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For a lot of people, their first experience with a pet was probably as a child, and it was an opportunity for their parents to teach them responsibility. It may have been a goldfish or a hamster, or maybe a kitten or a puppy.

It always came with the same conditions: “This is your pet, so you have to take care of it.” That meant feeding it, cleaning the cage or litter box, taking it on walks, and so on.

Of course, more often than not, one of the parents wound up having to do all of those things, because grown-ups are more responsible than children. Or are they?

Most adults are responsible enough to make sure that their dogs have plenty of food and water, and get their shots and license — but there’s a lot more to being a responsible dog owner than that.

I’m always surprised when someone tells me that they rarely walk their dog, and even more surprised by how often I hear it — but the dog walk is the number one responsibility, after ensuring their survival, of course. If you don’t have the time you have to make the time. If you don’t have the physical ability, then you need to invest in a professional dog walker.

I know that sometimes weather can be a factor, especially if it’s very cold or very hot, but if you live in an area with extreme conditions, then you need to find an alternative, such as a treadmill or a dog-friendly indoor mall — and remember that it’s only a temporary alternative.

Dogs need exercise — that’s the first and most important part of my fulfillment formula, remember? — and the walk is the best way to get it. Besides that, it’s an opportunity for you and your dog to bond, and for you to assume the position of Pack Leader.

But our responsibility to our dogs doesn’t end there. Here are five other things you need to do to be a responsible dog owner.

  1. Commitment
    When you adopt a dog, it is for life. Depending on the breed, that’s a time commitment of anywhere from seven to sixteen or more years, so you have to be prepared to adapt as life circumstances change — for example, if you have to move, you’ll need to take the extra time to find a new home that allows dogs.

    And, if for reasons beyond your control you find that you absolutely have to give your dog up, do not just surrender them to a shelter. Make arrangements with a friend or family member who can adopt, or work with a no-kill rescue organization that will find your dog a new home.

  2. Cost
    Pets do cost money and, according to the ASPCA, average costs for regular dog care are between around $600 to $900 per year, not including any extras like emergency treatment, special medication or diets, or other unforeseen expenses. Pet health insurance is an excellent investment that will help keep those costs manageable, and it’s also not a bad idea to set aside an emergency fund in a separate savings account to cover anything unexpected that does come up.
  3. Care
    Besides food, water, and the walk, you need to take your dog to the vet at least once a year for a wellness exam, and twice a year once they become a senior — your vet can let you know when that’s the case. Care includes making sure that your dog has all of her vaccinations and preventive treatment (against fleas, ticks, parasites, and so on), as well as any temporary treatment recommended by her vet.

    Another aspect of care you might not think of is emergency preparedness, so in addition to your own evacuation kit, you’ll need one for your dog, whether your area is prone to fires, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, or other natural disasters.

    Finally, the hardest but still necessary part of a dog’s care comes at the end of their life, especially when they reach old age. Be emotionally prepared to make the right decision and for the right reasons when your dog’s health declines. That decision is about their quality of life or lack of it, not prolonging it for your sake.

  4. Control
    It can be tempting to want to rescue every dog you see, but there are limits to how many you can take care of. Not everybody has their own Dog Psychology Center or ranch or shelter. Only adopt the number of pets that you can reasonably afford and care for. Also make sure that all of your dogs have ID tags and microchips, and that their license and registration information is always up to date.

    Control also means having your dogs spayed and neutered, which will help reduce the number of unwanted strays and shelter animals, as well as keep them healthier and calmer in the long run.

  5. Consideration
    Our dogs can have an impact on people outside of our household, so we should always do our best to make sure they don’t become “that dog” that everyone in the neighborhood dreads. This means training your dog to not bark or whine incessantly when left alone, and making sure that your home and yard are secure to keep him from escaping.

    This also means that your dogs should be properly socialized and trained, and always on a leash when you’re out in public with them — and you need to always pick up their poop.

Next to our children, dogs (and cats) are probably the biggest investment we make in terms of time, money, and emotional attachment — and the biggest for people without children. We owe it to them, and to ourselves, to take full responsibility in order to make our too-brief time together happy, safe, and secure for everyone involved, humans and dogs alike.

Stay calm, and be responsible!

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