A look at responsible pet ownership in today’s society

It is very common to hear people refer to their pets as their ‘children’. It wasn’t always like this. Back in the day, a dog was just a dog. Many dogs lived outside the house, with their owners feeling that if the dog has food and water, he is well taken care of. This picture is beginning to change dramatically.

Then vs now

This does not mean that people in the past didn’t care or that they were cruel. It was simply a matter of not fully understanding the needs of pets, and only in the past 20 years have a lot of research been done in animal behaviour, and much is still being done in the field. As our knowledge grows, we are beginning to get a better picture of how to best care for our pets. These are a few things we discovered about our pets in the recent past:

  • They are capable of feeling emotions. We have learned much about body language and the way animals express their emotions. Just consider the excitement your dog shows when you get home from work – there is no doubt that he is happy to see you! However, a common mistake is to think that animal emotions are the same as ours, and sometimes we still misread our pets. A classic example is the ‘guilty’ expression on your dog’s face when he did something you would rather not have him do. Dogs are not capable of feeling guilt, and that expression is rather one of fear, as your body language is telling him that you are angry. He honestly didn’t know that he wasn’t supposed to eat your shoes!
  • Animals are capable of feeling hunger, thirst, pain and to feel very hot or cold from exposure to extreme temperatures. This sounds logical, but even today there are people who don’t realise these things.
  • We have learned how dogs learn, which have made a massive difference in the way we train them. To give a rather nasty example: in the past, to stop a dog from digging, it was acceptable to severely punish the dog. This is pure cruelty, and just traumatises the dog – he learns nothing in the process. Dogs learn by association, which is why behaviourists today recommend that you rather allocate a space in your garden where the dog is allowed to dig, and then train him to use this space. This you do by rewarding him with a treat when he does use this space. The dog then learns that good things happen when he does what you want him to do – and we end up having better relationships with them because training becomes fun! Sadly today there are still trainers who use harsh training methods, so be very certain that you choose the right training centre for your dog. If you feel that the methods they use are hurting your dog, then find a different school.
  • We are gaining a better understanding of our dogs’ behaviour based on their breeds. Many dogs were bred with a specific purpose in mind, and while most of them are now just companions, these behaviours still occur. Once again, digging is a good example. Terrier breeds were bred to assist with hunting by digging animals out of their burrows – hence today, they are still prone to digging. This is why it is so vitally important to not only base your choice of breed on looks, but to really research the breed you have in mind as much as possible so that you are 100% certain what to expect.

Five Freedoms

The concept of the Five Freedoms was born in the 1960s, and were formalised in 1979 in a press statement by the UK Farm Animal Welfare Council. Originally created out of concern for the welfare of farm animals, they are still used today as an outline describing responsible animal ownership. They are as follows:

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst – by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.
  2. Freedom from discomfort – by providing an appropriate environment, including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease – by prevention and by rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  4. Freedom to express normal behaviour – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
  5. Freedom from fear and distress – by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

Based on these, it’s easy to deduce the basics of being your best friend’s best friend! If you are a regular reader of Animaltalk, you would know that our aim is promoting responsible pet ownership, and you will most likely be pretty clued up! Here’s a recap of the things you need to do for your pet. He is after all a family member!

  • Acquire your pet responsibly. Adopt, or get your puppy from a reputable breeder.
  • Train and socialise your puppy, starting with puppy classes.
  • Feed your pet a healthy diet – the best that you can afford – and always have at least two bowls of fresh, clean water available.
  • Sterilise your pets.
  • Provide them with mental and physical stimulation in the form of exercise and play.
  • Allow them to sleep inside the house. If this is really not an option, provide them with an outside sleeping space that has sufficient shelter from extreme weather conditions.
  • Take them to the vet annually for a checkup, and ensure that all vaccinations are up to date.
  • Follow a deworming programme and treat for ticks and fleas.
  • Keep your pets clean and groomed.
  • Microchip your pets and keep your details updated.
  • Provide proper care for your pets when you go on holiday.
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