Legal and Ethical Obligations of Dog Ownership

Article written by Amanda Matlock, Legal Beagle Pup at Camp Bow Wow

Every caring dog owner knows the fundamentals of the duties of dog ownership - many of the obligations owners owe their dogs are common sense. But, dog owners should also be sure to learn and uphold the less obvious rules to provide the safety and best life for their four-legged friends and to keep their communities dog- and people-friendly.

The basics to avoid lawsuits:
• Always provide adequate food and water for your dog, leaving more water in the warmer months.

Ensure that water containers are secured in such a way that they cannot be tipped over.
• Be sure that your fence is free of any escape opportunities.

Escapes may seem like adventures to your four-legged friend, but can result in catastrophe for him or for unfamiliar people he runs into while out on the town.

• NEVER leave a dog in a hot car!!!

On a mild 73ºF day, the temperature inside a car can reach 120ºF in 30 minutes. On hotter days the temperature in the car gets even more extreme. Cracking the windows does not dissipate the heat.

• Keep your dog on a leash, except in designated off-leash areas.

Even the best-behaved dogs occasionally get distracted. If your dog is distracted while off-leash he may dash across a road in front of a car, accidentally knock over pedestrians, or worse.

• Pick up your pet's waste.

It's not the most pleasant part of dog ownership, but it is law in many cities and crucial to prevent bacteria and parasites found in pet waste from entering streams, rivers, and lakes - not to mention the aesthetic problem of dog waste in parks, gardens, and yards.

• Research and comply with your city's or county's dog laws.

Local laws can be found by doing a little research on your county or city website. Local laws vary but many include licensing, waste removal, and leash laws.

Moral Responsibilities:
• Allow your dog sufficient interaction with the family or other dogs.

Dogs are social animals that need interaction with others. Leaving your furry friend home alone all day or all night deprives him of such interaction and can lead to depression and behavior issues.

• Don't buy from puppy mills and discourage your friends and family from doing so.

Dogs living in puppy mills are denied time to play and interact, and are denied a good quality of life.

• Work to build the relationship of trust between you and your dog.

The relationship between humans and dogs is built upon trust. To maximize the relationship for both of you, treat your dog in ways that will help him trust in you to provide for him. This includes many of the obligations listed above, such as providing adequate food and water, and also means that you should not act in ways that will destroy your dog's confidence in you, like physically abusing, neglecting, or emotionally abusing your dog.

• Spay or neuter your dog.

Unless you plan on breeding your pup, you have a responsibility to the dog and society to neuter or spay the dog. An unaltered female has to be kept closely confined several weeks out of a year while in heat; an unaltered male has a higher incentive to run away in pursuit of a female; and either sex unaltered presents high potential for conflict at dog parks and other social facilities. Unwanted litters of dogs (and cats) that are abandoned can become feral animals that are a danger to society and usually unable to be rehabilitated in later life.
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