You may have arrived here following my recent article examining the possible reasons for why you want to get a puppy. If your reason for getting a puppy is much more profound than the reasons I described in the previous article, this next article is a good next step to understand what a commitment to dog ownership really entails. That said, I want to thank you for continuing on this journey with me, and allowing me to help you assess if getting a puppy is really for you. Few people will commit time and effort to thinking about this decision as carefully as you are doing. But whether or not you already own a dog, your careful deliberation and your desire to be informed already speaks volumes of the kind of dog owner you are or will become. So let’s now continue your education to help you understand your responsibilities should you decide to welcome a new puppy into your life.
Before I continue with a discussion of the practical considerations of dog ownership, let me first talk about the Five Freedoms (more recently changed to the Five Animal Welfare Needs) which are a measure of animal welfare and the kind of care you should and must be able to provide your dog. They state that animals should have:
Watch this short video with a brief explanation about the Five Freedoms from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals:
As a responsible dog owner you accept the duty of care to provide your dog’s needs as guided by the Five Freedoms. Let’s examine each freedom individually, and understand how each translates into our responsibilities as our dog’s guardian:
This calls on us to provide fresh and clean water to our dog at all times, and to provide nutritionally-balanced food in the proper amounts to sustain and maintain our dog in good health.
There are many dog owners who think to save a few pesos by buying cheap dog food or extending dog food with copious amounts of rice. They reason that if a dog is eating food without complaint then it must be good enough for the dog. Let’s think about it this way: Many children if given nothing else would probably eat a diet of fast food or junk food without complaint. Does that mean it’s good for them in the long run? Definitely not. Similarly, for your dog, a diet of cheap dog food that is nutritionally imbalanced, loaded with preservatives and extenders or fillers will predispose your dog to many diseases as he grows up and old. Your puppy may look good now, but fed an unhealthy diet, he/she may not attain his full growth potential. Bones and joints may develop poorly and skin problems and allergies may arise as well. In addition, poor dog food can also prevent a puppy’s brain development and contribute to some problem behaviors. A good premium diet of high quality dog food or a balanced diet of home-prepared meals is an investment in your puppy’s body development and continuous health.
Many dogs that endure life caged or tethered suffer baking under the hot sun, or getting wet and cold during wind and rain. Unavoidably, they step in their own excrement, and are then hosed down when the smell gets too unbearable for the residents of the house. Their feet are red and raw from having to step in puddles of their own urine and the wet flooring of their cages. Even if they are cared for – fed, bathed, walked for a few minutes once or twice a day outside of their cages – I cannot imagine that caged/tethered dogs lead a balanced life, where they look more like sad collectibles rather than members of the family. Confined and deprived of regular social interactions, dogs are likely to develop medical and behavioral problems. On the other hand, neither should a dog be allowed to roam beyond your property without your supervision as this might predispose your dog or those that come into contact with your dog to harm. As a responsible dog owner, it is your duty to provide shelter that allows your puppy enough space to move about as appropriate to his/her adult size, that is clean and that provides protection from the elements.
This points mainly to your duty to seek veterinary care for your dog in order to prevent disease and/or to treat disease or injury. Disease prevention is done by having your puppy vaccinated. Many dog owners ask to have their pet vaccinated only for rabies, not realizing that their dog is susceptible to other viral diseases as well. Your dog must receive at least the core vaccines for canine distemper virus, parvovirus, adenovirus, and rabies. Your veterinarian may make additional vaccination recommendations based on your locality and the prevalence of disease in your area.
Take note, vaccinations should be administered by a licensed veterinarian, NOT a breeder (unless the breeder is a vet). This is to ensure that the vaccinations are stored and administered properly according to veterinary vaccination guidelines suggested by veterinary immunologists and vaccine manufacturers. Breeders vaccinate puppies without understanding proper vaccination protocols. Consequently, many breeder-vaccinated puppies may fail to develop immunity and may remain susceptible to disease.
Many owners wait for days to weeks before presenting their animal for veterinary care. Often, it is too late to do anything about the disease by then. Be sensitive to your dog’s signs of pain and distress, they are not as obvious or overt as those of humans. Your dog will not necessarily cry and he obviously cannot speak to say he is in pain. He may instead hide in a corner, appear to sleep longer than usual, show no interest in food or have a reduced appetite. Consult your vet immediately if anything seems off about your pup. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
The most difficult responsibility a dog owner must bear is to make the decision to have a beloved dog put to sleep when the time comes. This does not apply to old age alone. For instance, it may not be reasonable to have a dog suffer a chronic condition for many months if a positive outcome cannot be guaranteed in the long run even if treatment is provided. In such cases, and taking all other things such as cost of care and the age of the dog into consideration, euthanasia is a reasonable and humane option to prevent prolonged suffering.
As a domesticated species, there are, of course, limits to the normal behaviors that dogs are allowed to express. For instance, dogs cannot be allowed to mate freely whenever they like because this may contribute to the stray dog population and it also contributes to problems of public health. However, it is still important that dogs be allowed to express other behaviors. For example, dogs being social animals, they must be given opportunities to socialize with other dogs or other animal species whenever this is appropriate. I say “when appropriate” because not all dogs socialize well with other dogs nor should they be forced to do so. Some dogs socialize better with just people or other animals, or only certain dogs that they feel comfortable around.
This freedom also includes a dog’s need for training and physical activity while under our care. One might argue that trained behaviors are not normal behaviors, however, I see training as an outlet for the dog’s mental capacities and a substitute to the mental stimulation they would receive if like their canine ancestors they lived in the wild. Training provides environmental enrichment and allows the dog to express behaviors that are natural to dogs, or behaviors that they were specifically bred for such as scenting or tracking, hunting, herding, or retrieving. Without an outlet for expressing these behaviors, a dog is likely to develop problem behaviors such as destructive chewing, nipping, excessive playfulness or hyperactivity. At worst, the dog may develop obsessive and even aggressive behaviors.
This freedom reminds us that we are to serve as our dog’s protector, that we should make them feel safe and secure, and that we should not subject them to things or activities that might cause them mental suffering or emotional distress. If these are unavoidable, as during visits to the veterinarian, we must do our best to minimize the stress that our dogs should endure. Where veterinary procedures and grooming will be necessary, it is a good idea to pro-actively train your dog to tolerate and even love handling so that he is prepared for the actual veterinary procedure or grooming long before it needs to take place.
Modern dog training techniques backed by scientific research have shown us that we have a much better alternative to use in place of antiquated dog training techniques that use pain, fear and intimidation to force a dog to behave as we want. If you are excessively or frequently punishing your dog – whether or not you produce the desired result, and in addition, cause him to experience pain and emotional distress, then you are denying him this fifth freedom and may unintentionally be subjecting him to abuse. That is why it’s important to be discerning when you are choosing training methods or selecting a trainer to work with you and your dog. That said, I want to caution you about trying to emulate training techniques made popular by television media – particularly those that show dogs being jerked on leashes, kicked, jabbed or poked in the ribs. Not only could you cause your dog physical injury when trying these methods, you may also cause him to shut down due to fear, or cause aggressive tendencies to become worse.
On many occasions, humans can be insensitive to a dog’s distress because their stress signals are not as overt as ours. A poor understanding of canine body language can cause us to overlook or misinterpret what the dog is “saying”. Dog owners will sometimes claim that their dog “suddenly” became aggressive, or they may say something like “he’s never tried to bite or snap at a person before”. In these cases, it is likely that the dog owner failed to observe the more subtle stress signals that the dog was displaying in the beginning, which then caused an escalation to aggression. Learning about canine body language will help you read and understand your dog better, and make you better equipped to protect him from any fear and distress.
I hope that this discussion of the Five Freedoms of Animals, has been enlightening for you and that it has helped you understand your future dog’s needs on a deeper level.
To demonstrate your commitment to responsible dog ownership, for now or for the future when you are ready to become a dog owner, consider taking the Responsible Dog Owner’s Pledge, a pledge I drew up based on the Five Animal Welfare Needs. Download and print this pledge, sign it and prominently display it. By signing this, you pledge, on your honor, to provide your dog with the Five Freedoms throughout his or her life with you.
In the Philippines, specifically, it may be that you lose nothing by neglecting the Five Freedoms. When you think about it, in our country where animal welfare laws are poorly enforced, who will punish you for keeping your dog caged and baking in the sun? What consequence is there for you if you neglect to provide your dog veterinary care or treatment? The answer is likely that no one will punish you and no consequences await you, and your dog will be the only one to suffer.
But to be sensitive to the needs of others – be they human or animal – is a reflection of your humanity, and the choice to show compassion towards an animal is a demonstration of true strength and courage. I hope you make the choice and the effort to elevate your humanity, to show that sensitivity and to demonstrate that strength and courage.
Moving on, your final step in this 3-part series of self-education and self-assessment for potential dog owners is to determine if you actually have the resources available to provide your future dog with all of his or her welfare needs. Watch out for that article, NEXT!