All dogs deserve and require responsible ownership; however, large or strong breed dogs such as German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, Cane Corsos, Huskies, Mastiffs, pitbull-type dogs, and many other strong breeds and mixes require responsible ownership to help ensure everyone's happiness and safety. Almost all serious dog bite-related incidents (by dogs of all breeds) are the result of a failure of one or more factors related to responsible ownership. There are many resources available for the fundamentals of responsible ownership and this is a topic that can go into a lot of lengthy detail. Below, we selected the factors that we believe are the most critical for responsible ownership and kept our recommendations short and straightforward.
- Regular (at least yearly) veterinary checkups and all required vaccines.
- Adequate food and water (a hungry dog is an unhappy dog).
- Strongly consider spaying or neutering (the majority of serious incidents by male dogs are by intact males and unfixed female dogs can have higher rates of aggression).
- Adequate exercise (walks, playtime) appropriate for the dog's age and energy level.
- Exposure to both indoor and outdoor activities.
- For younger dogs (under ~5 years), exercise should be provided at least twice daily.
- Teach basic obedience commands such as "sit", "stay", and "come".
- Use positive reinforcement (reward good behavior with treats).
- Avoid negative (punishment-based) training as it can lead to undesirable results such as increased aggression.
- Socialize dogs at a young age (if possible) with other people and dogs.
- Always supervise dogs around infants and young children - no exceptions.
- Tag and chip (dogs should always wear a collar with tags and all dogs should be microchipped).
- Always use a leash on walks (or in any situation where a dog could escape from its owner or guardian).
- Never allow dogs to run loose (unless in a secure or fenced-in area) - the only exception to this recommendation is in a designated off-leash area and the dog is under full voice and sight control.
- Provide a secure, fenced-in yard (if possible) for playtime and potty breaks.
- Always follow all local laws and ordinances that pertain to dogs (leash laws, registration laws, etc.).
Most dog bite-related incidents can be prevented by heeding the basic warning signs of canine aggression and problematic behavior. Any severe aggression or unsafe behavior should be immediately assessed by a veterinarian, professional dog trainer, or other licensed canine behavioral specialist. While all dogs may exhibit some level of aggression in certain situations, any unsafe dog-on-dog or dog-on-human behavior should be immediately and professionally evaluated. In most situations, aggression and problematic behavior can be successfully mitigated with professional training, by avoiding specific situations (like dog parks), by using devices such as muzzles on walks, or with veterinarian prescribed medication (anti-anxiety, sedatives, etc.). Warning signs can include:
- Any previous incidents, aggression, or behavior issues that have not been addressed.
- Any snarling, dog-on-dog aggression, dog-on-human aggression, or "non-playful" biting.
- Any anxiety or fear that leads to aggressive or unsafe behavior.
The factors for responsible ownership listed above are only recommendations - all situations are different and all dogs are individuals that require different levels of care, attention, training, and commitment. Dogs fully rely on their human companions for everything in life - from proper care and training to happiness and safety. Great dogs are created when they are properly and responsibly cared for - and when they are, humans are rewarded with a loyal best friend that will provide companionship, happiness, and unconditional love. Links to additional resources on topics related to responsible ownership are provided below:
It is the human's responsibility to teach the dog the behaviors that we find appropriate, and reward the dog for doing things we like. Just as importantly, it is our role to show dogs which behaviors are not appropriate in a constructive and compassionate manner that does not lead to further anxiety on the dog's part.
- The Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT)