Among companion animals, dogs are unmatched in their devotion, loyalty and friendship to humankind. Anyone who has ever loved a dog can attest to its hundred-fold return. The excitement your dog shows when you come home, the wagging tail at the sound of the leash being taken from its hook, the delight in the tossing of a tennis ball, and the head nestled in your lap-those are only some of the rewards of being a dog owner.
Owning a dog is not just a privilege-it's a responsibility. These animals depend on us for, at minimum, food and shelter, and deserve much more. If you are considering taking a dog into your life, you need to think seriously about the commitment that dog ownership entails. If you already have a dog, you need to consider if you are fulfilling all your obligations as its owner.
The AKC is committed to helping dog owners raise happy, healthy dogs. The list below is certainly not exhaustive, but it contains some of the essential ways you can be the best dog owner you can be.
Follow these links to view a selection of our 101 suggestions:
- 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.
- Evaluate Your Lifestyle
If you get a dog, he (or she) will become a part of your life. You need to make sure that he's suited for your lifestyle. For example, if you are athletic, you will probably not be happy with a dog that has a low energy level. If you are extremely neat, you will probably want a dog that doesn't shed much. All aspects of your family's life - hobbies, activities, personalities, schedules - should be evaluated before you get a dog.
- Make a List
Based on your evaluation, determine what qualities you want in a dog. Consider size, energy level, grooming needs, trainability and temperament. Do you want a guard dog or a lap dog? Is it important that your dog get along with children? If you rent your home, are there restrictions on height, weight or breed? Answer these questions now - once you bring a dog home, it can be heartbreaking to realize that you made the wrong choice.
- Choose a Breed
Once you have made your list of ideal characteristics, do some research to find which breeds fit that profile. Go to your local library, attend a dog show, and visit the AKC website. Narrow your choices to the breed that seems right for you.
- Get a Referral
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. The AKC has a Breeder Referral contact for each recognized breed. These individuals can put you in contact with breeders or rescue organizations in your area.
- Make Contact
Get in touch with the breed contacts in your area. Let them know that you are interested in their breed. Be able to demonstrate that you have put thought into your choice. Don't be discouraged if the first breeder you talk to does not have puppies available right away. That person may know another breeder in the region.
- Ask Questions
Ask the breeder any questions you can think of about the breed. When you find a breeder you're comfortable with, ask to visit the kennel and view the dogs on the breeder's premises. Inquire about health problems of the breed, and what can be done to prevent or control them. Find out what kinds of activities, including competition, the breeder's dogs participate in and enjoy. The breeder's dogs are a preview of what your dog will be.
- Consider an Older Dog
Puppies aren't for everyone. If an older dog better fits your lifestyle, check the AKC website for breed rescue groups. These organizations rescue purebred dogs that have been lost, abandoned or surrendered due to the death or illness of their owners. Most rescue dogs have been spayed or neutered and are screened for health and temperament problems. Rescue is a not only a great source for purebred dogs, it's also a way to save the life of a dog in need.
- Expect Questions
A responsible breeder or rescue contact will ask you extensive questions about the type of home you can offer a dog. These people are as committed as you are to making the right match between you and a dog. Give honest answers to their questions. Remember that, due to their experience in the breed, they know what issues are important in placing one of their dogs.
- Prepare to Wait
Availability varies. Be aware that a puppy or dog of the breed you've decided on may not be easy to find. Responsible breeders do not breed often, and many times the puppies of a planned breeding are already spoken for. Just remember that a good dog is worth waiting for.
- Skip the Holidays
Many people try to buy puppies as Christmas gifts for children or other family members. Most breeders do not recommend this. You should be prepared to give a new puppy your undivided attention, and that is rarely possible during the busy holiday season. A better idea is to give dog-related gifts - toys, leashes, grooming tools - and then bring your puppy home when all the excitement has died down.
Make the Commitment
- Pick Your Pet
When the time has come to select your pet, consider your options carefully.
Respect your breeder's input about which puppy is right for you. If
you are rescuing an older dog, ask your contact person for information
on its health, temperament, behavior and history.
- Get It in Writing
Information about the sale or adoption should be in writing. The contract
should include, for example, details regarding any fees, spay-neuter
agreements, health guarantees, terms of co-ownership, restrictions on
breeding, 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 you or your family. Most responsible breeders will insist
that the dog be returned to them.
- Get Your Papers
Get your AKC registration application from the breeder when you purchase
the puppy. Make sure the breeder completes the appropriate sections
of the form and signs it. The breeder can also help you fill out your
- Register Your Dog
Send the completed, signed registration application to the AKC. Your dog will then become part of the nation's largest registry of purebred dogs and as well as being eligible for a variety of competitive events and can also activate the Complimentary 60-Day Trial of AKC Pet Insurance*. If you rescue a dog, consider
applying for a Purebred Alternative Listing/Indefinite Listing
Privilege (PAL/ILP) number. This number will allow your dog to participate in some performance events.
- Prepare Yourself
Get ready for your new friend before you bring him home, to make sure
the transition will be as smooth as possible. Buy food, treats, a collar
and leash, toys, grooming tools and other necessities in advance so
your dog or puppy will have everything he needs.
- Make a Schedule
You and your family members should decide who will be responsible for
food, water, walking, exercise, clean-up and grooming. Post a schedule
of tasks in a visible area of the house to remind everyone of their
- Dog-Proof Your Home
Prepare your home before your new dog arrives. Move breakables or "chewables"
to higher ground. Make electrical cords inaccessible to curious paws
and noses. Block off any area of the house that you want off-limits
to the dog. Put the lid down on your toilet and your shoes up in your
closet. Block access to any house or garden plants that may be toxic
- Set a Containment Policy
It is essential that you have a secure method of keeping your dog on
your property. Check your fence for spots vulnerable to chewing or digging.
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.
- Get a Collar
Your dog should wear a flat leather or nylon collar with a buckle at
all times, except when in a crate. (The buckle can catch on the crate
and cause injury.) The collar should be tight enough that it will not
slide over the dog's ears, but loose enough that you can fit two fingers
between the collar and the dog's neck. Check the fit of the collar often,
especially if you have a fast-growing puppy.
- Make a Bed
Every dog needs a quiet place to call his own. Create a comfortable
area, whether a crate, a mat or a pile of blankets, for your dog to
go to when he needs rest or privacy.
- Buy Some Toys
Provide your dog with a variety of toys to prevent him from playing
with your socks and shoes, your morning paper, or your child's favorite
doll. Get some toys that you and your dog can play with together, such
as balls and plush toys, and some things to keep him busy when he's
alone, such as chewies or rope bones. Never leave your dog unattended
with any toy that has small, detachable parts.
- Find a Veterinarian
You should choose a veterinarian for your dog as soon as possible. Have
your dog examined by the vet within a few days of his arrival. Give
your vet copies of the dog's health records, and set up a vaccination
and check-up schedule.
Bring Your Dog Home
- Welcome Your New Pet
At last! You've made all the preparations, and it's finally time to
bring your new friend home. Give him the best welcome possible. With
love, patience and mutual respect, he will feel like part of the family
in no time.
- Let Your Dog Adjust
Give the dog time to adjust to his new home. The dog is bound to feel
insecure and frightened by a change in environment, and a pup may be
homesick for his mother or littermates. Show him to his crate or bed,
and where to find food and water. Then leave him alone to explore the
- Name Your Dog
Your dog will need a good name. Your breeder may have suggestions or
even requirements for his AKC-registered name, but his call or informal
name is up to you. Older adopted dogs can adjust quickly to a new name.
- Make Introductions
Introduce your dog to your household slowly. Many pairs of hands petting
him at once will only frighten him. Later, introduce him to neighbors,
regular visitors and other family members. Give your dog a sense of
who your - and your dog's - friends are.
- Introduce Other Pets
Other companion animals in your home should also be properly introduced
to your new dog or puppy. Don't expect them to get along right away,
and don't try to force them to play together. Give them time to adjust
to one another.
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, so have a procedure for clean-up.
- Set House Rules
Teach your dog from the beginning what is and is not appropriate 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.
Keep Your Dog Healthy
- Go to the Veterinarian
Set up a schedule for regular check-ups with your veterinarian. Ask
the vet questions about your dog's diet, behavior, activity level or
other concerns. Contact the veterinarian at once if your dog seems ill
or in pain. As a special registration benefit, the AKC has arranged a Complimentary 60-Day Trial of AKC Pet Insurance* for newly registered puppies. Details about this special complimentary benefit will be sent to you shortly after registration.
- Feed a Good Diet
Work with your veterinarian or breeder to find the food that is best
for your dog's age, size and activity level. Keep the diet consistent.
Always provide plenty of fresh, clean water.
Dogs need regular exercise to ensure continuing good health. Take your
dog for walks, run around in the yard, throw a ball around - anything
to get him up and moving. This will benefit his health and could prevent
Dogs should follow a strict schedule of vaccinations to prevent diseases.
Keep your dog current on his vaccinations, following the schedule recommended
by your veterinarian. Keep a copy of your dog's vaccination records
- Prevent Disease
You can take steps to prevent other diseases not covered by the regular
series of vaccinations. Depending on the area of the country you live
in, your dog could be at risk for diseases such as heartworm and Lyme
disease. Ask your veterinarian for advice on prevention.
- Repel Fleas and Ticks
Aside from discomfort, parasites such as fleas and ticks can cause serious
diseases. Keep your dog, his bedding, and your home free from parasites
by using the method recommended by your veterinarian.
- Know Your Dog's Patterns
You should become familiar with your dog's patterns in terms of eating,
drinking, sleeping and relieving himself. Any major variations in these
patterns could indicate illness and should be reported to your veterinarian.
- Provide Chew Toys
Dogs never outgrow the need to chew. Protect your possessions by providing
a variety of chew toys to satisfy your dog's urges.
- Bathe Your Dog
A clean dog is a healthy dog. Bathe your dog on a regular basis appropriate
to his breed and environment. Overbathing can be harmful to a dog's
skin. Use a good shampoo and be sure to rinse well. If bathing your
dog is more than you can handle, take him to a groomer or veterinarian
- Groom Your Dog
All dogs should be groomed regularly for health and best appearance.
Some short-coated breeds need just a quick brushing every week, while
some longer-coated breeds need daily brushing to prevent matting and
to reduce shedding. If your dog requires clipping or sculpting, you
may want to consult a professional groomer.
- Clip Those Nails
Keeping your dog's nails 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 need to be trimmed. Ask
your veterinarian for advice on clipping your dog's nails yourself.
- Clean Those Teeth
To prevent tooth decay and gum disease, clean your dog's teeth regularly.
Most dogs will accept a "toothbrush" if introduced to it slowly and
gently. You can also give your dog products such as hard biscuits, rope
bones and nylon chews to keep his teeth clean.
- Prevent Obesity
Keep your dog healthy by maintaining him at an appropriate weight. Feed
him a well-balanced diet and give him plenty of exercise. Don't give
in to begging - "people food" is generally bad for dogs.
- Know Your Breed's Health Risks
You should be aware of common health problems in your breed, how to
prevent them, and how to recognize their onset. For example, some giant
breeds are prone to bloat, while some short-faced breeds are prone to
respiratory problems. Ask your breeder or veterinarian for information
about any signs or symptoms you should watch for in your pet.
- Protect From Poisons
Make sure that your home and yard are free from poisonous substances,
such as antifreeze, which tastes good but can cause serious illness
or even death. Keep your veterinarian's number handy in case of accidental
- Be Alert to Changing Needs
As your dog ages, his needs will change. He may require a different
diet, need more sleep, and be less active. Do what you can to keep him
comfortable. Your dog may not be as "fun" as he once was, but he is
the same dog you loved as a puppy. You should do everything you can
to pamper him in his final years.
- End Suffering
If, due to illness or old age, your dog reaches a point where his quality
of life is severely compromised, arrange to end his life humanely. Letting
go is sometimes the kindest thing you can do. Don't prolong the suffering
because you fear the pain of losing your dog.
Keep Your Dog Safe
- I.D. 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 is lost or runs away.
- Consider Microchips or Tattoos
Microchips and tattoos are methods of permanently identifying your dog,
and can be invaluable in recovering your dog should he become lost.
You may wish to enroll your dog in AKC's affiliate, the AKC Reunite service, which is the nation's largest database
of microchipped pets.
- Provide Shelter
Your dog needs a sheltered area for the time he spends 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 high. When your dog is outside,
he should have a shady place to lay down and plenty of fresh, cool water.
- Travel Safely
Keep your dog safe in the 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
- Find a Pet-Sitter or Boarding Kennel
Make arrangements for your dog's care when you go away. Have a friend
or reliable pet-sitter come over to tend to the dog, or find a good
kennel for boarding.
If you opt for boarding, try to inspect the facilities before you drop
your dog off.
- Prepare for Disaster
Be prepared to care for your dog in the event of a disaster such as
fire, flood, hurricane or earthquake. Make an emergency kit with clean
water, food, and first aid equipment. Find out in advance if the evacuation
shelters in your area allow animals. If not, develop alternatives.
- Establish an Emergency Contact
Enlist a family member or friend to take care of your dog in the event
of a sudden illness, hospitalization or other emergency. This person
should ideally be someone your dog has spent some time with and is comfortable
with. Leave a list of general care instructions in a safe place.
- Make a Will
You should make arrangements for the safety and care of your pet in
the event of your death. Don't assume that a family member will step
in to take care of the dog.
- Take Pictures
Of course, you will want a picture of your dog to grace your desk or
to send as a Christmas card. More importantly, a current photo will
be invaluable in the event that your dog is lost.
Be a Friend
Dogs, of course, love to play. Set aside time each day for play sessions.
Apart from the obvious benefit of having fun together, play also provides
an outlet for your dog's energy.
- Go On Walks
Take your dog on frequent walks. He will enjoy exploring the neighborhood
and will benefit from the exercise. Make sure that you have a good strong
leash and that you maintain control of the dog at all times.
- Talk to Your Dog
Your dog won't understand your words, but he will enjoy the sound of
your voice. Talking to your dog will make him feel involved. You can
also use different voice levels to praise or correct your dog's behavior.
- Give Treats
Your dog will always appreciate a treat, and treats can be used as a
supplement to his regular diet, as well as an excellent training aid.
- Love Your Dog
Your dog will love you no matter what. Return the favor.
- Switch Out Toys
Keep your dog entertained by rotating his toys. Put "old" toys out of
sight for a month or two and then bring them out again - your dog will
enjoy them just as much as when they were new.
- Give Your Time
You are the center of your dog's world. You may be tired after a long
day at work, but your dog has spent the day anxiously awaiting your
return. Reward that loyalty with your time. Pet him, talk to him, play
with him, laugh with him. Let your dog know you value his company.
- Find the "Spot"
Scratch your dog's belly often. If you find the "spot," so much the
- Leave the Radio On
Try leaving the radio or television on when you leave your dog alone.
The noise will keep him company.
- Plan Activities With Your Dog
Include your dog in family activities. Take him to the park or on outings
to the beach, or to special activities such as the "Dog Olympics" or
dog parades. Your dog will love being out and about with you.
- Give a Massage
Dogs love to be petted, and recent studies have shown that structured
massages may be beneficial to your dog's health and behavior. They may
also be very relaxing for you!
- Make That Tail Wag
Your dog's tail is a barometer of his emotions. Do what you can to keep
it happily wagging.
- Go On Trips
Dogs can add another element of fun to a family vacation. Check ahead
for lodging that accepts dogs. If flying, ask about travel accommodations
for your dog when you make your reservations.
- Ease Separation Anxiety
Your dog will want to be with you at all times, but for most people
that simply isn't possible. Help your dog get used to being alone. Leave
him each day with a minimum of fuss. When you come home, greet him calmly.
This will teach him that your leaving is not something to be concerned
- Give Kisses
Give your dog a kiss, and see how many you get in return.
- Get Another One!
Dogs are pack animals by nature and generally enjoy the company of other
dogs. Your dog may benefit greatly from having a companion to play with.
Be as conscientious about getting a second dog as you were about getting
the first; multiple dog ownership isn't for everyone, and some dogs
do better as an "only."
- Don't Let Your Dog Down
You aren't a dog owner just at Christmas, or on the weekends, or in
the afternoon, or when you have spare time. You aren't a dog owner just
when the dog is behaving, or when he's a cute fuzzy puppy, or when he's
winning awards. When you bring a dog into your family, that dog is yours
for life. If you can't keep that commitment, don't make it. And once
you've made it, don't break it. Your dog's life depends on you.
Train Your Dog
- Be The Alpha
Dogs need to know who's boss - and that boss should be you. You and
your dog will be much happier together if you establish yourself as
the leader of the pack.
- Teach Basic Commands
Teach your dog basic commands such as sit, stay, come and down. Training
your dog will not only make your life easier, but will also fulfill
your dog's desire to learn and please you.
- 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
other dogs. The more your dog learns of the world, the more comfortable
he will be in it.
- Go to Class
Obedience classes can be a great experience for you and your dog. You
may even discover that your dog has a great talent for learning, and
be able to compete in obedience, agility or tracking events.
- Prevent Nuisance Barking
Don't let your dog's incessant barking annoy your neighbors. Teach your
dog not to bark without real provocation. If your dog's barking is causing
problems while you're away from home, try a silencing collar.
- Praise Your Dog
Because your dog loves you, he wants to please you. Praise him lavishly
for obeying commands and behaving well. Using positive, rather than
negative, reinforcement will help your dog enjoy learning.
- Supervise Play With Children
Children and dogs can be great companions, but they also require supervision
when playing together. Your dog may be "good with kids," but what if
he encounters a kid that is not good with dogs? Very small children
should never be left alone with a dog, no matter how stable his temperament.
- Give Your Dog a Job
Keep your dog active and alert by giving him tasks to do. Teach him
to fetch the paper, carry groceries in a pack or empty the dryer. Make
him sit before getting a treat or lay down before going outside. Giving
your dog a sense of purpose and accomplishment will increase his sense
- Breed To Improve
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. Consult AKC publications for more information as well.
- Spay or Neuter
The American Kennel Club encourages pet owners to spay or neuter their dogs as a responsible means to prevent accidental breeding resulting in unwanted puppies.
- Contain Bitches in Heat
If your female dog goes into heat, or season, make sure to keep her
properly secured. Males can sense a female in heat up to five miles
away. An accessible bitch in heat can lead to unplanned breedings, not
to mention fights among dogs frantic to get to her.
- Perform Genetic Screening
If you plan to breed your dog, it is very important to test for health
and disease. Perform all available tests to rule out the possibility
of passing on a genetic defect.
- Join an AKC Club
Your local AKC dog
club is a great resource. Many clubs offer educational seminars
and health clinics. It's also a good place to start if you plan to compete
in competitive events with your dog.
- Earn an AKC Title
Explore the sport of dogs by participating in AKC events. The AKC offers
titles for accomplishment
in a wide variety of competition types and levels. Find an event that's
right for your dog, and have fun.
- Encourage Breed Behavior
All purebred dogs were developed with a purpose in mind. Find activities
that will encourage your dog to fulfill her breed's purpose. The AKC
offers many performance events geared toward specific breeds.
- Involve the Kids
Your children can have fun and learn more about dogs and dog care by
participating in AKC Junior
Showmanship events. Through the National Junior Organization, your
child can compete in conformation and performance events, attend seminars,
and earn scholarships.
- Find a Mentor
If you plan to breed or show your dog, you will want to find a knowledgeable
person in the breed to show you the ropes. A mentor can be an invaluable
source of experience and information, and can help make your "novice"
days much easier.
- Read All About It
Keep up with the latest dog news and information by reading or subscribing
to AKC publications. From The Complete Dog Book to the AKC
Gazette to numerous free publications, the AKC provides a wealth
of materials on all areas of the dog world.
Be a Canine Ambassador
- 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 dogs 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 protect our rights to own companion animals.
- 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 dogs.
- Don't Leave Leavings
Always carry a plastic "baggy" or two with you when you walk your dog
to pick up any waste it leaves behind, then dispose of the waste properly.
Failure to clean up after your dog is disrespectful to your neighbors.
- Respect Local Laws
Heed the laws regarding dog ownership in your city or county. These
may include registration, leash laws and nuisance barking laws. Failure
to obey the laws in your area may not only result in the loss of your
dogs, but may also infringe upon the rights of others in your area.
- Fight Anti-Dog Legislation
Be aware of any legislation developing in your city or state that may
compromise the rights of responsible dog owners. Become an active voice
against legislation directed against specific breeds. For more information,
contact the Canine
Legislation and Public
Education departments at the AKC.
- Let Your Dog Help Others
Dogs are invaluable in providing service to humans - visiting the sick,
helping the disabled, locating missing persons, and much more. If your
dog is of the correct temperament, you and he can reap the rewards of
- Get a Canine Good Citizen® Certificate
Your dog can become an American Kennel Club Canine
Good Citizen 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.
- Show Your Pride
Of course you should let your dog know when you're proud of him, but
let others know it too. Bringing a well-behaved dog into public places
or showing off his talents at competitive events is an excellent way
to "advertise" the rewards of canine companionship.
- Contact the AKC
For more information on how to be a responsible dog owner, contact
the American Kennel Club.
* The 60-Day Trial Plan is provided by the master policy issued to the Association of American Pet Owners. Activation required. Administered by PetPartners, Inc. Underwritten by American Pet Insurance Company, 907 NW Ballard Way, Seattle WA 98107-4607. Not available in all states and only available to U.S. residents. Eligibility restrictions apply. Contact PetPartners, Inc. for terms and conditions. Must be activated within 28 days of AKC Certificate Issued date. Visit www.akcpetinsurance.com/trial or call toll free at 1-866-725-2747.