20 Important Dog Terms Every Owner Should Know

Deciding on exactly what terms should be on this type of list is not as easy as you may think. There are new dog owners, old dogs with new owners, new dogs with old owners, etc. So a warning is required. Some of the terms selected you may find too basic, while others you may not understand why they made this list at all. The goal of this compilation is to cover the basics and give experienced dog owners something to consider despite their vast knowledge base about dogs.

The problem with sharing information about owning any dog is many people get their information from friends, neighbors, or (yes) from the Internet. But often dog owners find the information does not necessarily apply to the specific breed of dog they own, or that the shared information is simply wrong. As with any list of information you get, be sure to check it against reliable websites or your veterinarian to make sure you’re not giving your dog the short end of the stick.

Remember this is a limited list of 20 terms. There is much more information you can access. For example, several of the terms have a second or third set of terms you can learn to really understand the details of the topic. Taking the time to do the extra homework can definitely save you money, especially if you are looking for a dog with a noble heritage. The good news is that you will not have to become an “expert” to know what you need to know about your dog. Once you have acquired a solid knowledge of the terminology, you just have to poke your head in the door of doggy knowledge once in a while to see if anything new has come up.

The list is not in any order of importance, so you can start at #15 and jump back to #2 if you want.

1. Dog food

You’re kidding, right? Actually, no. Many dog owners feed their dogs people food, thinking feeding the dog scraps is a good way to save money by not having to buy dog food, and also a way to not throw away food. Dogs are notorious for eating anything that looks edible, so anything you throw their way is likely to be thought of as a treat. But give a dog chocolate and you will probably damage their nervous system. Any human canned food is loaded with salt, and is bad for people and dogs. Much of the microwavable food is high in salt and fat, that is, it has too much fat for your dog. So don’t give a dog anything but dog food.

2. Over vaccination

You’re kidding, right? Actually, no. Many websites, even those that claim to be from animal hospitals and veterinarians, do what I just did – copy and paste. But you can over vaccinate your dog, especially when it comes to the required distemper shot. How many distemper shots does your dog need? In most cases – one. Once your dog is immunized they are immunized for life. There are other vaccinations that may need to be administered every 5 to 7 years, but annual vaccinations in most cases are overkill. You can check for yourself by visiting this webpage: www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/vet-distemper-dog/.

3. Titer

This is the first of several veterinarian specific terms that made the list. Dogs, like people, have red blood cells and white blood cells that keep them healthy. Red blood cells supply oxygen to the body. White blood cells fight infection. The medical use of titer is the measure of the accumulation of white blood cells in a sample of blood. If the titer is abnormally high, your dog has an infection that needs to be treated immediately.

4. Aggression

Dogs are not assertive, they are aggressive – by nature. Many people make the mistake of presuming that a happy dog is a non-aggressive dog. More than a few owners have found out the hard way this is not the case. While it is true the level of aggression depends on the breed of dog you own (we are talking to you Mr. Pit Bull) all dogs have a natural level of aggression. It is up to you Mr./Ms. Dog Owner to provide the leadership and exercise control to create boundaries for your dog’s aggression. For Pit Bull owners who take offense to singling them out as a highly aggressive dog, statistically more than half of all U.S. fatalities caused by dogs are by the Pit Bull breed or a mix. Numbers don’t lie.

5. Leash Law

This is a term that has a number of other terms you should be familiar with as well. The bottom line of a leash law is that unless your dog is in your home or on your property, he/she needs to be on a leash. But it is not enough for them just to be on a leash, they need to under the control of a responsible person. If your 200 pound Saint Bernard is being walked by your 75 pound child, the dog is not under control. Many dog owners believe checking the state laws for leash laws is enough, but in many cases individual cities or counties will have their own laws. You can get more information at this website: http://www.animallaw.info/topic/table-state-dog-leash-laws

6. Relationship

Your dog is not expecting you to treat it as a plastic toy (children are sometimes guilty of this) but as a living creature that is looking for your trust, love, and guidance. Studies show developing a relationship with a dog when you are a child helps you to develop and maintain adult relationships longer and are have a higher quality. There may not be another animal that mirrors your moods than a dog. If you are unhappy they are quick to pick up on it. But the behavior needs to be returned in kind. Sometimes it doesn’t take more than a happy sounding word and a few pats on the head for a dog to go from sad looking to bouncy. Make the time.

7. Downtime

This term is best explained by example. I went to the park to walk my 15 pound Sheltie and decided to take him for a really long walk (leashed). The weather was almost perfect for any activity. There was a park trail that we followed that was about 6 miles round trip. We stopped for water and a short break or two along the way and when we got back to the park the leash came off and he was running and playing like he just woke up. This is how we usually expect our dogs to act, but there are times when they are too physically tired or just need a break from you and the family. Don’t interpret it as there is something wrong. Let them be. (People who have a significant other can explain this to you if you have any questions.)

8. Bloat

This is another veterinarian term that you may think you know because at one time or another, most of us get bloated. It is not a major issue with people but can be a huge issue for dogs. The technical term is gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV). The stomach of a bloated dog will twist and fill with gas, and if left untreated will affect his breathing and has the potential to permanently damage his stomach. How big of a problem is bloat? Veterinarians strongly recommend you take your dog to the Vet ER immediately. This is one of those times when dog owners must realize dogs are not people, and just because it is a minor thing with you doesn’t mean it is a minor thing to the dog.

9. The command “Down/Stay”

This gem comes from a man involved with teaching and evaluating search-and-rescue dogs for service. He says this command is absolutely essential to keep your dog – and others – safe. You need to teach this command in such a way that the dog responds immediately to it. No puzzled looks are allowed. Teaching your dog to obey commands is outside of the purpose of this article, but if you don’t know how get some qualified help. Remember that the dog does not (as far as we know) understand English but the tone of your voice. Consider creating a special tone for the “Down/Stay” command.

10. Bath

Not you – the dog. There are dog owners who rarely, if ever, give their dog a bath. The main reason is wrestling with a dog that may outweigh you or outmuscle you is often a losing proposition. They may let Mother Nature wash them in the rain or spray them with a hose from afar, neither which makes the dog happy. The rule of paw is that a dog needs a bath a minimum of once a month. If they smell or have been romping in the mud, they need a bath now. You can bathe your dog too often and cause them skin problems, so just using your nose and eyes is a good guide. Your veterinarian may have some additional information depending on the breed of dog you own. (By the way, I am calling out Petwave.com for being one of those websites that have questionable information. Their webpage on dog grooming says that you may not even need to bathe your dog ever. The founders of the website have zero background in anything dog related. http://www.petwave.com/About-PetWave-Founders.aspx.)

11. Veterinarian specialist

This is the 21st century, and just like there are medical specialists for people there are also specialists for dogs. There are more than a dozen (!) veterinarian specialties, including behavioral (meaning a doggy shrink). These specialists work with your primary care vet (PCV) to determine the best course of treatment should your dog get sick or injured. There are veterinary practitioners who specialize in dogs, cats, etc. so you will want to find out if your vet has a specialty.

12. Pooper Scooper (law)

No state Pooper Scooper laws are known, but there are a number of large metropolitan areas that assess fines ranging from $20 to as much as $100 for each individual act of not cleaning up after your dog. You will have to know the law in your own area to be certain, and there are some people who say that you should always choose to self-enforce this law wherever you walk your dog. But rural areas have plenty of room for dogs to roam, and the place most people have a problem stepping in poop is on city streets. The best advice is to use your own knowledge of your area and find where other people walk their dogs. Then again, I remember the movie K9 with Jim Belushi where, after locking the dog in a closet for a night said, “How can all of that come out of one animal?”

13. Prosternum

There is more to a dog’s physical description than just eyes, nose, and fur. Prosternum is the term used for what we might call the dog’s chest. It actually is the front of the rib cage. When you are asked how long your dog is you don’t stand them up on their hind legs but have them stand on all fours and measure from the prosternum to the buttocks (that term is what you think it is, just like humans).

14. Withers

This is another physical point on the dogs and is one of two points used to determine its height. The withers is the highest point of the shoulder blade and the first point of measurement in determining a dog’s physical height. This is a very easy point to find on a dog, so stand the dog on all fours and measure the distance from the ground to the withers to correctly state the dog’s height. When people ask how “tall” a dog is, this is the proper way to state it.

15. Gait

There are three gaits a dog has: front, back, and side. It is another one of those terms that has a list of other terms you can learn to accurately talk about how your dog walks. But knowing about a dog’s gait can tell you a lot about whether or not your dog has any physical deformities. For example, if the front gait of a dog is “toeing-out” it means the dog’s paws are pointed slightly outward when walking. Another example is the term “bow-hocked” when looking at the rear gait of a dog, which in human terms means you have a bow-legged dog. They may not be crucial to a house pet but if you are paying top dollar for a pure bred, you want to become familiar of the list of gait characteristics. You can get started by following this link (it is a PDF file): http://chihuahuaworld.jimdo.com/app/download/9793051119/Canine-Terminology.pdf?t=1484244672

16. Purebred

You may also see this term as pure bred, and it means what it says – the breeding of the dog can be traced. One of the most commonly known keeper of records of a dog’s breed is the American Kennel Club (AKC). A dog that is AKC registered can have its records examined to prove its ancestry. The advantage of a purebred dog is you will have a very good idea of its genetic history, which will indicate any genetic diseases that are likely to be present. Despite what some websites may tell you, there is no guarantee a purebred dog’s temperament can be determined by having an AKC registration. As with watching a dog’s gait, if you are paying top dollar for your new dog you will want to know if it is AKC registered.

17. Hyper

This is a term in common use when describing a dog that it very active or excited. But there is a medical side to the term which actually is a prefix. “Hyper” means “high” so when your dog has hypertension it means its blood pressure is too high. A problem with the dog’s pituitary gland can result in them being diagnosed as being hyperthyroid. When you hear the term it usually means there is a problem that will require veterinary care and often, regular medication.

18. Dogspotting

I felt obligated to include at least one social media term in the list. Dogspotting is actually a “sport” – and a competitive one at that. The short version is that people take pictures of dogs they see during their normal travels. But the pictures submitted cannot be of your own dog or of a neighbor’s dog because that would be too easy. Points are awarded based on select criteria and you move up and down in ranking based on accumulated points. Just do a search on “dogspotting” (one word) and you will find all the details you need. Now, I did my doody.

19. Herding dogs

Three of the most popular and in-demand breeds of dogs are the Collie, the German Shepherd, and the Shetland Sheepdog (Sheltie). Generally, herding dogs are considered to be great pets for the house and are intelligent and good with (most) children. But did you know there are three subtypes of herding dogs? Dogs that are classified as Cattle breeds such as the Akita are physically powerful and agile, so do your homework to be sure they have the right temperament for children. Sheep dogs, like the German Shepherd, are fast and agile. Finally, there are the Boundary Herders which can cover a lot of ground (and will probably need plenty of room to roam to be happy).

20. Temperament

Often pronounced “temperment” a dog’s temperament is crucial to the type of dog you will get. This characteristic of a dog has nothing to do with whether the dog is “nice” or not but about their ability to adjust to new surroundings or events without being too aggressive – or too shy. Even with proper training, a highly aggressive dog will still be highly aggressive; you cannot “train him out of it.” With any dog, the goal is to establish boundaries for the dog’s behavior that allow them to act naturally. The better the temperament, the less aggression you will have to deal with.


That is the list of 20 Important Dog Terms Every Owner Should Know. What you hopefully noticed about these selected terms is they cover a broad range of topics common to dog owners: breed selection, legal aspects of owning a dog, health, training, and feeding. Owning a dog is definitely a lot of fun and has tons of rewards, but there is a larger responsibility for the owner that includes care of the dog, community issues, and being willing to learn new things. The 20 terms chosen here are only a starting point, especially for new dog owners.

I hope some of the more common terms gave you new information because what seems to be common dog knowledge that has been passed down for generations (vaccinations) has changed because somebody decided to rethink what we presumed to be the final answer. It’s one thing if we know why our dog got sick, and maybe died, but much different if no one, not even the vet, can tell us why. Knowing is usually better than not knowing.

There are a couple of links to websites included in the list because after careful review they appear to be both reliable and useful. As you continue your journey to know about your dog and the common terminology, please be sure to check several websites or sources before coming to any conclusion. Personally, I think it really is scandalous that a website with a friendly sounding name as Petwave is run by what amounts to two businessmen seeking to make a profit and probably don’t own a single dog between the two of them. But this is the Internet, so let the reader beware.

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