdog, and cannot handle it. Not that said wolfdog is bad per se, but one can only have so much house and furniture destroyed, escapes, or challenges before they throw their hands up.

Exhibit A - Zelda is a coydog who belongs to a friend of mine. She is quite proud of her handiwork here.

I feel that responsible owners should represent their dogs as what they are, or mostly are.

This is far from an exhaustive list of what constitutes responsible dog ownership. These are just a few that matter to me.

What is important to you regarding responsible dog ownership?


  1. You have some definite challenges which I could not handle as well as you are.

  2. This is such an excellent post. You are honest and realistic about what you are dealing with and I appreciate that. Some people don't understand why I am so careful with Luke around strangers. He has never bit anyone, and I will do everything I can to make sure that never happens. I believe it's all fear based and we're working on things but we'll do it at a pace that I think works for him. Do I wish it was different? Yes, I wish he could greet everyone that comes to our house just like his sisters can. But I have to be realistic and manage things until I feel he's ready for that.
    Also, fenced in yard - wouldn't be without it. I love your "airlock" area! We could use that, because Luke can forget himself and be pushy sometimes too. My sister lets her beagles off leash, but I will never let mine. I believe they'll follow their nose anywhere, and I will always be cautious. It's not the end of the world if she doesn't get to run free. Gosh, I guess I could go on! Thank you for this.
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

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Thanks for the howls!!