By Kimberly Fusaro
10 Rules of Pet Etiquette
Photo: © Getty Images
There was a time when house pets were banished to barns or the backyard, but with celebs toting their tiny (and not-so-tiny!) dogs to dinner and down the red carpet, it's safe to say the rules of pet ownership have changed. Still, it's possible to do right by your pets without insulting your human friends. Modern animal lovers trying to maneuver through the potential social minefield that is "petiquette" should start with these 10 commandments-culled from animal experts-to avoid a pet faux pas.
1. Mind Your Pup's Manners or He Never Will
Rushing your new dog off to obedience classes may feel like a bit much; you just got him, after all. That said, the sooner he learns some basic commands ("Come!" "Sit!" "Stay!"), the happier-and safer-you'll both be, says Nancy Furstinger, author of Why I'd Rather Date My Dog. Another advantage of obedience classes is that they allow your pooch to practice being social with dogs of different sizes and dispositions-and their human companions. After graduation, keep tabs on any behavioral problems and correct them before they become bad habits.
2. Take Extra Care When You Travel
The rules are the same whether your pet will be resting his paws in a hotel or at a friend's home: Treat pet travel like a privilege, not a right, says Arden Moore, who penned both Happy Cat, Happy You and Happy Dog, Happy You. Arrive with a clean, well-groomed animal and pack enough supplies to keep him that way. Baby wipes are helpful after an especially muddy walk; a spare towel is handy for an end-of-day wipe-down. Have paperwork, tags and licenses on hand, especially if you'll be travelling by air or spending time at a campground. Even if your pup sleeps in your bed at home, pack a roll-up dog futon for vacations, suggests Furstinger, and encourage him to stretch out there.
3. Keep Tabs on His Messes
"Always scoop poop!" says Furstinger. "There's no excuse to leave the stinky stuff sitting where it doesn't belong." Walk your dog close to curbs and encourage him to relieve himself there; eventually, doing so should become second nature. If he gets sniffy around someone's personal property-a bike chained to a signpost or a child's abandoned toys on the sidewalk-pull him gently but firmly away. When he experiences tummy troubles (and poop that's too soft to pick up), carry a water bottle so you can rinse away the mess.
4. Exercise, Exercise, Exercise
Dogs that are taken for regular walks, runs or hikes won't need to release pent-up energy by chewing, digging or barking. "A bored pet can be bad to the bone," says Furstinger. Strive for regular walk times so your dog can familiarize himself with a schedule. Once you've established a routine, your pup should calm down after each walk and might even settle in for a snooze.
5. Don't Make a Stink in the Dog Park
Of course you're playing by the rules, but don't turn into a hall monitor when someone forgets (or ignores) them. If you see an owner ignoring his dog's mess, be diplomatic, warns Moore. Here's how she suggests confronting an ill-mannered owner: "Approach the person with a smile and say, 'Is that your dog? Wow, what a beauty! What's her name? Stella? Sweet. Hey, you probably didn't notice, but Stella just made a doo-doo over there.' Then reach into your pocket, hand over a spare plastic bag, and say, 'Here, I have an extra.' End with a guilt-inducing finish: 'We are truly lucky to have such a well-maintained doggy park. Don't you agree?'"
6. Take Charge When You Encounter a Careless Owner
We've all come across the fellow dog owner who insists, "My dog loves every dog!" Don't bother trying to convince the owner that your pup is timid or tired (or just doesn't like bull mastiffs). Instead, pull your dog onto the grass and have him sit with his back to the oncoming mutt. If the over-friendly owner doesn't take the hint, Moore suggests saying hello, then explaining you're practicing commands and encouraging Spot to stay focused amid distractions. The owner should take the hint and keep walking, she says.
7. Don't Dump Your Pet on Unsuspecting Friends
Sure, your neighbor (or cousin or college roommate) tolerates your cat when she stops by to visit you. Still, that doesn't mean she wants your furball setting up camp on her couch for a week while you're in the Poconos. Unless you can return the favor-and feeding her goldfish over a long weekend doesn't count-you should pony up for a professional pet sitter. Find one through your vet or the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters, suggests Charlotte Reed (http://www.missfidomanners.com/index.html), author of The Miss Fido Manners Complete Book of Dog Etiquette. Confirm your pro is insured and bonded and has three references before you turn over your house keys, says Reed.
8. Know Your Audience
Constant canine companionship is part of your life-but not everyone can relate. Before you sign on for Take Your Dog to Work Day, consider whether he follows basic commands or is prone to wandering off. On a similar note, don't assume your mutt is welcome at every social gathering. A family with a new baby or an ailing parent might be extra-sensitive about germs, so ask beforehand if Fido's allowed to come. Once you've got the OK, you should always be prepared to replace or repair any items your pet damages or destroys, says Reed. And tuck a bottle of pet-stain remover in your purse, just in case.
9. Accept That Your Little Angel Becomes the Devil as Soon as You Leave Home
Scout can't possibly whimper at the door all day, even if he's whining loudly while you turn the lock, right? Wrong. You have the luxury of walking away from a dog that barks from 9 to 5-while your neighbors who work from home slowly go insane. If you get a noise complaint, address it calmly and don't blame the beagle down the hall or another tenant's loud television. Promise your neighbor that you'll investigate solutions (such as bark-activated spray collar or a midday dog walker) that will keep your noisy pup in check.
10. Teach Your Kids to Be Cautious Around Other People's Pets
Your cat doesn't mind if your toddler bashes her tail. And your dog's fine doing double-duty as a ride-on pony. It's great that your kids can roughhouse with your pets or run at them screaming, but not every pet is used to kids or loud noises. Your children (and your pets) will be better off if you establish rules for encountering strangers early on. When you approach another family on the sidewalk, pull your dog to your side and encourage your children to walk single file. Remind them to keep their hands to themselves until they ask an animal's owner if they can pet it or introduce their own pooch.
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