Basics of Responsible Pet Ownership

Most pet owners do a decent job of providing the essentials—food, shelter, and medical care. But responsible pet ownership requires more, including social training, birth control, and physical and emotional care.

| January/February 1990

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    Animals in environments that don't suit their natures can't be happy, and you can bet that will manifest itself in behavior problems. If you provide an appropriate and loving home, you can expect your pet to be content and eager to please.

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The moment you take a pet into your home, you become responsible for its needs. Most pet owners do a decent job of providing the essentials—food and shelter, and medical care when their animals are sick or injured. But all too often, other responsibilities are overlooked—and what a shame, for responsible pet ownership yields great rewards, not least of which is a happier pet.

Social Training for Pets

Surveys show that a majority of dog owners report behavior problems in their pets and that fully 40% of all dog owners are dissatisfied with the way their canine chums behave.

In many cases, that dissatisfaction is the result of unrealistic expectations from the outset. I tell my clients that when they opt to have a dog around the house, they've essentially decided to take in the equivalent of a permanent two-year-old child terror. I advise them to take a good, hard look at a "normal" two-year-old's personality and realize that most dogs will stay at that intense level of erratic, get-into-trouble behavior and will retain the joyous attitude of "I think I'll do something stupid today because it's so much fun," for the better part of their lives. Most dogs require just as much time, patience, and training as a toddler.

Likewise, it's important to realize that most of what we humans consider proper pet behavior is entirely contrary to an animal's natural urges. No biting allowed. No leaving a mess in the yard or playground for the kids to step in. No barking at all hours (or any hours, for that matter). No chasing the neighbors' cows or cats. And no raiding the neighbors' bird feeders.

Those are a lot of Thou shalt nots. And each addresses the sort of behavior that's disturbing and upsetting to our natural order but virtually instinctive to animals. Nothing is more natural to a critter than squatting wherever and whenever the urge strikes. Like a bear in the woods. Dogs bark for fun, defense, and out of fear or excitement. Likewise for biting. And, certainly, catching birds is to a cat much more natural than eating from a bowl.

In other words, it's no easy task for an animal to become an acceptable member of our human community. But for our sake and theirs, pets absolutely need to become good citizens of the neighborhoods we bring them into. And it's up to us, as responsible pet owners, to work long enough and hard enough—and with utmost patience—to help them. You'll find that dog obedience classes are available in virtually every community and that most public libraries are well stocked with excellent how-to books on training pets.

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