Responsible dog ownership
Policy type: Position statement
Date ratified: May 2018
The New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) support principles of dog ownership and dog control that contribute to a harmonious relationship between people, dogs and the environment.
Dog ownership is a privilege, providing numerous benefits for both dog owners and society. Dogs provide companionship and dog ownership has been shown to improve human health and childhood experiences (Cutt, Giles-Corti, Knuiman, & Burke, 2007).
Many dogs perform important working roles in society, and are used extensively in the police force, for security work, farming, and perform important biosecurity functions. Disability assist dogs substantially improve the lives of many, including the blind, deaf, and those with diabetes, epilepsy and autistic spectrum disorders.
Owning a dog also carries responsibilities. Owners must comply with minimum standards for animal care and management set out in the New Zealand Animal Welfare (Dogs) Code of Welfare 2010 (National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, 2010), as well as the requirements of their local territorial authority (a city or district council).
These responsibilities are not only to the dog, but to other people on whom the dog’s actions may have an effect, and to the environment we share.
Veterinarians have knowledge and expertise on the principles of responsible dog ownership and dog welfare. This knowledge can assist dog owners to meet their responsibilities, ensure their dog has “a good life”, and retain the benefits that society enjoys from living with dogs.
Principles of Responsible Dog Ownership
Before obtaining a dog
Lifelong care of the dog
The lifespan of a dog is related to its breed, with averages ranging from 8-14 years. When undertaking responsibility for a dog, it is important to consider the commitment required for the dog’s entire life.
The investment of time and money required
Pet food is the largest expense over the dog’s life (New Zealand Companion Animal Council Inc., 2016). Owners must also consider costs associated with annual council registration, veterinary care (both planned and unplanned), pet health insurance, training courses, equipment (dog beds, collars, leads, bowls etc.), housing alterations that may be needed (e.g. fencing), doggy day-care, and boarding kennels. In addition to financial costs, the care and maintenance of a dog requires significant investments of time.
Lifestyle and living environments
Prior to acquiring a dog, consideration must be given to the size of the home and outdoor space; along with lifestyle and family activities, the ages of family members and health concerns such as allergies. Consider also that landlords may place restrictions on keeping dogs in rental properties.
Because dogs have such a wide variety of size and temperament, selecting the right type of dog, most suited for the specific circumstance, can considerably improve the dog owning experience.
Sourcing the dog
There are many more dogs in New Zealand than there are homes available. Adopting from the Royal New Zealand Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (RNZSPCA) or another dog welfare organisation improves overall dog welfare, by providing a home and reducing euthanasia rates at shelters. If a pedigree or purebred dog is desired, the NZVA strongly recommends seeking veterinary advice before a dog is bought to ensure dogs are sourced from a responsible breeder.
Particular care is required when purchasing a dog online or from a pet store. The NZVA strongly recommends puppies are not purchased without first visiting the breeding facility and checking the environment in which they have been raised. Further information on ethically sourcing a dog can be obtained from the NZVA website.
Caring for a dog
Food and water
Dogs must be provided with appropriate quantities of nutritious food and access to clean drinking water. Owners should ensure that dogs maintain normal body condition by feeding portion sizes that are appropriate for the size, age and fitness level of the dog. Significant health problems can be caused by both over and under feeding.
Shelter and housing
The environment in which a dog is kept should be well ventilated, designed and situated so that extremes of hot and cold are avoided. Dogs should have access to a hygienic comfortable place to sleep. The area in which a dog spends most of its time should allow for freedom of movement. This area should also be contained to prevent roaming. Prolonged confinement away from people and the prolonged tethering of dogs on chains are both associated with significant behavioural problems in dogs and should be avoided.
Owners should follow a preventative health care plan that includes vaccination, parasite control and annual health checks to support their dog’s health. Breeds of dogs with non-shedding coats also require regular grooming to prevent discomfort, coat and skin problems.
Veterinary care must be sought without delay if a dog shows signs of being injured or unwell. These signs include being reluctant/unable to eat or move, lameness, excessive scratching or licking at a part of the body, frequent head shaking, development of a rash, dribbling, hair loss, weight loss, vomiting and changes in toilet habits.
This should be appropriate to the dog’s age, breed and health status. In general terms, healthy adult dogs should be exercised at least once daily.
Understanding the psychological needs of a dog is as important as the physical well-being of the dog. Dogs are naturally pack animals and most do not enjoy being left alone. They also like to explore, with regular walks often the highlight of their day. Owners should ensure that their dog has regular opportunities to experience activities that it enjoys (e.g. playing, exercising, sniffing along the grass verges, chewing on dog toys and spending time with owners). Owners should seek to eliminate or mitigate experiences that negatively impact dog welfare, such as those that cause anxiety, pain and boredom. This includes being left alone for long periods of time and the use of negative reinforcement methods for training.
Being responsible for a dog
Early socialisation and appropriate training
This facilitates a harmonious relationship between the dog, the owner, other animals and people (Kutsumi, Nagasawa, Ohta, & Ohtani, 2013). The NZVA encourages breeders and puppy owners, to appropriately socialise their puppies from 3 weeks of age.
The aim is to expose puppies to a wide range of people, children, other animals and novel experiences during the critical socialisation phase of 3-14 weeks when they are most accepting of novel experiences.
Well socialised puppies are much less likely to develop behavioural problems.
Care must be taken to mitigate the risks of infection as vaccination courses will not have been completed until 16 weeks of age. Careful management of an early socialisation programme (e.g. avoiding areas that are known to be high risk, mixing only with vaccinated dogs, and attending puppy pre-schools) will minimise the risks of contracting an infectious disease.
When dog training commences, the NZVA supports positive reinforcement techniques. There is no place for painful devices to be used in dog training programmes (Hiby, Rooney, & Bradshaw, 2004). The general goal with training a pet dog is to achieve a calm, polite dog that looks to its owner for guidance, and behaves appropriately for the family and wider community in which it lives.
Registration and permanent identification
Microchipping provides an excellent means to permanently identify a dog, ensuring that is can be returned if lost. Microchipping also a requirement under the Dog Control Act 1996, along with registration of the dog with the local territorial authority from 12 weeks of age.
Owners should also consider registering the microchip on the New Zealand Companion Animal Register, so that their details are immediately available to veterinarians. Owners must update their contact details if they change, and consider providing a second contact outside of the usual region, as this is helpful in disaster management situations, when entire communities or cities may be evacuated.
Identification discs attached to collars are also recommended to facilitate repatriation of lost dogs in the first instance.
De-sexing both male and female dogs that are not intended for breeding before they reach puberty is an effective tool to prevent overpopulation and unwanted dogs. The procedure can also improve an individual dog’s welfare by reducing risks associated with straying (e.g. road traffic accidents/dog fights), infections and some cancers (Root Kustritz, 2012). While de-sexing before puberty is ideal for the majority of dogs, some male dogs from large breeds may benefit from delaying the procedure until they are fully grown.
Veterinarians can advise on the best time to de-sex your dog.
Emergency and disaster planning
Emergency and disaster planning for a dog owner should include having:
- at least seven days of dog food, water and required medications
- it is recommended that owners can access a crate or carrier, to facilitate moving dogs in the event of an evacuation being required.
Further information on disaster planning and down-loadable disaster information packs for pets are available from the Ministry of Primary Industries and the World Animal Protection websites.
Alternative care arrangements
It is part of responsible ownership, that suitable arrangements are made to ensure the dog’s welfare if an owner is not available for a period of time (such as when on holiday) or unable to continue their care of the dog. These arrangements may also be required at short notice due to unexpected illness or bereavements.
Impact on other people, animals and the environment
To avoid dogs having a negative impact on other people, animals and the environment, an owner must:
- remove their dog’s faeces from public places
- manage nuisance barking and other behaviours
- not allow dogs to stray
- keep dogs under control in public areas by having them on a leash
- ensure dogs do not predate on other animals or birds
- ensure dogs are safe to be in the community.
Cutt, H., Giles-Corti, B., Knuiman, M., & Burke, V. (2007). Dog ownership, health and physical activity: A critical review of the literature. Health & Place, 13(1), pp. 261-272. doi:10.1016/j.healthplace.2006.01.003
Hiby, E., Rooney, E., & Bradshaw, J. (2004). Dog training methods: their use, effectiveness and interaction with behaviour and welfare. Animal Welfare, 13, pp. 63-69.
Kutsumi, A., Nagasawa, M., Ohta, M., & Ohtani, N. (2013). Importance of puppy training for future behavior of the dog. Journal of Veterinary Medical Science, 75(2), pp. 141-149. doi:10.1292/jvms.12-0008
National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee. (2010). Animal welfare (dogs) code of welfare 2010. Wellington: Animal Welfare Directorate. Retrieved from http://www.mpi.govt.nz/protection-and-response/animal-welfare/codes-of-welfare/
New Zealand Companion Animal Council Inc. (2016). Companion animals in New Zealand 2016. Auckland. Retrieved from http://www.nzcac.org.nz/images/downloads/Companion%20Animals_in_New_Zealand_2016_Report_web.pdf
Root Kustritz, M. (2012). Effects of surgical sterilization on canine and feline health and on society. Reproduction in domestic animals, pp. 214-222. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0531.2012.02078.x