Responsible Dog Ownership
(book review)

"Should be required reading for every present and potential dog owner on Earth" says foreword author David Newsome, DVM. "People don't know what owning dogs involves, but get them anyway. Eventually they get rid of them." says the author in her preface. This book's mission is to secure lifelong homes for all dogs by educating prospective owners to recognize the issues and be prepared to cope with the responsibilities.


Kathy Diamond Davis, 1994, Howell Books

reviewed by Pam Green (© 1995)

"Should be required reading for every present and potential dog owner on Earth" says foreword author David Newsome, DVM. Amen to that say I !! This book should be read and re-read annually by all owners, all breeders, and all rescuers. All breeders should keep a few extra copies to lend as assigned reading for puppy applicants, saying "there will be a quiz at the beginning of our next session." Likewise for rescuers for adoption applicants. It is especially relevant to those of us involved in breeds that are large, self-assertive, protective natured, and have coats that demand much grooming effort ---- which definitely describes the Bouvier to a very high degree !!

"People don't know what owning dogs involves, but get them anyway. Eventually they get rid of them." says the author in her preface. This book's mission is to secure lifelong homes for all dogs by educating prospective owners to recognize the issues and be prepared to cope with the responsibilities.


The first chapter introduces the issues which must be confronted in selecting a dog whose physical and behavioral qualities will not create problems and responsibilities the prospective owner might not be willing or able to meet. "Don't bite off more than you can chew" would sum up the basic message. The issues presented in this first chapter re-occur throughout the book as the author discusses problems and possible solutions. I think it would be impossible for anyone to read the entire book without acquiring a much deeper appreciation of the need to select a dog carefully.

The chapter on recognizing the genuinely responsible breeder is superb ! The duties of the breeder towards each and every puppy begin long before conception and continue throughout that puppy's entire lifetime. "The bottom line is the breeder's willingness to take the dog back, no matter what the circumstances." Again, Amen to that !!

The chapter on neutering (spaying and castration) is superb, in effect advocating neutering for all dogs which are not an essential part of a genuinely responsible breeder's program. Thus all pet dogs should be neutered. Again, Amen ! In addition to cogently presenting the health and behavior benefits of neutering to the owner of a pet, this chapter also presents the population benefits and discusses the adoption of a dog from a Pound / Shelter or from a Rescuer (individual or group) as a reasonable way to obtain a good dog while saving a worthy life.

The chapter on "confinement" deals with all the ways to put barriers between the dog and trouble, ie danger to the dog or danger or nuisance to others. This ranges from leashes to fences to the house itself. The risks of the "outdoor" or backyard dog are presented clearly, together with the philosophy that "companion dogs belong indoors with their owners." Amen again !

The chapter on the multiple dog household is excellent, especially the section on compatibility and fighting, which rightly warns of the nightmare and disaster inherent in attempting to keep two really incompatible dogs in the same household. The second and subsequent dogs must be selected carefully in terms of sex, size, age, social attitude (dominance), etc. The first dog must already be well trained and dog-socialized. And all dogs ought to be neutered, preferably early in life.

The grooming chapter's central message is that one must not acquire a dog without first learning its grooming needs. Don't bite off more than you can chew. The cruelty of neglected, too infrequent grooming is vividly described, as well as the eventual deterioration in the dog's behavior. The pet owner of any breed with elaborate "show" clip or show grooming style is advised to adopt a practical, easier to maintain, "pet grooming" style instead. The chapter includes a brief discussion of cosmetic surgery, ie docking and cropping, suggesting why cropping is probably not in the pet's best interest.

The chapter on health care hits the basics of home care and veterinary care, with emphasis on preventative measures.

The "When is it time to give up?" chapter discusses the reasons and excuses less responsible less committed owners have for abandoning dogs (often acquired without sufficient forethought) and the methods that a genuinely responsible and committed owner can use to cope with such problems as might arise. The infamous excuse "I'm moving and can't take him with me" is exposed for the sham that it usually is, and distinguished from the genuinely anguishing dilemma of the owner faced with military draft or imprisonment in a health care facility. The fantasy of "a home in the country" is demolished. Good advice is offered on means of coping with dog care during personal disasters and lifestyle changes. The section on the dog which has become dangerous are brief but on target. This is one of the few genuine reasons one might be unable to keep a dog --- or rather why one would "keep" it in one of those little cedar boxes. Finally the inevitable issue of need for a compassionate surrender and farewell for the incurably sick and suffering dog, as distinguished from the seriously dog with hope of recovery and the old but still comfortable dog, are translated into the real issue, "what is best for the dog?"

The basic message of the training chapter is that training is essential to responsible ownership, training greatly improves quality of life together, and good training classes are now available for everyone everywhere. The owner too must be trained in order to handle the dog correctly. Large dogs, dogs with breed propensity towards high activity or protective / aggressive behavior, and dogs intended to perform a job (hunting, K-9, herding) have extra need for training. Recommendations are made for the practical things a companion dog ought to know, eg the recall, not jumping up, mealtime manners, doorway manners, car manners, guest manners and meeting people and dogs on walks. Finding a good instructor and communicating your goals to her/him are discussed. Finally, the reader is reminded that the dog is always learning things whether or not you are controlling what he learns. "The shelters are full of smart dogs who know things their former owners wished they didn't."

The final chapter presents the AKC Canine Good Citizen Test, its purpose, its benefits, and how to handle your dog in it. (UPDATE note : the test has changed in some minor respects, most notably and needfully in the addition of a 30 foot on-longline recall.)

As with any book, there are a few omissions. I would suggest that the chapter on selecting a dog might add some mention of "impact on your housekeeping" ie propensity of the dog to mess up the house, which relates to nature of the coat (eg shaggy feet) and behavioral propensities to romp in mud and water. These housekeeping issues should then later re-appear in the grooming chapter, as modified grooming (eg shaving down the shaggy feet) can greatly reduce the impact. This chapter might also introduce the issue of propensity to excessive barking, though that is covered later. As to barking, although debarking surgery is mentioned as a possible solution to be considered, there is no mention of the various ultrasonic devices and collars nor of the anti-bark shock collar (UPDATE : nor the citronella anti-bark collar). Whether the author approves or disapproves of these, they are ubiquitous in dog catalogs and should be discussed. The most serious omission is the absence of a bibliography, preferably cross-referenced to topics in the book. As a minimum, I'd like to see reference to the entire New Skete / Job Michael Evans series and the Carol Lea Benjamin series, plus Dogs & Kids by McLennan, How to Control Fleas by Kuepper, Pet Clean Up Made Easy by Aslett, plus of course a few of the better breed selection books such as The Right Dog for You by Tortura.


In conclusion, I strongly urge everyone involved in dogs to read this book and to encourage all prospective dog adopters to read it with the utmost seriousness. If everyone were to read this book and take its contents to heart, I think the Pounds would find their intake rate and death rate substantially reduced. That is obviously the author's purpose. Blessings of Cerberus, Anubis, and Amorak upon her for this valiant and valuable effort !!!


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 1995 revised 5/1/03
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