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Dog ownership and care

The expression 'man's best friend' is truly fitting in describing one of man's most loyal and loving four-legged companions. Owning a dog is part of the Australian way of life - providing companionship, loyalty, and bundles of love for people of all ages, dogs are an invaluable addition to the family. Nonetheless, it is important to think carefully about the responsibility of dog ownership before you adopt or purchase a dog.

Talk to dog owners and consult your local veterinarian to gather as much information as you can to help you find the dog most suitable to your particular lifestyle. You may also wish to ask your local vet about breed-specific medical problems or the cost of treatments such as vaccinations, desexing and worming that your future dog may need.

Since acquiring a dog often implies over a decade-long commitment, any prospective dog owner should take into careful consideration the following checklist before adopting or purchasing a canine companion.

Either click your way directly to your area of interest below, or study our entire page for an exhaustive summary of all that you need to know to properly care for your canine friend!

  Your responsibilities

Things to consider before purchasing a dog

Where should I purchase my new dog?

It is important to buy your dog from a reputable source. Purchase your dog from a reputable dog breeder, visit an RSPCA Adoption Centre or a local animal welfare shelter such as the RSPCA where lots of happy and healthy dogs are looking for loving new homes. If you are looking to adopt a dog from a breeder, make sure you read our Smart Puppy Buyers Guide.

The RSPCA recommends that you do not purchase a dog from markets or places where large numbers of dogs are kept for sale. Dogs sold from these establishments are very rarely examined by a veterinarian, and therefore may not be entirely healthy. Never purchase a puppy that looks unwell and if you are concerned about the welfare of the animal, contact the RSPCA Inspectorate.

Large dog or small

Based on their size, dogs will require different needs to be met by their owner. It is important therefore to carefully consider which size will best suit the needs of both you and your future dog based on your lifestyle and circumstances.

While all dogs need daily exercise, larger dogs will generally require more. However, certain breeds of smaller dogs require just as much exercise as their larger cousins, and in some cases even more. For example, while the small Jack Russell is bursting with energy, the massive Great Dane is as lazy as they get!

As a rule of thumb, large dogs need plenty of space and are generally unsuitable as household dogs. Again though, this depends on the breed, and it is important to note that all dogs, regardless of their size, will enjoy some time indoors with the family.

Purebred or crossbred

Pedigree or purebred dogs are more expensive to buy if purchased from a breeder and their nature and appearance is generally predictable (as they should conform to a breed standard). Crossbreeds (or 'designer dogs') are dogs of mixed ancestry. They are robust and often make great pets. Keep in mind though, that when you purchase a crossbred puppy it might be difficult to accurately predict how these puppies will develop. Both purebred and crossbred puppies and adult dogs are available at RSPCA Adoption Centres.

Male or female

Male dogs are often quite independent and can be a little more difficult to train and control. Males also tend to wander and fight other dogs. Female dogs are more popular as family pets and may cost a little more. By nature females are affectionate and companionable, but unless desexed, will attract male dogs when in season and may reproduce every six months.

Once dogs are desexed though, little differentiates the male from the female. If you already have a dog, it is suggested to opt for the opposite gender from your own, as they will generally get along better with each other.

Short or long coat

Long coated dogs require grooming daily . If grooming is neglected, hair knots and mats will form and this can lead to skin ailments and other problems.

If you suffer from allergies, then a good option for you would be to adopt a dog which doesn't shed much, such as a Poodle, Schnauzer or Maltese. However, keep in mind that these dogs require regular trips to the groomers for washing and clipping.

Your responsibilities

As a dog owner you must ensure you:
  • Vaccinate your dog yearly.
  • Maintain a proper worming and flea regime for your pet (consult your vet before administering any medication).
  • Consult a vet when your dog gets sick or injured.
  • Provide a balanced diet - consisting of both dry and wet varieties of food.
  • Provide a clean food bowl and two clean water bowls (in case one is tipped in your absence).
  • Provide your dog with a collar, identification tag, and microchip - and keep microchip details updated.
  • Take appropriate measures to protect your dog from natural or man-made enemies (e.g. cars).
  • Provide an appropriate shelter from the elements.
  • Ensure your dog exercises daily, which may include walking or simply providing mental stimulation such as play time.
  • Ensure your dog is mentally stimulated by providing a variety of dog toys of different shapes and sizes.
  • Groom your dog regularly.

Caring for your dog


If dogs live indoors they need to be provided with a dog bed. Most dogs though are hardy enough to sleep outdoors in a well-built, well-furnished and weatherproof kennel. The kennel should be warm, dry and draught free, elevated from the ground, near the house and human activity but not in a thoroughfare. It should be protected from rain and excessive sun, and the bedding should be changed regularly. Washable rugs, cushions or blankets are suitable as bedding.

It is important to note however that dogs who are never, or seldom allowed indoors, are more likely to become bored - and as a result become disruptive (e.g. bark for attention) and/or destructive (e.g. dig up your newly- planted rose bush). This is because dogs associate their human family as their pack and can develop behavioural issues if they feel neglected as a consequence of being excluded from interacting with their pack.

If you are not home during the day, your dog should be kept secure in a dog-proof fenced yard and should never be left unsupervised when tethered. In the case of larger properties where this is not possible, then an appropriately fenced dog-run should be constructed, and the dog kennel, along with a plentiful supply of fresh water, should be placed within the run.


Digging holes in the garden, wrecking plants, pulling washing off the line and chewing personal items, are all symptoms of boredom in dogs. Dogs need to be provided with physical and mental stimulation to allow them to dissipate their energy and avoid them developing behavioural problems.

All dogs need daily exercise, but be sure to offer them a variety of different activities rather than the same old walk. Take them swimming, play catch or frisbee, enrol them in a dog obedience club or training and frequently change the route of your daily walks.

Ideally, dogs should be taken to council-designated areas where they can be safely let off the leash to run free. It is important to use these specifically designated areas not only to ensure their own safety (preventing the risk of being hit by a car) but also the safety of farm livestock and wildlife which can be threatened by a dog let loose in their habitat.

It is also important that dogs are socialised with people and other dogs from an early age. There are a range of activities dog owners and their four-legged friends can get involved in such as fly ball, agility and lure coursing. Consult your local council about activities available in your area. RSPCA training and information sessions on pet behaviour are also regularly staged at Burwood East.

All exercise should be supervised and the dog kept within calling distance and under control at all times.

Mental stimulation

It is important to ensure that your dog is kept busy throughout the day, especially if he is left alone for long periods of time. By offering your dog mentally stimulating and constructive ways to occupy time, you will effectively prevent your dog from engaging in destructive behaviour to overcome boredom or seek attention.

Here are a few suggestions:
  • Invest in a range of different toys - offering your dog a few different toys each day and rotating them regularly.
  • If your dog loves to dig - avoid the destruction of your vegetable patch and offer him his very own digging pit! Fill a child's clam shell wading pool with dirt, throw in their favourite treats, and presto, hours of entertainment ensured!
  • He loves water too? When the summer heat hits, fill the other half of the clamshell with water, and your pup has his very own pool to play in!
  • Organise a 'play-date' with his furry friends.
  • Ask friends or family to stop by and visit your dog when you are not home.
  • Invest in a doggy door - by offering him two separate environments in which to move, he will keep himself busier and consequently happier.
  • If your dog is a busy body, perhaps consider giving him a glimpse of the outside world with a purpose- built platform or by creating a suitably secure hole in the fence.
  • Keep your dog busy by prolonging his mealtime with a number of interactive toys such as Kongs, treatballs, or Bustercubes (treats can be easily pushed in but will engage your dog for hours trying to get them out). Also try hiding part of his meal around the yard to stimulate his natural foraging instincts. Treats and toys are available at the RSPCA online shop.


Combing and brushing dogs regularly is essential, particularly for longhaired breeds. It is best to establish this habit early in a dog’s life so that grooming becomes part of the routine. Grooming removes dust, dead skin, loose hairs, grass seeds, and tangles. It also assists to shorten the coat moult, which occurs every autumn and spring. Brushing helps keep your dog cool in summer months and reduces the amount of hair your dog sheds. Dogs with short coats also require some brushing.

A dirty or smelly dog should be bathed. It is important to keep in mind however, that frequent shampooing can strip the natural oils from the coat and cause skin dryness and irritation. In colder weather, towels or a hair dryer can be used to remove excess water and assist in drying the coat.

During summer, a flea control shampoo and a flea rinse should be used. However, this should by no means substitute a proper monthly flea control regime such as Spot-On, Revolution or Frontline. Consult your vet or chat with the RSPCA's friendly vet nurse team for free advice on flea control for your pet. It's important to remember, after the application of flea treatment be sure to wait 24-48 hours before bathing your dog.

For those unable to properly groom their pets at home, professional grooming services such as those provided by the RSPCA can prove a useful option.  Learn more about the benefits of grooming.

Spending time with your dog

A dog desires nothing more than to spend some quality time with its owner. Even including it in your daily activities such as picking the children up from school or running to the store for milk, will make all the difference to your dog.

In order to ensure the happiness and well-being of your canine friend, it is recommended you invest four contact hours with your dog each day. This doesn't translate to a daily four-hour walk, but equally, it is unacceptable to leave your dog home all day with little, if any, human interaction other than during feeding times.

If you work full time, an ideal routine may involve a morning walk before work (perhaps livened by a game of fetch or other form of exercise), an afternoon walk when you return from work and a short walk before bed. The remaining contact hours can be spent playing with your dog or simply interacting with him in the home.

However, if you decide to keep your dog outdoors, it is important to consider how you'll ensure it receives the appropriate amount of human contact (particularly during those cold winter months in which we'd all much rather stay snuggled inside rather than playing fetch with our pals in the cold!). An option could be to enlist the service of a dog walker. Also, if you work long hours or are sometimes forced to take overnight trips, it may be useful to consider "doggy day care" facilities to ensure that your dog receives the TLC and companionship it will need in your absence.

Training and obedience

House training your puppy (or dog)

House training your four-legged companion involves time and patience and each puppy or dog will progress at its own pace.

The key method to adopt here is one of positive reinforcement. Firstly, you need to show your pup the area where it should do its business, and each time the pup toilets in the designated area, immediately reward with a treat or verbal praise. In order to prevent mistakes from happening, it is important to both diligently supervise your dog while it is indoors and take it frequently outdoors. This will speed the learning process and prevent any accidents from occurring in the house.

Please be wary of reprimanding your puppy as it will only complicate your house-training efforts. Excessive reprimands may in fact lead your puppy to become secretive in its toileting. Puppies are also likely to need to toilet within half an hour of eating, drinking, sleeping and playing and every three to four hours during the day.

If your puppy happens to have an accident indoors, clean the area thoroughly with a non-ammonia based cleaning product - these can be found at your local veterinary clinic or pet supply store.

Some puppies may take longer than others to become successfully house-trained, however, most accidents usually occur when the owner forgets to regularly let the pup out to do its business!

General training for your puppy (or dog)

As mentioned above, puppies respond well to positive-reinforcement based training. It is important to acknowledge that dogs cannot possibly know which behaviours are right and which are wrong - it will be up to you to teach them. Take the time to show your puppy what you want them to do and reward them with a treat, praise, or a game each time they do the right thing.

If your puppy is behaving inappropriately you should attempt to re-direct them to something else and reward them when they begin to engage in more appropriate behaviour. For example, if your puppy is chewing on the furniture, re-direct him to an appropriate alternative such as a chew toy. Alternately, you may find that ignoring the undesirable behaviour and rewarding the correct one can also be a very effective way to train your puppy.

Regular socialisation and training, from as early as eight weeks of age, is an important factor in raising a well-behaved and socially acceptable dog. New puppy owners will benefit from enrolling their pups in a Puppy Pre-school class as soon as they bring their four-legged friend home. The RSPCA Pet Dog Manners class may also benefit your 4 legged friend!

Puppies will be puppies, but undesirable behaviours such as barking and digging, can be reduced if you keep your puppy entertained. Regular play-times, walks, short training sessions, quiet ‘quality time’ and mentally stimulating toys can keep your dog busy and out of mischief.

You should be aware that some problem behaviours do not become apparent until your dog reaches adolescence and/or sexual maturity. Prevention is the key, and enrolling your dog in training classes and socialising your dog from an early age will go a long way to avoid problems in the future.

If you are experiencing difficulties in managing your dog’s behaviour please contact the RSPCA, or your local shelter, veterinary clinic, dog obedience club, or registered dog trainer for advice. Some municipal councils provide a reduced registration fee for dogs which have successfully completed a registered obedience course.

Health and nutrition

What does a good diet consist of?
It is important to provide your dog with a healthy and balanced diet consisting of: protein to build the body; fats for skin and coat health; carbohydrates for energy; and minerals and vitamins for good bone development and healthy tissues. Roughage is also essential for bowel function.What is the easiest way to provide a complete diet for my dog?
The simplest and most economical diet consists of a mixture of meat (raw, cooked or canned) and dry food. Premium dry food such as Hill's Science Diet (available at RSPCA clinics and shelters) are balanced and also good for your dog’s teeth. In order to maintain healthy teeth and gums, a mixture of both soft and hard food should be provided.What is wrong with just feeding my dog meat? 
Meat on its own is not a complete diet and needs to be heavily supplemented with vitamins, minerals and other food materials. In rapidly growing dogs, a diet consisting solely of meat can lead to a major mineral imbalance and skeletal damage.Does canned food make up a complete diet?
Canned foods vary widely in quality. A general rule of thumb is 'you get what you pay for'. A good quality canned food will combine the goodness of meat, vegetables, cereal, and the correct levels of vitamins and minerals. This will provide a diet which is complete, balanced and healthy.Does all dry food constitute as a complete diet?
When purchasing dry dog foods, you should note that they are not all equivalent to a complete diet. If a type of dry food does provide a whole diet, it will be clearly stated on the packaging. Complete diet dry food is an excellent and easy way of feeding your dog.What else should I feed my dog?
Bones are necessary to keep your dogs teeth healthy and clean and also provide lots of fun for your canine friend if you are away. A large marrowbone cleans their teeth, massages their gums, and often becomes your dog's most treasured possession. You should provide your dog with a regular supply of bones for mouth and dental hygiene (raw chicken wings/necks are best).  Never give your dog cooked bones, as these could be more brittle and easily splinter, causing harm to your dog.    You should also ensure that there is always plenty of fresh and clean water for your dog. Sometimes bowls get knocked over and therefore to be safe it is recommended that you always provide two. In the summer months, like people, dogs need a lot more water to keep hydrated so make sure there water bowls are always full and kept in the shade.

Indicators of a happy and healthy dog

  • Demeanour: alert, vital, and quickly responsive to sounds and calls.
  • Movement: good stamina in youth (deteriorating with age); no lameness.
  • Appetite: enthusiastic for food; eating fast; no vomiting.
  • Coat: clean, glossy, and free from parasites and dirt.
  • Ears: alert to slightest sound; no discharge or irritation.
  • Eyes: clear with no discharge or inflammation.
  • Nose: cold and damp when outdoors, dry and warm when indoors; no persistent discharge.

If your dog appears unwell for any reason, consult your veterinarian.


What diseases should my dog be vaccinated against?
Canine Distemper, Canine Infectious Hepatitis and Canine Parvovirus are three viral diseases that can be fatal for your dog. A vaccination against these three diseases is mandatory for all dogs. When should my dog be vaccinated?
Your dog should be administered with a temporary vaccination from six to ten weeks of age, with further injections required. You should consult your veterinary surgeon for advice on a formal vaccination schedule and whether your dog requires any other vaccinations.Are there any other vaccinations available for my dog?
A vaccination against Kennel Cough [an upper respiratory infection of dogs] is also available. While this disease is not fatal, vaccination is advisable to keep your dog safe from the illness.


Puppy Roundworms can infect humans. To prevent this infection, puppies should be wormed regularly throughout their first year of life, and owners should be thorough with their own personal hygiene after having interacted with the dog. Tapeworms, Hookworms, and Whipworms can also infect dogs, and your veterinary surgeon can advise when to worm the dog.

Heartworm is a major problem for dogs in most areas of Australia. Preventative treatment is available but should only be administered in consultation with your Vet.


Fleas are a common external parasite associated with dogs. They cause severe itching and inflammation of the skin, leading to dermatitis. They are the intermediate host for the Tapeworm most common in dogs. If fleas are a problem, it is necessary to treat all animals in the household (both cats and dogs) to clean the environment. You may also want to ‘flea bomb’ the house to remove any eggs and to stop the cycle. Preventative programs are best achieved using “spot on” products that have a prolonged residual effect, usually 30 days. However it is strongly advised to consult your Vet or chat with the RSPCA's friendly Vet nurse team for free advice about the most suitable product for your pet.


Most poisoning of dogs is accidental. Garden poisons, such as snail baits, are the main cause. If your dog is known to eat just about anything, then be particularly careful to store poisons where they will not be accessible to him. Dogs found foaming at the mouth, with muscle tremors or staggering gait, or unable to stand, should receive immediate veterinary treatment.

General illness

If your dog is exhibiting a continued failure to eat and drink, this may be a sign of other health issues or depression. You should seek veterinary advice as soon as possible.


Why should female and male dogs be desexed?
Female dogs are desexed for a number of reasons.The main reason is to prevent unwanted pregnancies (with the associated problems of rearing puppies and finding proper homes for them); and to prevent breast cancer and uterus problems frequently found in entire un-desexed female dogs.
It is important to note that bitches cannot be operated on when in season. Male dogs are desexed to prevent fighting, wandering, offensive sexual habits and other undesirable behaviour.

How old should my dog be before it can be desexed?
In order to ensure pet dogs and cats are desexed, the RSPCA supports and recommends desexing from the age of eight weeks. At this age the surgery is simple and recovery is immediate.The RSPCA also advocates the desexing of all dogs not kept for breeding purposes.

Will desexing my dog change the registration fees I pay?
Apart from the benefit of a decreased risk of health problems in both female and male dogs, the local councils provide a reduced registration fee for desexed animals.

Boarding your dog

When holiday time arrives, many owners find themselves with the problem of how to care for their four-legged friends during their absence. If you are unable to leave your dog with family or friends, the next best thing is placing them in a boarding kennel. Dog owners are urged to call and inspect the establishment of their choice well before their departure so as to assess its suitability.

When choosing a good boarding kennel it is important to evaluate the following:

  • Staffing: are there enough staff to ensure more personalised attention for your dog?
  • Feeding: if your dog has a special diet, are they able to provide that diet?
  • Security: are adequate measures taken to secure against the possibility of escape?
  • Hygiene: is there evidence of cleanliness and no smell?
  • Accommodation: is it dry, clean, spacious, and sheltered; with heating provided for cooler months?
  • Does it have an ample supply of, and access to, fresh air?
  • Exercise: are there adequate facilities in place for the exercise of larger dogs and long-term boarders?
* Note: Dogs must be booster-vaccinated prior to boarding at kennels. All reputable kennels will in fact require your dog to have received all vaccinations at least 14 days prior to boarding.

The law

As a dog owner you are fully and legally responsible for any harm or damages caused by your dog. If your dog bites a human, kills wildlife, damages property, causes a traffic accident, creates noise or other pollution, or is the direct cause of any other damage to the community, you may have to shoulder a substantial financial (if not legal) penalty. It is in your best interest then to always keep a vigilant eye on your dog in public and provide him with the obedience training and socialisation skills necessary to become a well-mannered and socially well-adjusted dog.

By law, owners must regularly check their dogs for signs of illness and ensure that they receive proper and immediate veterinary care when needed.

Dog owners should also be aware of the offences (punishable by law) proclaimed by the Victorian Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.

These offences include but are not limited to:
  • Abandoning a dog.
  • Conveying a dog in circumstances involving cruelty.
  • Failure to provide drink, food or shelter for a dog.
  • Failure to provide veterinary treatment for a dog that is ill or injured.
  • Ill-treating, injuring, tormenting or torturing a dog.
  • Killing a dog in a cruel, unlawful, or malicious manner.
If you suspect animal cruelty, report it to the RSPCA or Victorian Police immediately.

Additionally, owners can be required by their respective local government's dog Act to ensure their dog:
  • Is registered and micro chipped.
  • Is leashed in public and properly identified.
  • Is supervised in public areas where he can be let off the leash - so as to prevent bother or attack on other dogs or humans.
Many municipalities also prohibit the housing of more than two dogs within the same residence without obtaining prior consent. It is important then to contact your local Council and enquire about the full range of duties and obligations you are required to fulfill as a responsible dog owner before bringing your dog home.

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