Responsible Pet Ownership: How do You Score?

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You’ll often hear from various agencies or groups that they “Promote Responsible Pet Ownership.” In fact, I’ve said it myself many times. But what exactly does that mean? What are they “promoting” and what is considered “responsible.”

I’ve broken down the definition into five simplistic categories, as I believe it’s intended. To make it a little more interesting there’s a scale included so you can get an idea of where you land…and where there’s room for improvement.


This is pretty basic. Your dog either IS, or it ISN’T. For many reasons this is one of the more important things you can do for the health and longevity of your dog, not to mention doing your part to reduce our nation’s horrendous pet overpopulation problem. As I’ll often say, “if you’re pet isn’t altered you should be embarrassed.” Of course there are rare exceptions such as responsible breeders, show and trial dogs, but they are rare. This is essentially an all or nothing score.

Spayed/Neutered = 10 points



Are you the owner of a dog that will run from you and not come back…or jump on houseguests…or chew up things and dig holes like a badger? Having your dog trained is part of the “responsible” equation. An ill-behaved or aggressive dog is one that eventually gets ignored. You lose interest to walk them if they tug and pull. You don’t allow them into the house if they have accidents or annoy visitors. Over time it drives a wedge between you and your pooch. The top reason dogs get relinquished to animal shelters (some of whom never make it out) is because of behavioral problems. But the blame doesn’t lie with the dog. It is inherently your fault. Take the time and spend the money to get your dog trained and socialized.

 Excellently Trained = 10 points

Well Trained = 8 points

Moderately Trained (needs some work) = 5 points

Poorly Trained = 0-1 points



 If your dog is lost, is it gone forever? What have you done to ensure they’ll make it back home? The common excuses no longer fly, “he’s an inside dog only,” or “he’s too old.” Dogs end up on the streets or in shelters for many, many reasons (I witness it everyday.) Your dog should have a collar with a current I.D. tag AND a microchip. Lastly, you should be compliant with you’re counties licensing regulations. When a city/county has a high licensing rate they can more easily return lost dogs, regulate breeding programs and enforce ordinances such as barking and spay/neuter. Additionally, licensed dogs are required to be rabies vaccinated, which makes a community safer.

Microchip = 5 points

Current License  = 3 points

I.D. Tags = 2 points

Health Care

Your dog is a biological wonder: Intelligent, diverse, athletic and built to survive. And for that reason their health should be monitored no different than you or I. In fact, because they can’t speak and they age much quicker than us they need to see the “interpreter” at least once a year. You’re vet has been trained to speak “dog” and their input is invaluable to the graceful, healthy aging of your dog. Be proactive in the health care of your dog. We’re fortunate these days to have so many resources at our fingertips. Get away from the old school thinking of “I’ll give it a few days and see if he gets better.”

Regular Vet Visits and Current Vaccinations = 10 points

Infrequent Vet Visits and Vaccines Not Current = 5 points

Rarely goes to the Vet, No Vaccines = 0-1 points


The Friend Factor:

This is the x-factor of the equation. It’s subjective and will require some HONEST assessment on your part. Simply ask yourself how good of a companion are you to your dog? Do you take an interest in them? When you arrive home from work, do you seek them out to say hello? Obviously you have a life outside of your pet, but your dog’s whole world revolves around you. Dogs are not wild animals. They’ve been domesticated for thousands of years and therefore need a relationship with their owner to be fulfilled. The categories above script out the essentials of owning a dog, but actually loving them and giving them your time is maybe the most important.

Best Friend: 10 points

Good Friend: 8 points

Acquaintance: 5 points

Stranger: 0 points


How did you score?

45-50 points: You are a model owner and reside in the top 5%…an example for the rest of us. Wear this badge proudly. You’re dog is one of the lucky ones!

35-44 points: You’re a good owner but there’s a little room for improvement. You clearly have a solid foundation but just need to tweak a few things.

25-34 points: You’re doing some things right but likely dropping the ball completely in a couple categories. As you near 25 points this is where you begin to ask yourself: should I own a dog? Do I have the necessary time, environment (yard, space etc.) and resources?

Less than 25: Dog ownership may not be suited for you, at least right now. Either you need to make some serious adjustments or consider finding him/her a better home.

This scorecard is not hard and fast. I certainly wouldn’t want someone to dump their dog because they scored a 20. In that instance it would only end up in a shelter like mine. The more relevant question is: Am I in a position to make this right? Or even more appropriate, start thinking ahead:  If I take this dog home, do I have what it takes to score at least a 35? Just remember, pet ownership is not a right, it’s a privilege.

Use these guidelines to aspire to the best owner possible. Your dog certainly deserves it.  HINT: If you do the good deed of adopting a shelter dog you get an automatic 20 points. Why? Adoption dogs typically come spayed/neutered, microchipped, vet examined, licensed and vaccinated! Not a bad start.

16 thoughts on “Responsible Pet Ownership: How do You Score?”

  1. I qualified as a “45.” My six year old boxer mix seems to lose her mind when she meets people. I’ve had her professionally trained, but it all goes out of her head and she rushes people to be petted. Most of the time she just leans against their legs and wriggles excitedly, but sometimes I have to keep her from jumping. I’ve tried putting her in a down-stay until she calms down, but she won’t calm down. I have to keep my foot in the leash to ground her. Other than that, she is extremely well-behaved. That is literally the only problem I have with her.

  2. A seriously flawed “test”. The spay/neuter radicalism currently sweeping the country and veterinary medicine fails to recognize that spay/neuter isn’t a necessity for every pet owner — only the ones unwilling to keep intact males and females who aren’t proper breeding candidates apart from each other during the females’ estrus.

    There are apparently no “points” for keeping one’s pet in regular exercise and other activities which keep it mentally and physically engaged and at proper weight and fitness. Bored and unegaged seems to be acceptable.

    • The reason it is sweeping the country is because it is the right thing to do for your pets. Do some research on the impact of NOT having a dog or cat neutered. The health issues alone are reason enough to have it done. If you are NOT neutering your dog/cat, you are a ‘bad’ owner!

    • You make a mockery of our nation’s pet problems by using the word radicalism. There are many great owners with intact dogs that have no desire to enter the world of breeding. However, it is very (very!) difficult to control a male dog from seeking out an in-heat female down the block. As a shelter vet I have witnessed (on more than one ocassion) male dogs chew through chain-link fence to get to a female in heat. To assume it is simply a matter of an individual being “willing” to keep males and females apart is a cavalier and naive point of view. Mother nature has a few years on you and a few more tricks! Just because you may be educated, aware and have the best of intentions doesn’t mean your dog does. Indiscrimante, back yard breeding is the number one cause of our canine overpopulation problem and our humiliating and sad euthansia stats. The only insurance is spay and neuter. Challenge yourself to volunteer for a week at a shelter and you may gain some objective insight.

  3. More than an overpopulation problem we have a shelter/rescue and logistics problem.
    Why are rescues importing from outside of our country?
    Where do the numbers come from? You realize feral cars are included or those passed from shelter to shelter get counted multiple times? The vast majority of owned dogs are already spayed/neutered.
    You can be a responsible owner with intact dogs and not bring a single pup into the world. Many European countries only allow spay/neuter for medical reasons.
    Let us not just “assume” irresponsibility simply because a dog has his testicles.

    • You said, “The vast majority of owned dogs are already spayed/neutered”. I’m not sure where you get these statistics from.. Is this the “majority” of the people you actually know, because I don’t see how this can be true based on the number of unwanted pets in the country. Don’t forget that responsible breeders DO NOT include people who decide to breed two animals just because they are both purebred.

  4. Every dog I have owned in my adult life I obtained either through someone who had an unwanted litter or from a shelter. One (an un-weaned pup) was actually dumped from a moving car. I have spayed and or neutered all eight of them (over the course of 30 years or so). Every one of them spent their lives in a fenced in yard and never wandered. I have not had any of them ever hit by a car or just run away. They have all lived to old age ( my female chow Sing Sing lived to 16-1/2). I loved every one of them and I know they loved me. I KNOW I did the right thing by having them fixed.

  5. Spay and Nuetering your pets is the most and foremost important thing to do when adopting a pet. (do not buy from pet store..inbreeding disease and puppy mill abuse is what buying promotes) Then when you are responsible enough to give a shit about the genocide going on with the vast amount of unwanted pets in this country then and only then do you deserve the love of a pet!!!!

  6. There are many good reasons for not spaying and neutering…many people who do sports with their dogs keep them intact at least until 2 years of age if not longer, *because it is better for their health*.

    Also, in terms of vaccinated or not…I don’t see any mention of titres, which is far better then pumping your dog full of vaccines.


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