Pets 101

Minding Your Manners

Hitting the streets with Fido is fun – as long as he behaves like a gentleman

By Kim Kavin

Springtime brings many things: big-blossoming wildflowers dotting the countryside, longer days filled with endless sunshine, and, in many places, a collective sigh of relief among both humans and animals suffering from cabin fever. Parks, sidewalks, and trails practically burst with pets and their people looking to reconnect with the great outdoors. Inevitably those people and dogs end up connecting with one another—and not always in a good way.

Incidents of poor dog etiquette can occur more frequently during the springtime months when a glut of people and their pets make a mad dash for the streets and dog parks to partake in the balmy weather. Dogs who normally play well at the park may get overexcited and rowdy, those who used to walk well on leashes may try to pull, and in the worst cases, dogs with anxiety or other issues may have forgotten how to be polite in general, resulting in barking, jumping, and even biting.

Using spring as a time to get back to good etiquette is about far more than being able to sit with your pet at a canine-friendly restaurant. It is about ensuring that your dog is socialized well enough to be a respectful member of society.

“When a dog respects you, he’s not trying to drag you into the street, under a bush, or trying to attack another dog or jump on a person walking across from you,” explains Rose Williams of the Dog Lovers obedience school in Los Angeles. “Obedience itself starts with socialization.”

And obedience continues with practice and training. Highly social dogs, for instance, tend to need constant etiquette reminders. Often, guardians who don’t mind a dog jumping on them—say to offer a kiss—have a hard time getting their dog to stop jumping on other people. These mutts get into trouble even when they, and their people, think they are simply being friendly.

“You have to know what that dog is thinking, what he’s getting ready to do,” Williams says. “The dog is thinking, ‘Here comes a little kid waving his hands in my direction, and I’m going to pounce on him.’ You have to pre-think him. Have him do his sit, stay, down, come over here. Make sure they’re up on their commands. You stop all that energy from exuding, and you don’t have to tell people you’re sorry all the time.”

Etiquette challenges become more difficult, and occasionally even dangerous, with dogs who are poorly socialized in the first place. If a dog isn’t routinely being placed in situations where she has to learn good socialization skills by the time she is about 3 months old, she may have etiquette problems for the rest of her life, says Diana Coles of Teacher’s Pet in Eatontown, NJ.

Even worse, some dogs will fail to succeed etiquette-wise no matter what their guardian does, Coles says. Some dogs simply prefer to be left alone. “Bringing the dog out and trying to socialize [her] is not necessarily going to change genetic makeup,” she says of antisocial dogs. “You have to have different expectations for different dogs.”

Knowing what situations your dog is capable of handling can be just as important as having a perfectly trained dog, both trainers say. If you know, for instance, that you have a highly social dog who likes to wrestle with other dogs at an off-leash park, then consider keeping your dog away from herding breeds, who typically don’t enjoy that style of play. That’s good etiquette on your part as much as your dog’s. You are both respecting the other people and dogs around you.

By the same token, if you have a dog who has never gotten along with other people or dogs, then consider walking him in the backyard instead of taking him out in public, where he is likely to fail—and where an unwanted biting incident could lead to calls for stricter regulations and subject him to leash laws, which affect even the most etiquette-perfect dogs. If you’re without a yard, pounding the pavement for an early morning walk around the block could be your only resort. But if you’ve got a biter on your hands, even this could be problematic.

“You can’t trust a dog like that, even on a leash,” Williams says. “If he is 6 or 7 and has never been socialized, that’s like putting a man out there who’s 50 or 60. It’s hard to teach them new tricks. Even if he’s a friendly dog, he’s going to pounce.”

Ask the Expert:

Veterinarian Sophia Yin is a recognized expert in the fields of animal behavior and pet behavior modification. In addition to running her own private practice, she assists trainers at the Santa Barbara Zoo, serves on the executive board of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, is the author of How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves and The Small Animal Veterinary Nerdbook, and also developed the MannersMinder positive-reinforcement dog training system, which is produced by Premier Pet. We posed to her our most pet-centric doggie etiquette questions.

The same aggressive dog bothers my Sparky every Saturday at the park. I really just want to hang outside with my dog without all the drama. What can I do?

Some [people] have no clue that their dog is inappropriately aggressive. Rather than telling the [guardian] that his dog is socially inept, instead say that your dog gets scared when other dogs are boisterous or crowd her, so can they please call their dog away so that your dog has some breathing room? This works best if you have control over your dog and are training her, so that it’s obvious you’re working with your dog and not simply expecting the other person to do all the work.

I’m not really a dog person, and my neighbor’s pooch always jumps on me. How do I get her dog to back down without turning my neighbor off?

One solution is to politely ask the neighbor to call his dog, while mentioning that you like dogs but are just “allergic” to getting jumped on. If you have constant contact with the dog, another option is to train [him] to sit politely when he greets YOU. Have a dozen tasty treats each time you expect to see the dog. When he runs up to you, shove the first one right in his face before he has a chance to jump. Once he stops to sniff, use the treat to guide his head back over his body so that his weight is on his hind end and he sits. Then give him the treat. While he’s sitting, give him several more treats before he gets up. Then move a step or two away and repeat the sequence.

It really gets under my skin when people don’t pick up their dog’s poop in public places. How do I address these situations without coming off as a member of the poop police?

First, offer them a poop bag with the assumption that they just forgot to bring a bag. If you’re unsure of their intent or believe they’re deliberately not cleaning up after their dog, as you offer them the bag say something like, “Here’s a poop bag so you don’t get ticketed by Animal Control. They’ve been patrolling the neighborhood lately and citing people who don’t pick up after their dogs.” This works even better if you have your own dog with you or you mention something about how you or a neighbor almost got caught, so you now pick up after your own dogs regularly. —Melissa Wiley

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