A Dog Owner’s Risks and Responsibilities


I do things with my dogs practically every day that would make other dog owners frown with disapproval – and my friends and neighbors do things with their dogs that fill me with horror. The differences in how we live with and care for our dogs are vast and unquantifiable – and although the same could be said of the differences between how people raise their kids, I’ve noticed that dog owners are much more likely than parents to tell other dog owners – perfect strangers! – that they are doing things wrong with their dogs.

Of course, it’s a good thing for society if we care about how other beings are being treated – and even intervene in cases of cruelty or neglect. But I’m not talking about situations that rise to the level of blatant abuse; I’m talking about small daily practices that absolutely can have an effect on a dog’s health and well being and even lifespan – but the differences are small, unproven, and largely a matter of opinion.

There are a few things off the top of my head that I see people do with or to their dogs that I feel highly judgmental about:

  • Letting their dogs get super fat; maybe this should be “making their dogs super fat.”
  • Letting their dogs nails get super long.
  • Letting their tiny or small dogs ride on their laps in the driver’s seat.
  • Yanking, yanking, yanking their dog’s leash. Even more so if it’s attached to a choke chain or pinch collar.
  • Allowing their intact dogs to reproduce indiscriminately.
  • Keeping dogs on chains outdoors.
  • Keeping pet dogs outdoors 24/7 (there are some working dogs who are happiest living outdoors, but if you have a non-working dog that you originally got as a pet, but keep them outdoors all the time…what’s the point?).

Here are a few examples of things I do with my dogs that might horrify some of you:

  • I mostly feed them dry dog food.
  • I put Seresto collars on them if fleas have been found on one of my dogs or I’m going to be hiking in tick-infested areas.
  • My dogs rarely wear collars.
  • I do not always have my dogs restrained in a seat belt or crate in my car.
  • I sometimes tell my dogs, “No!”
  • I walk my dogs off-leash in places known to be home to rattlesnakes.
  • I sometimes allow my dogs to ride in the back of our pickup truck.

Okay, with that last one, I’m reaching a little. They only would be in the back of a truck for a very short distance on a dirt road, on our way to a trailhead in our local wildlife area, for example, and at a very slow speed. They enjoy this as much as any kid who has begged to ride in the back of a truck for a short distance under controlled conditions – probably more, given the way their noses go into overdrive, smelling all the wildlife smells. Even so, I have one friend who worries about this, and has admonished me on the way to a hike for allowing my dogs to do this – especially after hearing that one of my foster dogs once jumped out of the back of my moving truck. (For the record, we were only going about 5 mph on a dirt road with nobody else around for miles, and she immediately took off running for the lake that we were moving toward; she was fine!)

dog on back of truck
This is blatantly unsafe – a fatal accident waiting to happen, as well as an unlawful practice in California. The unsecured dog wouldn’t have a chance of staying on that toolbox if the truck had to swerve, or was hit by another car. ©Nancy Kerns | Whole Dog Journal

While I roll my eyes at my friend’s concern that my dogs could hurt themselves by jumping out of the back of the truck (at such slow speeds, and on a dirt road with no one else in plain sight for a half-mile), I myself have judged other people for having unrestrained dogs in the back of their trucks – on the highway, for sure, or even at 30 mph in town! Unrestrained dogs in trucks I’ve seen in regular town traffic – or, horrors, on the highway! – who are spinning in excitement, or running back and forth on a toolbox behind the cab, or running back and forth in the bed of a truck barking at other cars – yes, I’ve judged their owners! Because in my opinion, those dogs are at a high risk of falling off or out of the trucks, especially if the owner has to slam on the brakes, make a quick swerve to avoid hitting something, or if another driver runs a red light (for example) and runs into the truck with the loose dog. But those owners probably think my concern for their dogs is overblown, just like I think my friend’s concern for my dogs is excessive.

My “Never Would I Ever” Is Your “I Do That All The Time!” (and Vice Versa!)

I suppose that statistically, I could find some data to prove to the owners of unrestrained truck dogs that their dogs are at a real and quantifiable risk of falling out of the truck and being lost, injured, or killed. Any my friend might even be able to find data on injuries suffered by dogs who were allowed to jump heights that are equivalent to the back of my pickup truck. But what about practices that lack data that could confirm whether they are a danger?

The best example of this might be feeding your dog kibble. To hear it from some owners who feed a home-prepared or even a commercial fresh-food diet, dry dog food is tantamount to poison! And if they are not talking about dry food in general, they may be making strong statements about foods that contain a particular ingredient or come from a particular company or manufacturing plant. It should be obvious that there if there were any data to support the concept that dry food in general, or any specific dry food that’s on the market, actually kills dogs, it’s immediately removed from the market.

And to hear it from some veterinarians, the people who feed a home-prepared diet are the ones risking their dogs’ lives!

Anyway, my point is, there is no single correct way to feed, train, or care for our dogs. I may have strong opinions about some things, but I don’t think for a second that everyone should do as I do, or that people who do the things that I am horrified by should immediately turn over their dogs to the authorities. As long as a dog is not being overtly abused or neglected, we have to look the other way sometimes, and respect the fact that folks have the right to subject their dogs to conditions or risks that we might not – as difficult as that might be!

Are there things that you are judgmental about when it comes to other people’s dogs? When do you feel like you have to say something to them about it?


  1. Dogs in the backs of trucks (excluding 5mph heading to the lake!) is a huge one for me. Especially the people who tie their dogs to the bed of the truck, thinking that’ll stop them from falling/jumping out. No, but it pretty much guarantees the dog will break its neck or strangle to death under those circumstances. I am very much of the opinion that some people should not own dogs, or more precisely, don’t deserve to have one.

    • One of mine is seeing a dog with nails so
      long it’s clearly causing issues with the dog’s foot anatomy. Another is a dog who clearly hasn’t been trained on politely interacting with new dogs (charging strange dogs head first, body checking strange dogs at full speed, no bite inhibition in dog disagreements) being allowed off leash where fights are a high probability.

  2. 1. Dogs riding unrestrained or uncontained in cars. I have firsthand knowledge of this; people I know, whose dogs got loose in unfamiliar environments because of this practice, and in a few of those cases the dog was lost for some time. 2. People who refuse to seek simple medical solutions for things like their dog being terrified of riding in the car because of getting carsick, or being terrified of thunderstorms, and when told the names of medications to specifically ask their vets about, never follow through and let their dogs continue to suffer. Usually these are dogs with other behavioral issues and the owners don’t see the connection between all the chronic stressors and why it’s helpful to eliminate even one.

  3. I agree with you on the collars. I put them on only when we are leaving the house. At home, and as soon as we return from walks, the collars come off. I once witnessed two dogs playing, then suddenly amidst their tumbling, one dog started screaming. The wire that held the rabies tag on the collar of one dog became hooked through the eyelid of the other dog. It was horrible. Fortunately, the owners were right there and able to unhook it, but I don’t know if permanent damage was inflicted. Never ever left collars on my dogs after that.

  4. not giving your dog attention when walking is my pet peeve- on the phone, listening to the radio, etc. I saw one person dragging his dog while the poor dog was trying to use the bathroom. Please…when out walking your pooch, pay attention – you are his advocate especially when out and about.

  5. I agree with the list you have of things you are judgemental about. I do have a problem with people who make comments about their puppy’s or dog’s behaviour that are not based on knowledge of dog behaviour. Like, “ He’s leash biting out of spite.” Then they apply negative training methods and tell you they have had puppies before so know just what to do. They want no advice from dog trainers. Ugh!
    Pat G

  6. My pet peeves are 2 extremes. One from the misinformed and one from trainers that are truly brilliant and at the very pinnacle of the dog training profession. The uninformed: giving unsolicited advice by quoting the whisperer. The best of the best: being told that I shouldn’t say no or uh-uh because they’re not behaviors. In my home they are behaviors – they mean stop (it’s just easier for me to say no or uh-uh). In actuality they are the beginning of a trained behavior chain. My dogs stop and then look at me. I either praise and thank them or I give them another direction. It’s just they way I roll. Great article Nancy!!!

  7. My list of concerns are: not brushing your dog’s teeth daily, only feeding dry food, dogs unrestrained in the vehicle, dogs in the back of a pick up truck.
    I have lived here for 12 years….when I started with the vet she was very concerned that I fed my dogs/foster dogs home made food…..I do mix in some good quality (off of the WDJ list) dry dog kibble…different brand and flavor every time. Now after all of this time she says if there is reincarnation I want to come back as your dog.

  8. LMBO. I could have written this article. Especially the list of things that horrify you. I have voiced these things to so many people. Fat pets, pets on drivers laps, and dogs left outdoors top the list of things that make me want to scream.

    And yes, I do do thing that others might be appalled at. My dogs are healthy, happy, safe and I know them well enough to know what is safe and what is not for them.

  9. My pet peeve are folks who go to public places with their dog off leach but with a shock collar, to “control” the dog. 😥 You say something, and they tell you “He’s in training!”
    Neighbor has kept a shock collar on his Golden Doodle to the point, when the dog runs off, everyone is helping to look for this neighbor’s dog. Asking, WHY? the worn-out shock collar, he says it’s to keep the dog from jumping the fence. HELLO!!!, I would jump the fence too if I had been wearing this shock collar till the fabric is worn-out. I’ll bet anything; his dog gets shocked every move it makes the guy don’t like. Agree, some folks don’t deserve these God given companions.

  10. Very well written and extremely sensible. Unfortunately too many people simply lack common sense. I always keep my Labs in the back of my SUV, with second row down so they have space. The one time I let my old girl sit in the front seat, I had to slam on the brakes. When she tumbled(unhurt) to the floor boards, I nearly had a coronary…YIKES, never again!

  11. Intact male dogs are a pet peeve of mine. Not talking about show dogs or pure breeds that might be studs. Just some male dog whose male owner identifies with too much regarding his masculinity or such.

    Hand in hand with that are the young men with intact pit bull and Staffordshire terrier types that are not only intact but their necks are encircled with really heavy chain with large padlocks. They think this weight makes the dog’s neck muscles stronger (like lifting weights) but it is the exact opposite and is really animal cruelty.

  12. People in our village who let their dogs roam off-leash and out of their control. They seem to think that because we’re “in the country” it’s ok. Except, there are still people driving cars, often too fast, lots of trucks coming through on the way to somewhere else, tourists who aren’t familiar with the place and locals who just don’t pay attention. Then, there are people walking who are afraid of dogs, children who don’t know they shouldn’t grab a strange dog and loose dogs poop wherever they feel the need, even if we all have to walk through it!

  13. The use of retractable leads. I encourage users to do some research on the potential hazards to human & canine. Too many people use them in very inappropriate places – stores, along roads while they are on their phones, etc. a huge hazard.