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What Makes A Great Dog Person?
Where there’s an ideal, there’s a way. Help us set the standard.
Help us write the story about how to be an exemplary dog person. Post your comment below.

There’s a lot of focus on what makes a good dog, but what about a good dog person? That’s one of the goals here at The Bark. Through our stories—directly or indirectly—we explore this simple question. Now, we’re putting that question to you.

You’re out there in the agility rings and the off-leash parks, navigating icy sidewalks and fretting in veterinarian’s waiting rooms. You read pet food labels, sign animal-welfare petitions, reward your pals for dropping slobbery toys at your feet. Everyday you probably strive to be the best guardian you can be. So we ask: How do you do it?

We’ve started our list of simple, concrete actions that can make us the sorts of people about whom our dogs brag. We hope you’ll add to our list, improve on our suggestions, or just tell us what you do to be a good dog person. We’ll gather together all your intel (posted as a comment or sent to webeditor@thebark.com) to write the first-ever Bark reader-driven guide for how to be a top-flight, A-1 dog person.

Let’s get started.

Double-down on physical and mental exercise. Teach your dog a new trick. Take breaks for games together throughout the day (if you’re lucky enough to be together.) Enroll with your dog in a class such as agility, Flyball, Rally-O, or even an obedience refresher course.

Take longer walks—in new places—with your dog. Use the time to engage with your pup. Call to her often, reward her recalls, have her go into a down, reward her, then release her and walk again. Short “training” or re-enforcement sessions keep you both sharp.

Bring your whole self to the dog park. It’s fun to meet your friends and visit, but your dog and her activities are the priority. (There’s a reason they call it a dog park.) Don’t be so distracted by a conversation (cell phone call or texting) that you lose track of your dog. More dog park tips.

Resolve to cook or prepare “homemade” chow. Maybe start with one meal a week--such as, chicken and brown rice?  Or add variety and nutrition to standard fare with “people food” additions. Or try baking your own treats. Not only is it surprisingly easy to do; with smart planning, homemade options are easy on the wallet too.
Give your dog regular check-ups. Frequent home grooming is a good way to check in with your dog. Cleaning ears, clipping nails, combing and trimming fur, and brushing teeth help keep your pup feeling good and keep you tuned in to her status.

Keep up with your dog’s essential vaccinations without over-vaccinating.

Foster a shelter or rescue dog, especially if you’re a one-dog family. Not only will your pup enjoy a little canine company but you’ll help socialize your guest and ease his or her way to a forever home. If you can’t foster, consider sponsoring a shelter/rescue dog. You can help defray the cost of spaying/neutering, vaccinations, microchipping and more; a small donation goes a long way.

Read a good training book. Smart trainers are always coming up with new, useful pointers. Even if your dog makes Lassie look erratic, there’s always room for fine-tuning. (See our recent recommendations.)

We’re fired up about our new website and the direct, immediate feedback we’ve been getting from you. It’s a good thing that makes us want more. Post a comment below or email your suggestions the webeditor@thebark.com.

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Submitted by Anonymous | March 5 2009 |

What about regular massage. Come on. They love it, and I’ve heard it produces feel-good endorphins for you and your dog.

Submitted by Rex | March 5 2009 |

I feel like I more than live up to my end of the bargain when I take my dog on a long walk at the end of a long day. Instead of crashing on the couch.

Submitted by Anonymous | March 9 2009 |


my 2 Boxers LOVE LOVE LOVE their walks each and every night, no matter what, even when i'm so tired and just want to lay around. of course, they always make me laugh and i always feel better when we get home and all get to eat our dinner and then relax!

yay for you walking the dogs!

Submitted by anat | March 6 2009 |

to me, being a good dog person more then everything else means:

1. respecting their space, and body. not forcing on collers, or dregging them by force when in a hurry or doing unpleasent daily things to them without first teaching them to like it. i always had dogs who didnt like petting that much, and at all times, so i try my best not to pet dogs when they dont want it.
i found that dogs do apriccate it.

2.protecting the dog when needed. that is if i have a fearful dog, or a gentle one i make sure i do not put him in situations he cannot hendle, i take him for a time out if play with other dogs is becoming to rough.

Submitted by Anonymous | March 9 2009 |

A great dog person remembers that every dog and their human do NOT want to meet other dogs. They keep in mind that, through no fault of their own, not all dogs are friendly with other dogs.

Submitted by Molly's mom | March 10 2009 |

Being a great dogperson means reading all the labels on foods and finding the one with meat not corn as the first ingredient. It means spaying or neutering is top priority money-wise for that month, and never bringing more puppies into the world. It means committing to a dog for her entire life, and if she needs expensive surgery, so be it. It means picking up a 70+ lb dog having an epileptic seizure out in the snow even if it's damn near impossible, to get her into the warm house and back to herself. It means treating the dogs like kids, and not expecting them to understand what they can't understand or do what they can't do. It means rescuing, rehabilitating, training, loving, and reaping the immense rewards of lifelong friends and unconditional love.

I think my 3 dogs would say I'm a grrreat mom...and their dad's catching on quick.

Molly, Lucy, and Ladybug's mom

Submitted by Tiffani | March 10 2009 |

I treat my dogs (and cats) the way I would wish to be treated if I were them. They share my couch, my bed, and, yes, some of my food. They have lots of toys and we play often. They have good treats and get lots of gifts for birthdays and Christmas. I tell each and every one of them how much I love them numerous time a day. Money is no object when it comes to veterinary care. I will do whatever it takes to keep them healthy and happy. Many people have told me that when they die they want to come back as one of my pets. To me that is the ultimate compliment!

Submitted by 2 NJ Labs | March 10 2009 |

A dog person is someone who is the happiest when they are around their furry friends. Someone who is receptive to their dogs needs and curious about how their dog thinks and acts to try understand them.

Submitted by Alicia | March 12 2009 |

A good dog person is someone that respects the animal first and recognizes and tends to their emotional and physical needs. A good dog person knows that having a happy dog is as easy as raising a child. A good dog person takes care of their dog. They not only feed them a proper dog food, but spends quality time with them which includes: walks, playing with toys, teaching new tricks and recapping on old ones, socializing with other dogs, people, and children. A good dog person wants the best for their dog and does what they can to achieve the best. And finally, doing all this makes a good dog person happy.

Submitted by Heather B. | March 17 2009 |

I believe that a good dog person understands that their dog is a dog, not a person, and treats them with the respect they deserve. Dogs view the world through different senses. A good dog person knows this and alters their relationship accordingly. They try their best to think like their dog. Also a dog can still be a dog yet respectable in a public setting. THIS is a good trait to encourage.

Submitted by Kayla | March 19 2009 |

I took my dog to the dog park the other day, and there was a HUGE mud puddle. My dog, a lab/golden cross (I raised him for a service dog organization, and he was career changed for acid reflux.. so no, he's not a 'designer breed' in that sense... he was designed to do a job. As a 2-year-old water dog that has not been in water all winter and loves to tear it up anyways, of course he found the only mud puddle. Now, most dog mommies and daddies were freaking and pulling their pups away from eminate muddy disaster. But I figured "hey, let him have a good time.... got to let them be dogs every once in a while". He left the dog park that day looking more like a chocolate lab than his normal golden blonde color... And yes, I had to spend about an hour and a half in the tub cleaning him, since I don't have a hose... I think, that, alone, makes me a good dog person. Not to mention the fact that I do flyball with him, dock diving, have taken rally and obedience classes, am training him in service work, and, well, do just about all of this stuff. I think being a good dog person is more than all of the stuff you do, though. I think it's how you ultimately read the animals. Dogs know dog people.. That's all there really is to it.

Submitted by Krista (mother ... | March 26 2009 |

I know what you mean. I have two Boston Terriers, Simon & Ruby. I got them as puppies and during their first year we were staying at a house that bordered a farm. We live on Long Island, NY and have four seasons which we experienced at that house. Every season they would find a new mess and I just got used to letting them have a good time and giving them a bath afterwards...granted they weren't too big at the time, but they didn't fit in the sink and there was only a stand up shower. Some days, they got several baths and to me it was a natural thing to do. One Father's Day, it poured and then the sun came out. I turned around to see the dogs tumbling, running, & having a ball in the newly tractored field....they were covered in mud. They looked brindle. I wish I could attach pictures...I'm a photographer and I have the sequence of the fun on film! Today, Simon & Ruby are 8 & 8 1/2 years old. Ruby's settled down considerably, but everyday Simon rolls on the pavement in the driveway, on the street as we walk, and now is the season to roll in the grass after finding a dead worm, moving it, then rolling on it! (Does anyone elses dog do that?) These days, he gets a good "spot cleaning" and when he goes outside for the last time of the day, he buries a bone & rolls on the driveway again!

Submitted by Anna Dibble | March 24 2009 |

A lot of the comments hit on what I think is the most important thing in being a good dog person: Realize the dog is a canine - not a primate, respect the dog and respect yourself. I find that there's a fine balance between letting my dogs be themselves and giving them enough discipline and boundaries so I can live my life next to theirs, and we can successfully live together. I think about this balance almost all the time - sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't - mostly it's somewhere in between. In my view, a good dog person knows the importance of this balance - and works on it.

Submitted by Carolyn | March 30 2009 |

A lot of great points already made. Here are a couple that come to mind for us:

Try to be attuned to your dog in the same way she is attuned to you. Right now Maggie is lieing behind my desk, dozing, cracking open an eye every so often to check on me -- she knows our walk time is in about 45 min. She doesn't want to miss anything in case I, miracle of miracles, might want to go sooner. I try to give her the same kind of attention during our day together.

Work slowly, gently and patiently with your dog to master brushing teeth. It's so important for their longterm health and it's something that can be hard to make into a habit, but it will really pay off in the long term. Maggie came to us missing teeth and with tooth resorption. It took awhile, lots of treats and patience and now we brush daily. Just the other day someone met her who thought she was young (she's about 10) due to her shiny clean teeth. Great compliment!

Submitted by Britt & Mini Au... | April 23 2009 |

This is such a big, broad question. I think it's easier to answer by saying what makes a BAD dog person. A short list:

1)Buying or adopting a dog without thinking of it as a commitment for the life of the dog. Yes, tragic, unexpected things happen to people, and in those cases, it can be necessary to find a new home for 1-year-old Fluffy. But reasonably expected events such as long work hours or a new baby are not excuses.

2)Buying a puppy/dog as a gift for someone else.

3)Buying/adopting a dog without planning significant time to socialize and train.

4)Letting your dog be a bad ambassador for the species, by letting him wander in neighbors' yards, by not picking up his poohs on a walk, or by leaving him outside to bark and howl for minutes or hours on end.

5)Not spaying or neutering your dog unless you're a highly knowledgeable and responsible breeder who carefully screens potential pup homes and who requires spay/neuter contracts with adoptive families.

6)Not setting aside the budget & time for annual vet checkups and potential health emergencies.

7)Buying/adopting a dog without researching whether the breed or mix would be a good fit with your life - for both you & the dog. A young Border Collie will never, ever be truly happy in a big-city apartment, no matter how many leash-walks it gets.

8)Not immediately seeking help and guidance when you begin to notice behavior problems in your dog.

9)Using "dominance" to force response, instead of positive-reward training to shape behavior.

10)Allowing your bad moods (like frustration after a bad day at work) to negatively affect how you interact with your dog.

11)Not providing adequate daily exercise, mental stimulation & training, good-quality food & fresh water, and a fairly clean, happy home.

But lastly, what makes the BEST dog person in the world? Someone who loves dogs and who hungers to have one (or more) in their life, but who knows their current lifestyle wouldn't allow them to provide a good life for a dog, so they don't buy/adopt one. Instead they wait for the day when they can provide a great life for the right dog (or two :-)).

Submitted by Stephen | March 13 2014 |

Thank you. I want a dog but your writing shows me I am just not ready yet.

Submitted by Erin | May 8 2009 |

I think it is very important to take at least fifteen to twenty minutes a day and sit quietly with your dog, making sure to give your dog your full and undivided attention. Turn the TV off, turn the cell phone off, and enjoy each others company.

Submitted by Sadie's mom | May 15 2009 |

I would say the key ingredient is lots of love.
Teach them the rules of the house. A friend of mine gave me a great tip on how to do this. Get very dramatic with your voice when you want to get something important across-Like "Oh no Sadie Lou, we dont do that in this house." Dont get upset, just repeat and point to what you want to show them.
Let them initiate how close they want to be, but not demand attention from you. I have one that loves to cuddle and one that prefers to watch from across the room. And I respect that.
Take some time to provide the activity they need every day. City dwellers can run after a ball in the living room if there is no park. Or another idea is to set up a treasure hunt with small pieces of doggie treats, tucking them behind things or under things. Provides mental stimulation as well.
Give them a job to do. The one that is not as smart will hold socks for me in the morning as I get dressed. Give them a chance to succeed. If they dont get something, try something else. And lots of dramatic praise when they get it.
I liked the earlier comment about remembering they are dogs. Dont push them to their limit.

Submitted by ang dee | June 2 2009 |

My Princess is 17 years old and going strong. She's a Shepherd/Husky mix and I've had her since she was 2 months old. The dog I had before her was long lived. He was 16 years 10 months old when he left. I think Princess is so attached to me, that she'll never give up the ghost!! :) This is what I want to say about dogs, they love it when you talk to them, if fact Princess started talking back to me. I kid you not, it was kind of like "rah rah rooo" sound. But, really all my dogs would sit and look at me with interest when I talk to them. Princess actually would come to me if her meal was 15 minutes late and make a complaining noise at me! Dogs may not understand all the words, but the can pick up on the way you feel. I actually talk over my problems with my dogs, and in a way they helped me solve some of them. Saying a problem out loud gives you a different perspective than thinking about it. Talk to your dog, it's a treat for them and it actually helps you! Not only that, but it helps in their training because they listen more attentively when you speak, thus they are more obedient.

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