Dog lovers often consider their canine companions to be members of the family. As such, we often treat them more like people than pets— and for good reason. We love them and they love us. Sometimes, however, we become so fixated on making our pets comfortable that we overlook the comfort of those around us— and that can be hurtful, harmful and even dangerous, not just to others, but to our dogs as well.
Good dog etiquette means giving your dog structure so he can enjoy himself more and so others will feel comfortable around you. Proper etiquette sets your dog up for success, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Mastering proper etiquette is a process. Don’t get discouraged; stay consistent and focused, and be sure to offer plenty of treats along the way.
Here are some simple, yet important, suggestions dog owners should consider when letting their dog interact with people and animals in and out of their home.
Walking Etiquette: Manners on a Leash
You may think it’s unfair to keep your well-trained dog on a leash, especially when he gets so much joy being able to run free. However, even if you can control your dog off-leash, that doesn’t mean you can control the world. A tragic accident can be avoided if you keep your dog on-leash and follow proper etiquette when out for a walk.
- Always keep your dog on a leash, even if he is an expert at being loose on voice commands. First, leash laws are pretty common in almost every community. Second, it makes other dog walkers uncomfortable to see a dog off leash— they do not know what to expect. And third, it is simply safer. Your dog has far less of a risk of getting injured by cars, bikers, dogs, humans or wildlife when you keep them on a leash.
- Clean up after your dog. Dog feces can carry many diseases, even in a perfectly healthy dog. Not only is it rude to leave dog poop in someone’s yard, but it is also unneighborly to leave it on a sidewalk or trail where someone could step in it. Plus, dog waste doesn’t go away. Eventually it might dry up in certain arid climates, but even then it will still be sitting there for weeks or months. The only way to get rid of dog feces is to bag it or scoop it and put it in the trash.
- Give runners, hikers and bikers space when they are passing you and your dog. Announce your presence to runners and hikers when approaching them from behind. Bikers are often moving so fast it can be help to stop walking, move over to the side of the trail or sidewalk and ask your dog to sit and wait until they pass.
Guest Etiquette: Dos and Don’ts
Whether coming or going, have a dog and people in the same environment can require a few rules to make sure everything goes smoothly. Even the best behaved dogs can have stressful encounters if they aren’t sure what to expect. And people who are not expecting your dog might have a negative reaction that could have easily been avoided. All you have to do is consider some of these dos and don’ts.
- Don’t take it personally if a house guest isn’t fond of your dog or dogs in general. Don’t allow them to be mean or hateful toward your dog, but if someone simply isn’t a dog person don’t try to force your dog on them. It will not only make the person uncomfortable, but it will make your dog feel uncomfortable as well.
- Don’t assume that your dog is automatically invited, even if you have been invited to a dog-friendly home. Even though we’re becoming a culture more accepting of bringing dogs out with us, it’s still not common for a dog to be a “plus one.” If you want to take your dog, ask first and don’t take offense if the answer is no.
- Do let first-time guests know ahead of time that you have a dog in case they are allergic. That way they can take preventative measures, like taking allergy medication, or let you know if they need the dog to stay outside or in another room during their visit.
- Do take your dog for a long walk or run before guests come over to burn off some energy. Dogs are social animals and they will get excited to meet new people and often get amped up when people enter their home. You can keep that energy overload to a minimum by giving them a chance to tire out before people come over.
- Do keep your dog contained to an area until all guests have arrived to a party. This way you don’t have to worry about him running to (or worse, out) the front door every time someone new enters. If possible, try to make this an area where your dog can see what is happening, like behind a baby gate in the hallway or looking in through a screen or glass door from the backyard. If your dog hears a lot of commotion but cannot see what is going on, he might become more anxious and stressed.
Social Etiquette: Dogs With Other Dogs
You may not ever have a need or want for your dog to interact with other dogs, but socializing your canine companion can be a good thing, especially if you take your dog in public. Socializing helps your dog feel at ease around other dogs by knowing what is expected of them. You can help make those experiences positive by teaching social etiquette when your dog is around other dogs.
- Avoid forcing your dog into situations that might make him fearful. Be mindful of his comfort zones. For example, if strange dogs make him skittish, ease him into meeting new dogs. If this is a priority for you, check out obedience training programs that offer socializing skills or look into calming aids to reduce anxiety.
- Work on reducing barking when your dog sees other dogs. It’s common for dogs to bark, lunge or pull toward other dogs, even if they aren’t aggressive. But barking at other dogs can become a nuisance for you, your neighbors and other dogs.
- Let your dog sniff other dogs on leash, only after asking the owner if it is okay. Dogs want to greet each other, so teaching them calm ways of interacting with other dogs on leash is important. It’s also important that you don’t let them play on a leash. Keep the interaction brief— 5 seconds or less.
- Recognize normal and abnormal play behavior. For example, puppies might rough house with each other and even make growling sounds, but their tails are wagging and they are mouthing but not using teeth. This might look aggressive, but it isn’t. On the other hand, be able to recognize aggressive behavior during play— in other dogs as well as in yours.
Proper dog etiquette is about more than the comfort of others— it’s about the safety of your dog. When the people and dogs around you are comfortable with your dog’s behavior, your dog will be more at-ease, too. That makes etiquette the cornerstone for a good time, whether at home, someone else’s house, around people or other dogs or, as most often is the case, all of the above.