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Cornell Student Articles on Topical Affairs

The ethics of having a dog

You’ve heard it before – no house is really a home without a dog. However, there are many pet owners who are not ready to be responsible for another life, nor are they equipped with the right knowledge of raising a dog. What many fail to understand is that love is not enough, in order to be a responsible pet owner, you will have to meet the requirements of basic care, mental stimulation and physical demands of the dog. 

A dog’s basic needs are similar to that of a human being: shelter, food, water, exercise, healthcare, socializing and mental stimulation. While there are those who might choose to keep their dogs close to them, integrating them into a part of the family unit, and allow their dogs into their homes… There are also those that perfect to keep their doggy companions separate from the rest of the household by keeping them in an outdoor kennel, an indoor kennel or their backyard. Some dogs, such as the Siberian Husky, are notorious as escape artists and will scale the fence, which is why some dog owners install electric dog fences to keep them in (or to keep dog-nappers out). 

The truth is, dogs are happiest when they can be with their adoptive family as they are gregarious animals and are most comfortable when being a part of a pack. This means that, aside from having a roof over their heads and being out of the sun and rain, a dog needs a clear idea on their position in the family. In the natural order of things, a pack will consist of a dominant dog leading the pack aka “the alpha male”. When a submissive dog is forced to be the pack leader, it would be unhappy, aggressive, insecure, amongst other things. Most dogs are happy to just follow and that is where training comes in. Dog owners are almost always the alpha dog, and if you are not the dominant party, then you are failing your pet as an owner. Dogs will naturally follow and submit to someone they deem respectful, strong and able to provide security for the pack. If that is something a hopeful dog owner is unable to do, then they should not acquire a dog, for the sake of that dog’s mental well being. 

Training is part of mental stimulation and it also reasserts dominance over a dog. If a dog does not take you seriously, it will not follow you. It is that simple. Much like an employee and an employer, if the employee does not respect their employer, they would not take what they say into consideration and will not take them seriously. However, if an employer commands a great deal of respect, his employees will naturally stand at attention whenever he walks into the room. There are numerous articles and training methods that is available to anyone with an internet connection but the bottom line is: you must never let your dog disrespect you. The moment an alpha dog shows weakness, the next in line will take its place. If you have a very submissive dog, it will not be a problem. But if your dog is naturally dominant, you will have a hard time locked in a power struggle if you are not strict enough as a dog owner. 

A dog should also be properly socialized and exposed to all walks of life as part of their training to prevent aggression issues to arise. If an owner is unable to properly commit to teaching their dog, it is akin to not bothering with educating a young child language – which is most likely seen as abuse. A dog should be given the chance to identify and interact with children, men, women and other animals, especially if you have other pets at home so that the dog will be properly desensitized. 

Also, contrary to popular belief, bones are not the ideal diet for dogs, neither is it good for their teeth and health. Chicken bones in particular, are extremely brittle when cooked and can cause health complications, including death. Water should be readily available at all times. Similar to humans, dogs are also made up of 80% water. Not getting enough fluids in a day can cause severe dehydration. If you are unable to provide for your dog for the next 12-20 years (which includes vacations – who is going to take care of your dog?) then it is unethical for you to adopt a dog which solely depends on you for its survival and mental stimulation. 

Recognize that being a dog owner is a long term commitment. Unlike having a child that leaves home at 16 or 18, and can practically think for themselves as teenagers, dogs are unable to fend for themselves and are entirely owner-dependent to the day they pass on. Too many owners replace their dogs with babies and give them up for adoption, which is also an unethical thing to do. Dogs make strong impressions and have deep bonds with their family unit. When severed, dogs can go into deep depressions that even a new family will not be able to fix. 

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