This isn't always cute.We send our cats and dogs to trainers and behaviorists in the hopes of raising polite, sociable pets. But sometimes it's the people who need a refresher course in good manners. Here, 10 tips to becoming a well bred pet owner.
The Scenario: Guests are coming to your home and you have a dog.
The Proper Petiquette: It depends on the dog and the guests, says Victoria Stilwell, star of Animal Planet's TV series It's Me or the Dog. A fearful dog may be more comfortable if confined to a safe space behind a baby gate, while a canine with aggressive tendencies should be kept away from strangers. Even a well-mannered dog should be separated from visitors, especially children, who are afraid of dogs. If your guest is an animal lover and your dog is friendly, introduce the two after the initial excitement of welcoming visitors has worn off and your pup has calmed down.
The Scenario: Your pet hurts another animal.
The Proper Petiquette: Keep aggressive dogs on a leash at all times, as "aggression is a reaction to fear or frustration or it's prey drive," says Sarah Hodgson, trainer and best-selling author. If, despite your best efforts, your dog does somehow injure another pet, immediately gain control of your animal, apologize to the other owner, offer up your contact details, and pay for all medical bills. Do not blame the other dog or turn a blind eye to your pet's behavior.
After the incident, consult a qualified trainer who uses positive reinforcement (Stilwell offers a global database of trainers who use only humane, progressive methods at positively.com) or a behaviorist - often a veterinarian trained in dog behavior modification - because canines that bite need professional help. And remember: Never respond to your dog's aggression with your own. "If you scream at your dog, he only becomes more frantic," says Hodgson.
As for cats, they should be kept away from other felines, says Hodgson. You can expect a hefty vet bill if your cat, faced with another animal in its territory, lashes out.
Related: How to Find a Lost Pet
The Scenario: You want to take your dog to a store or restaurant.
The Proper Petiquette: Feed your dog before you take him to any dog-friendly restaurant, says Stilwell. (Dogs are never allowed inside U.S. restaurants, but most states allow dogs on outdoor dining patios.) Eating a lovely steak next to a hungry dog can be torturous, which is why Stilwell brings a toy stuffed with peanut butter for her dogs to nibble. And keep your dog attached to you so he cannot beg for crumbs from fellow diners.
Before escorting your animal into a store, ask the manager if your dog can enter. Once inside, your pet should walk behind you, referencing you for direction, says Hodgson, who uses the Gentle Leader leash or EasyWalk harness. Remember to be sensitive to your dog, who may be overwhelmed by all the new smells and sounds. If he seems anxious or overexcited, remove him from the hustle and bustle.
The Scenario: Your pet licks or jumps on people.
The Proper Petiquette: You may find it adorable that your dog hugs you when you come home, but other people probably aren't as charmed by an 80-pound mutt staring them in the face. "It's the height of bad manners on your part, not your dog's," Stilwell says. Train your dog to greet others in a less intrusive way, for instance, by sitting. If your dog jumps despite your best efforts, apologize to the affected person and calmly move the animal away. Hodgson recommends keeping your dog on a harness and occupying the animal with a ball or toy outside the home. Remember, yelling won't work. "It only accelerates their excitement," Hodgson says.
Cats usually avoid strangers, and you should not allow guests to pick up an unwilling kitty. If you own an unusually friendly cat that craves human attention - and she perturbs your guests - remove the animal from the room, says Hodgson.
The Scenario: You take your dog to a public beach or park.
The Proper Petiquette: "You are 100 percent responsible for your dog's behavior in public," says Stilwell. Keep your pooch tethered if children are playing nearby, and prevent your dog from rushing into a stranger's personal space. "Give your dog license to explore at a beach or a park but maintain control so the dog is not running all around, endangering himself or other dogs," says Hodgson. Using positive reinforcement, such as treats and praise, teach your dog to look to you for direction and reassurance in a confusing or scary public situation. And, of course, obey all leash laws and always pick up the poop.
The Scenario: You want to bring your dog to a friend's house.
The Proper Petiquette: First ask yourself if your dog is comfortable with new people and new animals. Keep your dog at home unless he is sociable, says Stilwell. "It may be a nice idea for people to bring dogs along, but for dogs that don't know each other, that can be a stressful experience," says Stilwell.
Always get permission before bringing your dog to a friend's home, and introduce your pet to theirs on neutral territory, like a sidewalk or a park down the road - ideally somewhere where you can safely unleash them. And don't even think about bringing along a dog that is not housetrained or tends to destroy shoes or sofas.
As for cats, Hodgson advises leaving them behind. But if you are compelled to, carry your kitty in a secure kennel. Place the kennel on a high shelf in a foreign home and do not allow strange dogs to approach the cat. Isolate the cat in an area with a litterbox on one side and food on the other, as well as something to hide beneath or perch on, so that he will feel safe. Don't be surprised if he is nowhere to be found. "When a situation becomes too overwhelming or unpredictable, most cats will hide," says Hodgson.
The Scenario: Your cat or dog has an accident at a friend's place.
The Proper Petiquette: First, make sure your pet is okay: Is he nervous, excited, or sick? Then immediately get to cleaning. Hodgson advises owners to keep a stain- and odor-erasing spray like Nature's Miracle in the car; spritz it on any mess - stat. If your pet's emission still leaves a trace, pay for professional cleaning or replace any permanently stained items.
Better yet, avoid the situation altogether by knowing your pet's capabilities and weaknesses. Cats are best left at home, says Hodgson; they don't do well in new places and often deal with stress by urinating. A dog that marks territory or a puppy that is not fully housetrained should never be allowed to roam free in someone else's home.Related: 9 Signs Your Pet Is Depressed
The Scenario: You're traveling with your pet.
The Proper Petiquette: Cats generally should not travel unless it's absolutely necessary. If that's the case, place him in a travel kennel lined with bedding for comfort, says Hodgson.
As for your dog, unless she is a confident traveler, she should also stay at home with a pet sitter. But if the she can handle new places with relative ease, bring her along, and follow Stilwell's guidelines: Make sure the hotel is pet-friendly. Pack a bag for your pooch, including her bed and a favorite blanket or toy that smells like home. Take your dog on a long walk or run to relieve stress before leaving her alone. Give her a chew toy when you leave. Listen for barking or signs distress from down the hallway for 10 minutes.
The Scenario: You and your dog live in an apartment with neighbors on all sides.
The Proper Petiquette: There's a reason they're called man's best friend: Dogs are social and active creatures, bred to be our companions. "You can't leave them alone for eight or 10 hours a day," says Hodgson. If you plan on keeping a dog in a small space, make sure he gets exercise and stimulation. Consider hiring a dog walker while you are at work or signing your pooch up for doggie daycare. Anxious dogs who are left alone with no stimulation may bark more, so make sure your pet has a chew toy and regular walks. Before you leave for a long period, move your dog away from the door or porch, where he may bark at people passing by.
The Proper Petiquette: Teach your dog early on how to be gentle around children and keep aggressive and fearful animals away from kids. "Your dog must never stare at a child," says Hodgson. When a dog is staring (which is different from looking or glancing) at a kid, the dog is more likely to react however it likes. Instead, your dog should look to you to gauge its behavior. Before children come to Stilwell's house, she puts her dogs away and then brings out each animal one by one to introduce them. "Most kids are big dog lovers but some are scared so I respect that," she adds. Stilwell also suggests teaching children how to safely handle themselves around dogs. And never leave a dog and child unsupervised.
Has your pet embarrassed you with his bad behavior? Tell me about it in the comments!
--Justine van der Leun
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