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Pets 101

Minding Your Manners

A few basic rules of etiquette for first-time pet guardians

By Katie Marsico

Nearly three years after the birth of my daughter, I still vividly recall the time one of my friends (who apparently only likes fur when making a fashion statement) paid me a visit. As she walked into our living room to meet our little daughter Maria, she instead slipped and fell flat on her bottom in a fresh pool of Chihuahua pee. I’ll admit it—I choked back a giggle before offering profuse apologies to my guest, who had by that time let loose a few expletives I’m glad my daughter was too young to remember. Unfortunately, however, sleep deprivation and sheer naivety blinded me to the fact that not everyone is so in love with my pooches that they’re willing to look past the occasional yellow Slip and Slide on my Pergo flooring.

The fact is, some people simply don’t melt into a puddle of goo when they see a cute puppy or kitten. More to the point, there are basic rules of “petiquette” that people with pets should follow, whether at home or in public. Read on to find out some common-sense guidelines you and your four-legged friend can live by to make sure that everyone stays happy.

Who’s up for a big wet, sloppy kiss?

It goes without saying that, if you adore your new best friend, everyone should, right? Guess again, Dr. Dolittle…

“As much as we all love our own pets, it is important to consider that not all people have had the same life experiences,” explains Michelle Ahlenius, a Certified Veterinary Technician with DeVries Animal Hospital in Elmhurst, Illinois, and the owner of Dogs to Frogs Pet Sitting and Dog Walking Service. “Some people never had pets growing up, and while they may not dislike animals, they may not feel comfortable around them, either.” Ahlenius emphasizes that animals should always be kept on a leash when in public areas and reminds guardians to give well-intentioned passersby a heads-up about their pet’s manners (or lack thereof).

Speaking of manners, one major faux pas is treating the sidewalk like it’s a public toilet for anyone with a tail. Not only is it common courtesy to properly dispose of your pet’s waste, it’s also law in most areas. Even if it seems too early in the morning to smell that incredible creation, much less touch it, consider how you’ll enjoy being referred to by neighbors and police as “that lady who doesn’t pick up her doggie’s doodie.”

Also remember that it’s never good policy to show one’s face in public and to revert to living by the laws of the jungle in private. While it’s easy to get self-righteous in the assertion that your home is your castle, keep in mind that guests might not appreciate being tackled and bathed in saliva the minute they cross the moat. If you know a visitor isn’t going to go gaga over getting covered in cat hair, consider entertaining in certain areas of your house where animals may be—albeit temporarily—off limits. Alternately, give guests an advance warning about the presence and behavioral tendencies of any pets.

Sit, Stay, Go to School

Speaking from personal experience, having a pet for the first time can be a lot like having a toddler. You love them more than words can express, but teaching them good manners can sometimes seem like hiking up Kilimanjaro—while you’re wearing ice skates. Luckily, there’s obedience school, which is an option Dr. Andrew Luescher, DVM, encourages guardians to consider as early as possible.
“People usually find that once puppies are in the juvenile or adolescent stage, they become much more independent,” says Luescher, who is the director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine in West Lafayette, Indiana. “That is when you realize that early training pays off. However, older dogs can still learn new tricks, too, and can actually profit from training as a form of mental stimulation that may help delay age-related cognitive decline.”

But even with help from a professional trainer, being a new pet parent can have its daunting moments—you may occasionally feel like you’re trying to help your animal master more rules of etiquette than are required at a tea party. It might be hard to find the right conciliatory words when your new cat shreds your mother-in-law’s pantyhose while she’s still wearing them. But you and your pet will both learn together. With a little hard work and a whole lot of patience, you’ll find that adoption was well worth the cost of some basic etiquette and a new pair of knee-highs.

Out on the Town

Shortly after adopting the Chihuahua who still periodically christens my floor, I’d often bring her to a local Italian cafe with outdoor seating. For the hour or so I’d spend there, Bridget would sit on my lap like a perfect lady while I gave her tidbits of biscotti. My Cairn Terrier mix, however, whined, pulled on his leash, and repeatedly lifted his leg any time he was placed in an unfamiliar environment. Needless to say, Buster was treated to leftovers but never accompanied me in dining alfresco. Whether you’re eating in a pet-friendly restaurant, visiting a pet-friendly hotel, or flying a pet-friendly airline, don’t forget that you’re not the only patron. It’s likely that other people might not appreciate incessant barking or the aroma of urine while they’re trying to enjoy a plate of spaghetti marinara.

If your pet seems to continually act up or get nervous in a public setting, consider creating quality together time at home. Sometimes, however, it’s just a question of Sparky getting a wee bit overexcited when he first arrives somewhere new. In this case, you can try a few different remedies, including a long walk before boarding a plane or sitting down to dinner. Not only will this tactic tire your pet out, it’s also likely to help prevent any agitation due to a full bladder.

If your normally refined little Fifi begins barking nonstop for no good reason, try to determine the source of her discontent, but don’t get so hell-bent on finding the answer that the racket goes on indefinitely. More importantly, never labor under the delusion that everyone thinks it’s adorable to see your beloved drooling, baying, begging, or doing any other manner of unspeakables. You might find select misbehavior cute, but the folks around you—including other pet guardians—probably prefer you keep it
behind closed doors.

Additionally, there’s the option of requesting seating in a less populated section of a restaurant or plane. You’ll probably feel less conscious about the occasional whimper or questionable odor emanating from your pet if there are fewer people around. But this doesn’t mean you have to live a life of seclusion. It can be especially fun to attend public events that specifically target animal guardians. Pet-friendly restaurants will occasionally sponsor “Bring Your Best Friend” nights, and some hotels offer specialized pampering for your furry companion. Even in these instances, however, it’s still a good idea to call ahead to make sure there are no restrictions on species, breed, weight, or behavior.

Katie Marsico is a freelance author and proud pet guardian. She and her family live outside of Chicago, Illinois, in a small condo that accommodates two adults, two children, and any number of furry, four-legged residents.    

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