Gallatin Dog Club, Inc.
PO Box 4522
Bozeman, MT 59772

Becky Roeder, President
Lynn Kinnaman, Vice President
Vicki Armitage, Secretary
Vicky Whitney, Treasurer

Bozeman — The Last Best Place for Dogs?
by Vicky Whitney

Bozeman, as many readers may have noticed, is home to MANY dogs – the majority of our residents own one or more dogs. As a matter of fact, Bozeman received national recognition a year or two ago as being one of the best cities in the US to live if you were a dog! Most of us dog owners make our hairy companions an integral part of our lives, taking them with us as we run errands, to work, as we play, and as we exercise or relax in our beautiful outdoor surroundings. Most of us are confident we are responsible dog owners, providing more than the minimum required food and water, shelter, love, attention, exercise, and medical care. But responsible dog ownership doesn’t stop there — it also involves the care we take with how our dogs impact other people, other dogs, other animals, and other private and public property.

So what does it really mean to be a “Responsible Dog Owner”? In addition to the minimums listed above, responsible dog owners provide the socialization and training necessary to help our dogs be good family members, good neighbors, and good citizens. This is a life-long process — I don’t know of any dogs who were quickly and easily trained within a couple of months or one series of classes, and stayed that way with no further work. I’m embarrassed to count the number of beginning obedience classes we’ve taken and repeated and repeated before we “got it.” I think the handler is harder to train than the dog!! The upside, however, is that training together builds and deepens our relationships with our dogs. And the feeling you experience when you’re working or competing together as a team is just plain magic. People frequently comment on how well-behaved my dogs are — well, they didn’t come that way; it takes a lot of time, patience, and persistence. And unfortunately, they aren’t always as well behaved as I’d like. It’s another case of you get out of it what you put into it.

Responsible dog owners always pick up after our dogs (too bad they’re not trainable to do THAT for themselves — something about opposable thumbs!). It’s tempting to ignore my dog pooping off the immediate trail, but we really need to recognize when it’s likely to be offensive and be part of the solution rather than part of the problem — a good rule is to ALWAYS bag it and carry it out. I read recently about someplace in Wyoming (Jackson Hole, I believe) where the dog poop on surrounding hiking trails was getting so bad that dogs were banned; after a public outcry, our canine friends were once again allowed, but owners were required to produce a “utilized” poop bag and fined if they emerged without one. It worked, however -- the trails there are once again clean and pleasant for everyone to use. Would such drastic measures be required around Bozeman some day, or are we responsible enough to take care of this on our own?

Responsible dog owners are considerate of others, and don’t let our dogs approach strangers, especially children and seniors, without permission. We are aware of where our dog is, what it is doing at all times, and what it looks like it may be THINKING about doing! We must maintain control of our dogs at all times, using either a leash or voice control. And “voice control” is a tricky question — only when our dog comes consistently and reliably to our FIRST call, regardless of what he’s doing, should we consider him to be under voice control; having to yell at him six times before he turns towards you is NOT under voice control! Even if our dog is friendly and appropriate, someone else’s dog may not be, or the owner may have a good reason why their dog should not come into contact with a strange dog (ill, pregnant, fearful, etc.).

Responsible dog owners recognize if our beloved dog isn’t appropriate in some situations, leaving it safely at home when it’s too warm to wait in the car, or when it’s likely to be a problem to other dogs or people. We control excessive barking, and don’t let our dogs wander onto our neighbors’ yards, dig up someone else’s property, or harass wildlife.

Responsible dog owners spay and neuter our pets, recognizing that it is healthiest, physically and emotionally, for our pets to be altered. Neutered males and spayed females will be less territorial and demonstrate far fewer dominate behaviors throughout their lives. Testicular and mammary cancer rates are almost nonexistent in dogs spayed or neutered as adolescents (before a female’s first heat cycle). Finally, there is no excuse for bringing any more puppies into the world unless they are conscientiously planned to be an improvement to a particular breed, from sires and dams carefully screened for health problems and thoughtfully chosen as appropriate mates for each other. With hundreds of thousands of dogs in shelters needing homes, many eventually euthanized due to a lack of homes, there is just no good reason for breeding a family pet. Most of the health and orthopedic problems we see today are due to careless or uneducated breeding of “registered” dogs. Registration is merely a record of breed ancestry, and is absolutely no measurement of quality, soundness, or health. Our children would receive a better lesson in social responsibility by taking them on a tour of the local shelter than by having Biscuit produce a litter of puppies.

Finally, responsible dog owners respect “the rules” and set ourselves out as an example rather than an exception to those rules. Ignoring your dog’s poop or walking your dog without a leash in a leash-required area only encourages others to do the same, and their dogs may not be as well-trained or behaved as ours are. We also recognize that not everyone is as charmed by dogs, even OUR wonderful dogs, as we are. We respect others’ rights to enjoy the same sidewalks, parks and trails without being frightened, jumped on or knocked over, and without having to see, smell, or step in dog poop. The privilege of utilizing city parks and trails requires that we use them responsibly and with respect — if we abuse those privileges, we may lose those privileges.


Vicky Whitney, a hair- and slobber-covered mom to three Bernese Mountain Dogs, has made Bozeman her home since 1970. She’s a member of the Bozeman Parks & Recreation Board’s Dog Committee and is also an active member of the Gallatin Dog Club, Intermountain Therapy Animals of Bozeman, the Galloping Dog Agility & Flyball Club, the Inland Northwest Bernese Mountain Dog Club, and the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America. In addition to regular pet therapy visits around Bozeman, she trains and competes with her dogs in conformation shows, drafting, tracking, obedience, and agility.

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