Your Four-Legged Family Member

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Every year, the Humane Society of Utah's Investigations Department handles hundreds of calls regarding suspected animal cruelty. One of the most common calls we receive goes something like this: "My neighbor has a dog that is kept on a chain (in a kennel / in the backyard, etc.) all the time and no one ever pays any attention to that dog. It's just so sad. Is there anything you can do about it?" Utah law requires that a person having custody of a dog to provide necessary food, water, shelter and CARE for their animal. Yes, your dog needs food, a place to sleep, water, and medical care if he is sick or injured; however, one of the most critical things you can give your dog is love.

Every year, thousands of dogs are destroyed because of behavioral problems, most of which arise from neglect on the owners' part. Around 10,000 years ago, humans started domesticating wolves, which evolved into the dog we know today. Dogs still retain many of their wolf-like attributes when it comes to their behavior.

Wolves and dogs are both social animals. Wolves and wild or feral dogs live in a pack. Social interaction is very important to the survival and well-being of the pack. In your home, you and your family assume the role of your dog's pack mates. To cut your dog off from interaction with your family is very damaging to the dog's emotional state and can lead to unwanted or even aggressive behaviors.

One of the worst things you can do to your dog is chain him up. If he is kept tied up, he cannot respond to stimuli in any other way than to bark. If you are in the front yard and the dog is tied in the back he cannot socialize with you and will bark to get your attention. If he is chained and hears someone that he cannot see moving on the other side of the fence, he will bark as a warning to let them know that he is there. When left alone all day with nothing to do, he may dig holes in the yard and bark to get your attention once again. Yelling at him to stop barking does not help, and may make things worse, because then you are paying attention to him, even if it is negative attention, and he will bark even more. After a while barking becomes a habit. Neighbors complain. Sometimes they do things such as poisoning, shooting, or removing the dog from the property and dropping it off in a strange place so the neighborhood can have some peace and quiet.

Obedience training is a must. You and your dog will be happier if he is well-behaved. Trained dogs do not jump on people, do not soil in the house, do not chew the furniture or your shoes, will not scatter garbage or chase cars. A disobedient dog is a danger to himself, other animals, and humans. If he should slip his collar and doesn't come when you call him, he could get hit by a car or cause an accident. Remember, dogs like to learn. The more you teach them, the more they can do, and they will be better pets. Dogs are happiest when they feel they have a purpose. Working breeds such as hounds, retrievers and herding dogs especially require activity that mimics what they were bred to do. Teach your dog assigned tasks, like picking up his toys and putting them away, bringing the newspaper, and finding the remote control. Even toy dogs benefit from this kind of activity.

A basic list of things your dog needs:

  • Obedience training. There are puppy kindergarten, beginning, intermediate and advanced classes. There are also AKC Companion Dog classes.
  • Exercise. He should be taken for walks and played with every day. If you are athletic yourself, you may want to take your dog hiking, jogging, or cycling. Remember, just like a human, before starting an exercise program, your dog should be examined by a veterinarian to assure he is in good health.
  • His own things. A bed or sleeping box. Bowls for food and water. His own toys like chew bones or a ball to play with.
  • Socialization. From the time your dog is a puppy, he should be handled frequently. Touch him all over his body (i.e., mouth, ears, belly, etc.) so that he will become used to it. Then, if he goes to the veterinarian or if he gets lost and is picked up by an animal control officer, he will not be as likely to bite. Take him for rides in the car other than just going to the veterinarian. Introduce him to different people and animals so he will not be timid or aggressive in strange surroundings.

    Socialization is very important to your dog. It prevents him becoming bored and acquiring bad habits. Treat him as you would a member of your family. Let him inside the house regularly. He should get his shots, see the veterinarian at least once a year, go to obedience school, even do his chores! Spend time with him, play with him, teach him what you expect. If you do not have time to do anything for your dog except feed him once a day, do not get a dog. Get a stuffed animal instead. They can be just as cuddly, and don't require the attention and effort it takes to be a good dog owner.