Owning a dog is a joy, privilege, and responsibility. If you are considering bringing a dog into your life, think seriously about the commitment that being a responsible dog owner entails.
The AKC is committed to protecting the health and well-being of all dogs. In honor of AKC’s Responsible Dog Ownership Day, on September 17th, here are 75 tips on how to be a good dog owner.
Prepare to Be a Responsible Dog Owner
1. Recognize the commitment
Before deciding that a dog is right for you, make an honest assessment: are you ready for the financial, emotional, and time commitment owning a dog requires?
2. Evaluate your lifestyle
Think about the type of dog that will best suit your lifestyle. Evaluate all aspects of your family’s life — hobbies, activities, personalities — before choosing a breed.
3. Make a list
Based on your evaluation, what qualities do you want in a dog? Consider size, energy level, grooming needs, trainability, and temperament. If you rent an apartment, are there restrictions on height, weight, or breed? Answer these questions now, because once you bring a dog home, it can be heartbreaking to realize you made the wrong choice.
4. Choose a breed
Once you have made your list of ideal characteristics, do some research to find out which breeds fit that profile. Read up, attend dog shows, and visit AKC’s breed pages.
5. Get referrals to responsible breeders
You have a better chance of success if you get your dog from a responsible, ethical breeder. The AKC has a Breeder Referral contact for each recognized breed. They can put you in touch with breeders or rescue organizations in your area.
6. Contact breeders
Reach out to breeders in your area. Don’t be discouraged if the first breeder you talk to doesn’t have puppies available right away. That person may know of another breeder in the region.
7. Ask questions
When you find a breeder you’re comfortable with, ask to visit the kennel and view the dogs on the breeder’s premises. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the breed and the breeder’s practices.
8. Consider an older dog
Puppies aren’t for everyone. If an older dog better fits your lifestyle, check the AKC Rescue Network. Most rescue dogs have been spayed or neutered and are screened for health and temperament issues.
9. Expect questions
A responsible breeder or rescue organization will ask you extensive questions about the type of home you can offer a dog. They are as committed as you to making the right match.
10. Prepare to wait for the perfect dog
Availability varies. Responsible breeders do not breed often, and many times the puppies of a planned breeding are already spoken for. A good dog is worth waiting for.
11. Skip the holidays
Most breeders don’t recommend giving dogs as a present. A new puppy needs your undivided attention, which is difficult during the holiday season. A better idea is to give dog-related gifts — toys, leashes, grooming tools — and then bring your puppy home when all of the excitement has died down.
Commit to Dog Ownership
12. Choose your dog
Listen to your breeder’s suggestions about which puppy in the litter is right for you. If you are rescuing an older dog, get input from the rescue organization.
13. Get it in writing
Information about the sale or adoption should be in writing. The contract should include details about 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.
14. Get your papers
You should receive an AKC registration application from your 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 section correctly.
15. Register your dog
Send your completed application to the AKC. Your dog will then become part of the nation’s largest registry of purebred dogs. If you rescue a dog, consider applying for a Purebred Alternative Listing/Indefinite Listing Privilege (PAL/ILP) number. This allows your dog to participate in some performance events.
Get Ready to Bring Your New Dog Home
16. Buy the necessities…and toys.
Purchase food, treats, a collar and leash, toys, grooming tools, and other things you’ll need in advance so that your dog or puppy’s transition into your home will be a smooth one.
17. Make a schedule
You and your family members should decide who will be responsible for food, water, walks, exercise, cleanup, and grooming. Post a schedule of tasks to remind everyone of their responsibilities.
18. Dog-proof your house
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’s off-limits. Block access to any house or garden plants that are toxic to dogs.
19. Set a containment policy
Make sure the yard is securely fenced or that you have a run for your dog. If that’s not possible, keep in mind that your pup will need to be on a leash outdoors.
20. Make a bed
Create a comfortable area — whether a crate, a dog bed, or a pile of blankets — for your dog to go to when they need rest or privacy.
21. Select a veterinarian
Choose a veterinarian ahead of time, so you’ll be ready for a visit soon after your dog comes home. Give your vet copies of the dog’s health records, and set up a vaccination and check-up schedule.
Bring Your Dog Home
22. Let your dog adjust
They are bound to feel insecure and frightened by changes in their environment and may be homesick for their mother or littermates. Show them their crate or bed, and where to find food and water. Then leave them alone to explore their new surroundings.
23. Name your dog
Your breeder may have suggestions or even requirements for his AKC-registered name, but their call or informal name is up to you.
24. Make introductions
Introduce your dog to your household slowly. Many pairs of hands petting them at once can be frightening. Later, introduce neighbors, regular visitors, and other family members.
25. Introduce other pets
Family pets should also be properly introduced to your new dog. Don’t expect them to get along right away; give them time to adjust to one another.
Whatever method of housetraining you choose, make sure everyone in the family enforces it consistently.
27. 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 every member of the family is aware of the rules you’ve set. Consistency is key to being a responsible dog owner.
Keep Your Dog Healthy
28. Schedule regular check-ups
The AKC provides 30 days of pet insurance coverage from AKC Pet Insurance for newly registered puppies. Details about this complimentary benefit will be sent to you shortly after registration.
29. Feed him a healthy diet
Your breeder or vet can suggest food that is best for your dog’s age, size, and activity level. Keep the diet consistent. Always provide plenty of fresh, clean water.
Take your dog for walks, play games, run in the yard, throw a ball around — anything to stimulate their mind and body.
Make sure your dog is up-to-date on their vaccinations and keep a copy of their records handy.
32. Prevent disease
Depending on where you live, your dog could be at risk for diseases like heartworm and Lyme disease. Ask your vet for prevention tips.
33. Repel fleas and ticks
Keep your dog, their bedding, and your home free from parasites.
34. Know your dog’s patterns
You will become familiar with your dog’s patterns of eating, drinking, sleeping, and relieving himself. Any major variations in these patterns could indicate illness.
35. Bathe your dog
Wash your dog with shampoo meant for canines. How often you should wash them will depend on his breed and environment. If this task is too overwhelming for you, take them to a groomer or vet.
36. Groom your dog
Some short-coated breeds need just a quick brushing every week, while some longer-coated breeds need daily brushing to prevent matting and reduce shedding.
37. Clip those nails
Learn how to clip your dog’s nails or have the vet or groomer do it.
38. Clean those teeth
To prevent tooth decay and gum disease, clean your dog’s teeth regularly. You can also give them hard biscuits, rope bones, or dental chews to help keep them clean.
39. Keep your dog fit and trim
Feed him a well-balanced diet and give them plenty of exercise. Don’t overdo it with the treats.
40. Know the breed’s health risks
You should be aware of common health problems, how to prevent them, and how to recognize their onset.
41. Be alert to changing needs
As your dog ages, their needs will change. They may require a different diet, need more sleep, and be less active. You should do everything you can to pamper them in their final years.
42. Know when to let go
If, due to illness or old age, your dog reaches a point where his quality of life is severely compromised, arrange to end their life humanely.
Keep Your Dog Safe
43. ID your dog
He should wear an identification tag with your name, address, and phone number at all times.
44. Get your dog microchipped
Microchips are a way to permanently identify your dog, and can be invaluable in recovering a lost canine companion. Consider enrolling your dog in AKC Reunite, which is the nation’s largest database of microchipped pets.
45. Travel safely
Keep your dog safe in the car by using a crate or seat belt harness.
46. Prepare for a disaster
Have a disaster plan in place. Make an emergency kit with clean water, food, and first aid equipment. Find out in advance if evacuation shelters in your area allow animals.
47. Establish an emergency contact
Enlist a family member or friend, ideally someone your dog knows, to take care of him in case of illness, hospitalization, or other emergencies. Leave a list of general care instructions in a safe place.
Be Your Dog’s Friend
Set aside time each day for play sessions. It’s fun, provides an outlet for your pup’s energy, and strengthens the bond between you.
49. Take walks
Your dog will enjoy exploring the neighborhood and they’ll benefit from the exercise.
50. Talk to your dog
Your canine companion won’t understand your words, but they will enjoy the sound of your voice. You can also use different voice levels to praise or correct your dog’s behavior.
51. Give treats
Your dog will always appreciate a treat, which also serves as an excellent training aid.
52. 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 back out again.
53. Plan activities and trips with your dog
Include your dog in family activities. Take them to the park, beach, or to special activities such as a dog parade. If you’re traveling to an event, check ahead for lodging that accepts dogs. If you’re flying, ask about travel accommodations for your dog when you make the reservation.
54. Give him a massage
Recent studies have shown that massages may be beneficial to your dog’s health and behavior.
55. Ease separation anxiety
Help your dog get used to being alone. Leave them each day with a minimum amount of fuss. When you come home, greet them calmly. This will teach them that you leaving is not something to be concerned about.
Train Your Dog
56. Teach basic commands
Teach your dog basic commands such as sit, stay, come, and down. Training your dog makes your life easier, fulfills his desire to please you, and strengthens your bond.
57. Socialize Your Dog
Expose your dog to different people and settings regularly. Take them to the park, to the pet store, on a walk through town. Praise them for behaving calmly around strangers and other dogs.
58. Go to class
Obedience classes can be a great experience for you and your dog. You may even discover that your dog has a talent for obedience, agility, or other AKC sports.
59. Praise your dog
Praise him lavishly for obeying commands and behaving well. Using positive, rather than negative, reinforcement will help your dog enjoy training.
60. Supervise play with children
Children and dogs can be great friends, but they need supervision when playing together, no matter how friendly your canine companion might be.
61. Give your dog a job
Teach them to fetch the paper or carry groceries. Giving your dog a sense of purpose and accomplishment increases their well being.
62. 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.
63. Contain bitches in heat
Males can sense a female in heat up to five miles away. If your female dog goes into heat, keep her properly secured.
64. Do 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.
65. Join an AKC club
Many clubs offer educational seminars and health clinics. It’s also a good place to start if you plan to participate in competitive events with your dog.
66. Earn an AKC title
Explore the world of dog sports by participating in AKC events. The AKC offers titles for accomplishment over a wide range of levels. Find an event that’s right for your dog and have fun.
67. Encourage breed behavior
Find activities that will encourage your dog to fulfill his breed’s purpose. The AKC offers many performance events geared toward specific breeds.
68. Involve the kids
Your children can 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 even earn scholarships.
69. Find a mentor
If you plan to breed or show your dog, find an experienced person in the breed to show you the ropes. A mentor can make your “novice” days much easier.
70. Read all about it
Keep up with the latest dog news by reading 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
71. 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. Owning a friendly, clean, well-mannered dog reflects positively on the species.
72. 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.
73. Fight anti-dog legislation
Be a voice against legislation directed against specific breeds. For more information, contact the Government Relations and Public Education departments at the AKC.
74. Get a Canine Good Citizen Certificate
Your dog can become an AKC 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.
75. Show your pride
Bringing a well-behaved dog into public places or showing off their talents at competitive events is an excellent way to “advertise” the rewards of canine companionship.
While no means exhaustive, these 75 steps will set you up to be a responsible dog owner.