Interview with Luke Balsam – Ethics of Dog “Ownership” in Society

by | Dec 23, 2019 | Ethics | 0 comments

Where do you stand on the ethics of dog “ownership”?  Do you use the word “companion” rather than “pet”?  What’s your opinion on spaying and neutering dogs?  How do we encourage more people to adopt a dog and not buy one?

Here’s my interview with Luke Balsam where we discuss this interesting topic.

Luke Balsam is the founder of Luke’s Dog School based in North London and his mission is to help people get the best out of their dog!  Luke believes that training your dog isn’t just something you do when you first get them, it’s a continuous process for both dog and owner.  For several years he worked for a prestigious animal rescue home managing their animal therapy programme where he recruited, assessed and guided the volunteers and their dogs to visit local care homes, hospitals or hospices.  His interest in becoming a dog trainer was inspired by this work.  During his time managing the project, it was named as the 2015 charity partner for the National Office of Animal Health and was also a finalist at the 2016 Animal Hero Awards. His professional work has been featured on London Live, in Dogs Today, K9 Magazine, Dogs Monthly, The Dodo, Good Deed News and various local and national newspapers.  He’s always loved animals and has lived with dogs his whole life.

Enjoy the interview!

  1. Of all the dogs that you’ve shared your home with, what’s the cheekiest thing that one of them has done?

Answer: I remember when Indie, our Working Cocker Spaniel, took the tea towel off the side counter in the kitchen and shredded it in her bed. She looked so happy with herself!

  1. Recent statistics have shown that dogs are still the most popular animals living in UK homes. With regard to ethics and ownership, what’s your opinion on using the words “owner” or “guardian” and “pet” or “companion”? 

Answer: I think about these terms more and more these days, when I hear “owner” and “pet” it does often feel colder and more referring to property.  Whereas with the terms “guardian” and “companion” it feels like you are talking more about a family member.  I try to use the terms “guardian” and “companion” more as I want people to feel more connected with their dog and understand them.

  1. In current UK law, dogs are still classed as property, what’s your opinion on this and if you had the opportunity to change the laws, what would you change?

Answer: It’s a disgrace that the law still legally classes dogs in the UK as property.  I am glad that Finns Law is coming into place, where at least police dogs have more protection.  If you attack a police dog it is seen the same as attacking a police officer.  We need to change the law for domestic dogs in the UK.  I would want their status to be much higher and not classed as property.  I’m not sure they would have it on par with humans, but that is where I would like it to be.  It is such a shame that if your dog gets stolen, attacked, etc. you have to class it under stolen / damaged property.

  1. How do you think we can make sure that the animals who live with us have all their needs met?

Answer: Education!  Ensuring that when someone buys / adopts an animal they are given some basic information around what these animals’ needs are and how to care for them. Unfortunately, most people seem very ill informed about the responsibilities of getting a dog, especially around puppies.  These days you can buy one online and have it delivered to your door within a short space of time.  There is no education, assessment or after care.  I have a background in rescue and so many dogs come in because the owners didn’t know what they were getting themselves in for.

  1. What’s your opinion on spaying and neutering dogs?

Answer: Having a blanket policy is not a good idea, every dog needs to be considered individually if this is the right thing for them.  It is being done way too young (some at only 3 months old) and the research coming out is talking about how this can affect their growth.  I think you need to wait until their main growth period has been completed.  Also, there are different ways to neuter dogs that don’t have to involve such major surgery and perhaps these options should also be considered at the same time.  Unfortunately, some vets do put pressure on owners to neuter because it’s a money-making operation for them.  Finally, people may neuter because of the age-old theories that it will calm them down to cure their aggression.  We are seeing this isn’t true and if a dog has an element of fear aggression already, neutering can actually make this worse.

  1. How can we encourage more people to adopt a dog who needs a home rather than buy a puppy from a breeder and how important do you think it is to do so?

Answer: It is very important that we always look to adopt first and have a look around, this time can also be used to make sure we really want a dog and can support one. It is down to education, making sure the myths around rescue dogs are debunked and that you can even adopt a specific breed if you want to. However, the rescues have a difficult job in balancing how strict their rehoming policy is, I have met many people who tried for 6 months or more to get a rescue dog, but were continuously rejected, due to having young children, working (even though they had increible plans in place for the dog) or other reasons. They have then gone to buy a puppy because they had no option.

  1. What’s your opinion on dogs being fed a plant-based diet?

Answer: I’m fine with this if the dog is able to thrive off of it and is done in the best interests of the dog and with the new array of plant based food coming out it is becoming easier and easier. There are lots of plant based chews, treats, even vegetable based pigs ears; this is great because now there are more options.

  1. Finally, do you have a favourite breed of dog and if so why?

Answer: Generally, I just fall in love with the right dog for me.  However, I grew up with Golden Retrievers and I do have a soft spot for them.  Also, weirdly, Chihuahuas!


To find out more about Luke, check out his lovely website –

Happy holidays and a very Happy New Year to all!

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