The ultimate responsible dog owner’s checklist

Being a dog owner is a huge responsibility that goes well beyond meeting their basic needs. From the moment you bring them home, they’ll look to you for guidance, reassurance and protection – every day for the rest of their lives.

If you’re new to dog ownership, this ultimate checklist will be essential reading. And if you’re a seasoned dog owner, make sure you haven’t let anything slip over the years.

For example, do you always restrain them in the car? Do you always make sure they attend their annual vet checkup? And do you always use a short lead when you’re near livestock?

The most important part of protecting your pup is finding the right dog insurance, so that you can get them the help they need when the time comes. But let’s remind ourselves about some of the other things responsible dog owners should be doing, too.

Dog training

Keep your dog safe at all times

Firstly, you should make sure your dog is not at risk of causing danger to anyone around them. This is obviously down to good training on your part.

Training your dog to be sensible around other people and animals is an essential part of the socialising that you will have done when they were a puppy – you can read more on this crucial time in our top tips for socialising your pup.

You can help both your dog and your local community by teaching some basic but essential disciplines – such as coming right away when called and being relaxed around different types of people and outdoor activities.

If you’re not sure where to start, ask your vet or search for doggy training classes near you.

Don’t forget the tag

This includes a collar with an identity tag whenever they’re out in public. This isn't just sound advice to dog owners – it's the law.

The Control of Dogs Order 1992 requires owners to ensure that their dog’s collar and tag clearly state the owner’s name and address. It is also helpful to include your telephone number, so that you can be immediately contacted should your dog stray.

In Northern Ireland, meanwhile, it is a requirement for dogs to wear some suitable collar ID: failure to comply can result in a fine of up to £1,000.

Here's our guide to choosing the best collar and lead for your dog.

Make sure they’re microchipped

Since 2016, it has also been compulsory for dogs in the UK to be microchipped. While collars can easily fall off or be removed, a microchip is a completely reliable way to get the contact details for the owner in the event of a dog going missing.

They can also display any vital information about your dog's medical needs and conditions, ensuring that your pup will be properly looked after until they are reunited with you.

If the worst does ever occur and you do lose your dog, we've got some useful advice on how to set about finding them in this feature.

Your dog insurance from Purely Pets will be able to ease some of the anxiety by helping you with the financial costs of any advertising and rewards you offer.

Restrain them in the car

Travelling in a car with your dog? You must provide a suitable restraint for your dog while in the vehicle.

According to the Highway Code, drivers of a vehicle need to make sure that dogs (and other animals) are suitably restrained. The logic here is obvious: it is essential that animals don't distract the driver.

There is also the risk of animals injuring themselves, or even other passengers, in the event of the car stopping suddenly.

Your options include a pet carrier, seat belt harness, dog cage or dog guard. The PDSA website has more advice on transporting dogs safely.

Don’t let them overheat

Staying in the car, make sure your dog doesn't get too hot. It may seem cool outside, but dogs can very quickly overheat inside cars.

You may think that parking in the shade or leaving one or more windows open will keep things safe for your pet. However, these steps won't help as much as you might think.

The rule of thumb is to never leave your dog alone in the car, and to give them plenty of fluids on warmer days.

Clear up their mess

Always carry some poo bags with you, so you can clear up after your dog has done its business. This helps to keep your local area tidy – and safe, as dog poo can carry diseases including tapeworm, parvovirus and salmonella.

You can be fined up to £100 for leaving your dog's mess behind. Worse, if the case goes to court, your legal expenses could increase to £1,000.

Unaware that your dog had fouled? Not carrying a suitable bag? Neither are reasonable excuses, according to the law.

Respect dog-free areas

Only take your dog where they are allowed, and don't leave them anywhere unattended. Certain public places may ban all dogs except guide dogs.

When it comes to places such as shops, banks or local businesses, there is no universal law: it's up to the owner whether or not dogs are allowed in the building.

Similarly, there is no law or health and safety regulation banning dogs from food or drink establishments – each café or restaurant will have its own policy. You must, however, make sure that your dog doesn't enter any areas where food is stored, handled or prepared.

If you do find yourself somewhere your dog is not allowed to accompany you, the most responsible thing to do is to change your plans and go elsewhere.

It’s not illegal to leave your dog unattended in a public place – but it could be a risky decision. Even if they are tethered, you leave your dog at risk of being stolen or sustaining an injury.

Use short leads around livestock

A good country walk is a wonderful experience to share with your dog – but do remember that it's in their nature to chase any other creature they see!

So, when you are around farm animals, keep your dog on a short lead and make sure that their attention is on you and that they will come as soon as they are called. If possible, avoid footpaths through farms or fields containing livestock.

Once again, you could find yourself on the wrong side of the law here. Being in charge of a dog that worries livestock is a criminal offence. So, either make sure your pup is under control or choose a different route.

We've got a fuller account of how to keep your dog safe around livestock in this blog post.  

Don’t miss their annual checkup

Every dog will need regular visits to the vet in order to stay healthy.

You should register your dog with a vet as soon as they come into your lives, and then make sure they are seen regularly: the RSPCA recommends annual checkups for dogs. This includes keeping them up to date with their vaccinations, flea and tick, and worm treatments.

Dogs are vaccinated against four major diseases: canine parvovirus, canine distemper virus, leptospirosis and infectious canine hepatitis. These vaccinations are essential as these conditions are costly to treat and can prove fatal.

Typically, puppies will get their first vaccinations at around eight to 10 weeks (although it can be earlier), with a second round following about four weeks later.

Some diseases may also require an annual booster so that your dog retains their immunity. Your vet will be able to advise exactly what vaccinations your dog requires, and with what frequency. For example, a vaccination against kennel cough may be recommended.

Consider neutering your dog

The surgical removal of a dog's reproductive organs (male or female), neutering is a good option for many dogs.

Female dogs in season, can act unpredictably, trying to run away in search of a mate, and have to be kept away from male dogs if you don’t want puppies. Neutered animals are typically less distracted by unneutered dogs, making them easier to train and to control in public.

There are health benefits, too. As this RSPCA web page explains, neutering your dog will completely remove the risk of certain conditions, such as testicular cancer or uterus infections.

The procedure can also prevent certain womb infections, or pyometra, from developing, as well as some cancers. These diseases can be expensive to treat – and potentially fatal.

Finally, neutering also prevents unplanned pregnancies and everything that goes along with that.

Once you have had your dog neutered, it's a good idea to engrave 'I am neutered' on their ID tag. Doing this could reduce the chances of your beloved pet being stolen for breeding purposes.

Dog ball

Keep up with regular grooming

It's a good idea to give your dog fairly frequent grooming sessions, as a regular groom helps to keep their coat healthy and clean.

Dogs with longer and thicker coats, such as Collies and Cocker Spaniels, need frequent grooming, but even those with shorter coats – Bulldogs, Jack Russells, Labrador Retrievers and others – can benefit. Long-haired breeds, and/or dogs whose coats are prone to matting – long-haired Yorkshire Terriers, for example – will require a daily brush to keep their coat at its healthy best.

Some breeds will also need their coats trimmed or undercoats stripped around four to six times a year. You may want to ask a professional groomer to do this.

For short-haired dogs, a gentle brush once or twice a week should be fine.

Look after their teeth

Just like us, dogs need a good professional teeth clean once in a while – typically once a year. Small and brachycephalic breeds may need more frequent cleanings – every six months, perhaps.

This is due to their shallower dental roots, which can bring problems including deformities and overcrowding.

Give them a quiet place to rest

Dogs need to feel safe and secure – so they really need a place where they can go and rest without being disturbed. After all, these are animals who like to lead busy, energetic lives – and, to do so, they need plenty of sleep.

Dogs will typically spend between a third and a half of the day snoozing – more than that, in fact, in the case of puppies and older dogs. So, make sure they've got a cosy bed in a quiet area of the house, away from the main areas of human interaction.

Get age-appropriate food

Along with enough rest, the right nutrition is key to your dog's long-term health. There is no one-size-fits-all diet plan for dogs: your own pet's precise dietary needs will vary depending on their age, breed and general state of health. It's worth asking your vet for an assessment of their precise nutritional needs.

A few rules, however, do hold true. Puppies need frequent meals; adult dogs must be fed at least once daily. When it comes to treats, manage them carefully or risk your dog becoming overweight - a precursor to many health conditions.

Get into a routine

Dogs enjoy a regular, predictable daily sequence of events. They like to know when they will be fed, when they will get their walk, when it's time for training and when they go to bed.

Without this kind of routine, dogs can become anxious and worried. So do try, as far as possible within your own busy lives, to give your dog some predictable daily routine.

Don’t let them get lonely

Some dog breeds need more company and interaction than others – a Greyhound, for example, is a relatively self-sufficient breed who can be left alone to curl up on the sofa for much of the day.

The cute little Lhasa Apso, meanwhile, was originally bred to guard Tibetan monasteries, and this self-sufficient strain survives in their DNA to this day. These are just two breeds that will cope relatively well with time alone.

You may also find it interesting to have a read of our article, Best dog breeds to buy if you work all day.

Apart from a few exceptions, though, dogs will generally enjoy plenty of company. It will be down to the individual dog to tell you how much, when and in what form.

We recommend not to leave your dog alone for any longer than four hours in any case.

Build bonds at playtime

Playtime is a great way for your dog to exercise both their body and their brain. A certain daily amount of active playtime will be essential for most canines – again, the precise amount will depend on the breed, their age and any health conditions they have.

Gather some favourite dog toys, whether homemade or shop-bought. Aim for a variety of different textures and functions – that way, you can play a nice variety of games with your dog, encouraging creativity and spontaneity.

Play is also great for developing some really valuable life skills for your dog – such as problem-solving, concentration and focus – while doing something they love.

Keep those walkies regular

The daily (or twice- or even thrice-daily!) walk is an important part of your dog's routine. Yes, it's their chance to go to the toilet – but really, it means much more to them than that.

It also gives them the exercise they need – and it's a wonderful way for them to explore the world around them, chiefly through their impressive sense of smell.

We go into greater detail on how dogs use scents to understand the world around them in our article, Why do dogs sniff?

Once again, try to tailor your doggie exercise regime around your pet's breed, age, and general health. 

Keep their mind active with training

Of course, training begins during the puppy phase – but there's no reason it shouldn't continue throughout their adult life. Some training, like walking on a lead, coming to you when called and meeting strangers, are essential parts of a dog's socialisation.

If you’re taking on a rescue pup, these early social interactions might not have taken place but remember, it’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks!

Dog bandana

Know what to do in an emergency

Would you know what to do if your dog started to choke? Or if they needed CPR? No one likes to think about these moments but being prepared is the best way to give your pup the ultimate chance of survival.

The PDSA has some helpful videos on these subjects. Learn the techniques today and you could help save your dog’s life.

Protect them with dog insurance

We can't stress highly enough the importance of some specialist dog insurance. Having a good policy in place will help you to manage any unexpected costs, such as emergency consultations, treatment, procedures and medications.

Our dog insurance here at Purely Pets even features a dedicated 24-Hour Vet Helpline, so you can call our team of professional veterinary nurses at any time with your doggy health concerns.

Contact us to find out more – or visit our site to get a quote for dog insurance today.

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