A dog will you give you a lifetime of devotion. Return the favor by learning the basics of giving your dog his best life.

laughing child playing with red long-haired Dachshund
The dachshund's small size and playful personality make her a favorite of children and adults alike.
| Credit: Getty

Before you decide to adopt a dog, it's time to look a little bit into the future. For the next 15 years or so, you will be completely responsible for your canine companion. That means you must be ready for...

Commitment. From adorable puppyhood through doggie adolescence, maturity, and old age, your dog will rely on you to meet all his needs—for food, shelter, care, companionship, and training.

Acceptance. Like people, dogs are individuals. Though members of a breed share characteristics, each dog will have his own personality. A shy dog will never be the life of the party, and an active dog will never be content to lie at your feet. You can train a dog to be well-behaved, but you cannot change his temperament.

Friendship. Dogs need your love and attention as much as they need food and water. Your dog will want to spend as much time with you as he can. In return, he will give you unconditional affection and admiration, even on a bad hair day.

Dog-Owner Basics

Your dog will be your best buddy, your biggest fan, and your most ardent supporter. Here's an overview of your end of the bargain:

  • Take care of your dog's health. Provide proper nutrition, water, shelter, exercise, grooming, and vet care.
  • Teach your dog to behave. Just like we teach our children manners so they will be civil adults, dogs need guidance to be functional members of the family. An untrained dog is a nuisance at best—and potentially even a menace in some situations.
  • Give your dog enough exercise. Different breeds and personalities require different levels of activity and types of exercise. Dogs need to be walked or let outside several times a day for exercise and elimination.
  • Play with your dog, and provide plenty of toys. Walks are great and necessary, but dogs also need one-on-one play time. You should provide a variety of safe toys for your dog, too, to help keep her amused in your absence.
  • Pick up after your dog. Whether at the park, on the street, or even in your own yard, you need to dispose of your dog's waste. Dog waste carries microorganisms that can seep into groundwater supplies and make people sick. (It also kills the grass as it decomposes.) As a responsible pet owner, you'll need to be prepared for this eventuality whenever you take your dog outside.
  • Keep your dog on your property or on a leash. Do not let him wander around the neighborhood. This isn't safe for your dog or considerate to your community. In some communities, it's illegal.
  • Discourage excessive barking. One of your dog's "jobs" (aside from providing nonstop adoration) is to warn against intruders. You'll need to teach your dog what level of response is appropriate for your living situation. A dog in an apartment building, for example, cannot bark every time someone walks past your front door.
  • Spend as much time as possible with your pup. Dogs need attention, and they also need companionship. Snoozing in a corner as you browse online or cook dinner is rewarding for your dog, too. When you can't be there, put on the radio or TV to keep your dog company.
  • Never let your dog bite anyone—even in play. Biting is a completely unacceptable activity. There is nothing "cute" about biting. If you don't make this clear from the beginning, you are failing to socialize your pet, and your pet will pay the price. Dogs who bite cannot live with a family.
  • Unless you intend to breed your dog, spay or neuter your pup. It's better for your dogs' health and for the community—there are so many homeless animals as it is. Animal shelters feel so strongly about this that they often require you to pay for spaying or neutering a dog as part of the adoption process, or provide the service for a low fee to any pet owners in the community.
  • Get a license and an ID tag. No matter how carefully you watch your dog, he may get lost. Quick identification of your pet increases the likelihood of a happy ending to a potentially tragic situation. Also consider having your pet microchipped, so he can be identified if his collar or tags are missing.
  • Supervise dogs and children, particularly young children, at all times. No matter how "good" your dog is, you cannot anticipate her every response. The same can be said for children, particularly children who are not familiar with your dog.
  • Designate an emergency contact in case of sudden illness or accident. Make provisions in your will, as well, for the care of your pet. Don't assume that people will take on this responsibility; ask friends or family if they are willing before you designate them to care for your pet in your absence.

The Great Outdoors

Even indoor dogs will spend some time outdoors. Certainly they'll go on walks, and perhaps spend time in your fenced-in yard or on a tie-out. These tips will help you teach your dog proper "outdoor" behavior and give her what she needs to be safe and comfortable.

  • If your dog lives outdoors even part of the time, make sure she has a sturdy, cozy dog house to protect her from the elements. It should be above ground level and have adequate ventilation without being drafty.
  • Pay attention to the weather conditions. Heat, cold, and dampness are all factors to consider when determining whether your dog is safe and comfortable outdoors.
  • Supply fresh water at all times, whether that means making sure the water bowl doesn't freeze in the winter or carrying water for your dog on a hike.
  • Make sure your dog is wearing her ID tag and license whenever she leaves the house—even in your yard.
  • Don't let your dog chase cars, people, or other animals. If she does, give her a reprimand immediately and put her in the house or on the leash until she calms down.
  • Don't allow her to soil, dig, or destroy plants on your neighbor's property. If your dog won't stay in your yard, build a better enclosure or keep her on a leash.
  • Don't leave your dog tied up for extended periods of time (or at all, if she can't tolerate it).

Keeping your dog safe and happy is part of the bargain when you become a pet parent. Do these things, and you'll be rewarded with your dog's loyalty and love.