‘Responsible Dog Ownership’ – What Does it Mean to You?

Holidays4Dogs considers this interesting question about what it means to be a responsible dog owner.  What do dog owners think the model citizen in charge of a dog looks like? Read on to find out more about the concept of responsible dog ownership.

In 2016, a collaborative report was submitted to the Welsh Government by the RSPCA, Environmental Health Welsh, Dogs Trust and the National Police Chiefs Council. The report stated that responsible dog ownership is often overlooked as a subject with regard to policy making. This particularly so in the fields of health and education.

A new research paper conducted by the University of Liverpool has found that campaigns encouraging people to be  ‘responsible dog owners’ often fall short of their aims. This is because there is vast variation on how people view the concept of responsible dog ownership.

For example, an increasing number of dog owners regard their pets as human family members. Nickie Charles from the University of Warwick further supports this point of kinship, whereby humans live with dogs as if they were ‘kin’ or, ‘dependants’.

responsible dog ownership

However, the issue with the idea that many people regard their pets as ‘people’ is that this blurs the line between species. Invariably, this can mean dogs are put first, before the needs of people.

On the other hand, where individuals regard their dogs as animals beneath them, there are connotations that the animal is an ‘object’. Therefore, perhaps, there is a reduced feeling of responsibility.

Most dog owners tend to believe they are already ‘responsible’ when it comes to the care of their dog. Perhaps this is because many people believe ‘common sense’ is the prevailing factor.  The U.K. Kennel Club, for instance, focuses on training, identification and cleaning up after your dog.

Campaigns to encourage responsible ownership usually include an aspect of enforcement within the law.  This in itself can be complex and often only employed after an event has taken place; (such as in the case of dog attacks).

In the paper submitted to the Welsh Government it was suggested that interventions are necessary in order to support dog owners. Thus, problems are less likely to occur in the first place.  This might involve education within schools and communities.

The Dogs Trust have been working with schools since 2003 delivering workshops and assemblies which aim to educate children on the commitments and responsibilities involved in caring for dogs, as well as helping them to understand how to behave around dogs they meet in the community.

There are many aspects of responsible dog ownership. One particular point, is how people control their dogs while in public and the impact this has on dog owners and non-dog owners alike.

Many owners see their dogs as having human-like characteristics and personalities. Therefore, there is the implication they should be treated as a person.

Thus perhaps, some dog owners feel that, ‘responsible dog ownership’ does not extend to keeping their dog under control around fellow citizens. Despite the fact that, one could argue, this fundamentally comes down to good manners, as a base concept.

The integration of pets into modern-day life is variable. It is also often contradictory in nature.

It is therefore logical to assume that people view the idea of ‘responsible dog ownership’ in different ways.  Indeed, the Welsh Government study admitted the research task posed challenges which turned out to be far more complicated than was first thought.

For example, consider the dog behaving in an aggressive manner towards other people, or dogs. This sounds like irresponsible ownership. However, other things such as breeding, or training may be contributing factors.

In addition, the choices an owner makes is relevant to the concept of responsible ownership. An owner may choose not to train their dog at all, for instance. They may decide instead to allow the dog to have a ‘natural life’. They may lack skills to train their dog. Or, their dog may be too difficult for them to handle. In the later case, an owner may perhaps be reluctant to admit this.


The concept of responsible dog ownership, therefore, is a rather more complex concept than one might initially think. Responsible dog ownership, it seems, means different things to different groups of people and in various contexts.

However, as research suggests, being a responsible dog owner, starts with education to encourage a collective understanding of how this should work in society as a whole. This approach not only takes into account the needs of people, but also addresses the ethical treatment of dogs themselves.

Looking for more advice? We recommend Understanding Your Dog: The Essential Knowledge To Become A Responsible Dog Owner



Carri Westgarth, Robert M Christley, Garry Marvin & Elizabeth Perkins (2019) The Responsible Dog Owner: The Construction of Responsibility, Anthrozoös, 32:5, 631-646, DOI: 10.1080/08927936.2019.1645506

Nickie Charles (2016) Post-Human Families? Dog-Human Relations in the Domestic Sphere. Sociological Research Online, 21(3), 8 http://www.socresonline.org.uk/21/3/8.html

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