I want to be a good pet owner.
I often have people contact me asking for advice, which is great. People often say, “I just want to be a good pet owner.” While this statement is good intentions, as I hope you all do, it can also be quite troublesome. There’s no way to qualify what a good pet owner is and everyone will reach a different conclusion about what it means to them. Because there is no standard, people tend to reach out looking for someone to validate them and guide them. In many cases those people can lead them down a bad path. To put it as simply as possible though to me the standard to consider yourself a good pet owner is very simple: Just want what’s best for your fur-babies. You can screw up a lot of things and still be a good pet owner in my opinion, as long as you love them and want what is best for them. Everyone makes mistakes, so if you see someone making a mistake with their dog there are two things to consider: is it wrong or just a different opinion from yours? And if you believe you are right, how do you educate them?
The whole reason I write these articles is because of the latter question. How do we educate people that want to know more or want to do better? I cannot answer that definitively, but I can say that yelling at people is absolutely not the answer. You have to show them the value of doing better or the risks associated with what they are doing in a calm and respectful manner.
In this article I want to briefly talk about a few decisions people are faced with that cause people to question if they are being a good pet owner or not and talk about what to me is good, bad and grey. Remember doing the wrong thing in my opinion does not make you a bad owner, it simply a difference of opinion.
This is the most common time I am asked by people if they are bad pet owners, so I wanted to address it first. Veterinary schools teach high pressure sales so it is very common for vets to imply, or flat out say, if you do not do what they say, then you are a bad pet owner. I highly disagree with this though as they are a business looking to make money, and while some do have the animal’s best interest at heart, not all do. Even if they do, they are not always right or making the right decision for you. To me being a good pet owner when it comes to vets is to prioritize the animal’s happiness and health. If you decide to do a risky procedure because you do not want the vet to judge you, that is as wrong in my opinion as not doing an affordable procedure because you don’t value your pet. The right thing to do is simply to be as informed as possible and weigh the risk/reward of each option. It is definitely harder than following blindly and there is far more responsibility on you, but it ensures that no one else is making a mistake for you and that the person with the pet’s best interest in mind is the one making the decisions.
Procuring a Pet
I’ve written about this before in another article, so I will be brief. Many people think it is only ethical to rescue or that they are doing a great thing by saving a puppy from a puppy mill. I would call those wrong. As far as being a good owner goes it does not matter where they come from, but from the standpoint of being a good member of the community I would say please never give money to anyone doing business unethically. There are many bad back yard breeders, puppy mills and rescues. Please do not give them money. Instead, I encourage you to report them to the proper authorities and tell those authorities you will adopt the animal through them. If you give the unethical business money, you are supporting their behaviour. Please keep in mind that different dogs have different personalities and energy levels. Do your due diligence to make sure the breed is right for you so that they do not end up being rehomed or either of you miserable.
The right thing to do is to go to a reputable breeder or rescue and find a dog that matches well with you so you can both be in a great situation to enjoy life.
Owning a pet food store, obviously this is a big one for me, and one that many good pet owners make mistakes about. You may be surprised that I do not think buying raw food, expensive food or making homemade food makes you a good pet owner. To me it is about providing them with good nutrition that meets your budget. Buying a poor-quality expensive food does not make you a better pet owner then buying a poor-quality cheap food. When you are caring for a pet it’s about their needs, not making yourself feel better, so find foods that are well balanced, use good ingredients etc. Saying “all kibble is the same” or “raw food is better then kibble” is often a way to allow oneself to make the mistake of prioritizing our own wants above doing what is right. Assess each food on its own merit and find the one that is the best quality for your budget (factoring in how much they eat on that food).
For training I would categorize the mistakes into two opposite camps; one is essentially trying to break the dog like you see in horses, and the other is complete anarchy.
When I talk about breaking a dog, I mean trying to turn them into a robot with no sense of self. People making this mistake want the dog to be proof of their skill as a trainer and nothing else. This is too far of an extreme as it steals their personality and makes them into a tool. There is nothing wrong with doing extensive training, but you need an intelligent dog that likes to learn new things so you two can both enjoy the experience rather then forcing your will on them.
As for anarchy this is the type that thinks saying no is abuse. They let their pets do whatever they want, thinking that will bring them the most happiness. Their pets will often be so out of control it effects every aspect of their life and becomes a huge point of stress for them. They often think they are taking on that stress as a sacrifice for the pet’s happiness, but in reality it’s a stressful environment for the animal as well. It is important to have structure and rules, and even more so for you to be a leader so they can feel safe and relaxed. If they see you as weak, they have to worry about protecting themselves and you, whereas if they see you as strong, they can relax and trust that you won’t let anything bad happen to them.
The right thing to do with training is to figure out what is important to you and remain consistent. Communicate the rules to your pet and base those rules on your own values, not other people’s. Don’t blindly follow a trainer either as you have to account for your own personality and your pet’s, finding a style that matches the two of you.
Obviously, this varies amongst species, breeds, ages, etc. The focal point though would be high energy dogs, or even just puppies. I often have people tell me their dog is destructive, bouncing off walls, chewing on them, etc and they wonder what they are doing wrong. More often than not it is simply a matter of not getting enough exercise. If you have a puppy or husky or something similar then they are going to require a lot of rigorous exercise to tire them out. Sometimes it is not even the amount of exercise, it is just that the exercise is not rigorous enough, or that they are not being mentally stimulated. A bored dog will look for fun things to do, which may involve destroying your favourite blanket. The right thing to do here is to either find a way to tire them out on your own like roughhousing, learning tricks, changing up where you walk, playing with other dogs, etc or you can seek out professional help by bringing them to a daycare where they can play with friends, fulfilling their need for exercise if you are busy or unable to keep up.
As stated, you can make all these mistakes and still be a good pet owner. No one knows your pet like you, so let others give you their opinion, not orders. On the flip side do not tell others what to do, but instead advise them so they will understand why you think that way and they can make the decision on their own. All that really matters is that you care, and if you care you will set aside what is easiest and seek out what is best for you and your pets.