I love dogs, and I miss my two tiny ones terribly (hi Pinky! Hi Maisy!). Here's the thing, though: their big personalities, and all the quirks that make us love them can be embarrassing, uncomfortable or offensive to people who don't snuggle up with them every night - and, sometimes, even for those who do (Pinky, your crazy urge to attack dogs 20 times your size is mortifying!). Part of being a responsible dog owner is learning how to behave appropriately with your dog, and part of being a friend of someone who loves their fur baby more than life itself is learning how to manage your interactions without cracking the shits. So Rachel - who owns the darling Beatrice, above - asked an expert to help decode some tricky doggy etiquette for both owners and friends of furballs.
I had the pleasure of speaking to animal trainer extraordinaire, Crystal Laner of Zoom Room Hollywood, about the tricky subject of dog etiquette. She’s been training animals for 17 years, four of those with Zoom Room. I have personally taken my dog to training classes at Zoom Room so I was thrilled to get a backstage pass. We broke this interview into two parts: “for pup parents” and “for friends of crazy pup parents.” Here's what Crystal had to share...
THE MEET & GREET
When meeting people in your home or out in public, have your dog follow a “sit” command. Don’t allow your dog to drag you over to meet someone; insist that all four paws remain on the ground. Then explain to the person you’re meeting how to greet your dog. You can say, “Toby is friendly, and likes to be pet on the back and on the top of his head.” This is a great way to keep your dog focused and under your control and you’ve set up a boundary for what your dog can handle in a new meeting.
When coordinating a meeting between two dogs, clear, preemptive communication is key. Do not assume all dogs are friendly, and don’t simply rush up to greet them. Get permission from the owner before you allow your dogs to meet. You can say, “Can my dog say hi?” If you do decide to allow your dogs to meet, keep it short and make sure they can sniff each other’s behinds. I encounter a lot of dog owners who scold their dogs for this “gross” behavior, but in dog language it’s normal and necessary. Dogs receive a ton of chemical olfactory information from this greeting. Think of it like a handshake. If the two dogs become too excited during the meeting, you can always reset your dog’s attention back to you with a “sit” command.
Replace your retractable leash for a one-length fabric leash. This will give you more control over your dog. (Zoom Room won’t even allow you to take classes with a retractable)
If you encounter a dog that you don’t want your dog to meet go with your gut. Don’t override a negative feeling about the meeting because you’re worried about offending the owner. It’s ok to say no to meeting. One trick that I employ to avoid meeting dogs I’m unsure about is working a command with my dog off the sidewalk. I work on keeping my dog’s attention on me, in a “sit” or “down” position until the dog passes. Most people will respect this space and keep moving. If you feel guilty about simply crossing the street or saying No to a meeting, you can use these handy one-liners:
-“She’s been aggressive lately so can’t meet other dogs right now”
-“We’re in training, so we can’t socialize right now”
-“He’s not great on a leash, we can’t meet today”
-“We just adopted her, so we’re still getting used to socializing”
If you feel ok about passing a misbehaving dog on a walk, position yourself between the dogs so you’re on the inside. Say hello to the owner, but keep moving.
-Be mindful of the temperature of the ground. If it’s too hot or cold for your bare feet, it is also too much for your dog’s paws. They can suffer burns and blisters on their pads from intense weather.
THE FRIENDLY VISIT
Don’t ever assume it’s ok to bring your dog with you to a friend’s place, even if you’ve done it before and they love your dog. Ask every time. You can try saying, “Would you mind if I brought Daisy to the BBQ? No worries if it’s too much for Saturday - we’d be happy to leave her home to rest.” And even if they always say yes, choose to leave her behind sometimes. If you are bringing your dog, come prepared with a soft mat or towel for them to lie on and a water bowl. Also, the moment you get to your friend’s house, take your dog outside to use the bathroom.
THE CAFE STOP
There are many restaurants that allow dogs in their outdoor patio area, but be sure to call beforehand to check their policies. Make sure your dog can actually handle sitting quietly without pulling on their leash and sneaking licks off your plate (I’m looking at you, Beatrice). It’s helpful to tire your dog out before you take them into a restaurant, so they’re more likely to spend the meal resting. I also recommend bringing a travel water bowl and a roll up mat they can lay on.
THE DOG PARK OUTING
Never bring food into a dog park, and be weary of even bringing treats in for your dog.
Leave your two-legged children at home. Most dog parks have a posted sign that is an assumption of risk, so if your child is injured inside the park, the dog and dog owner won’t be at fault.
You can bring in a toy, but make sure it can be shared and is a generic toy like a tennis ball or a Frisbee. A novelty toy will certainly cause a fight.
While dog parks can be a fun place for people to socialize too, it’s important to remember your main purpose in coming. Pay attention to your dog, keeping your eyes up (not on your phone).
Be careful not to ‘raise’ your dog at the dog park. If your dog goes to this same place, every day and at the same time, he may begin to think it’s a part of his home and could become territorial. Change up your routine, by adding in a hike or new dog park.
Get up every once in a while and make a lap with your dog around the perimeter of the park
Keep your little dog in the small dog side and vice versa.
If you encounter a dog (or person) that doesn’t play well and you’d like to avoid them, you can strike up a friendly conversation and sneakily slip in, ‘What days do you come?’ Then skip those days.
Know when to leave. If your dog isn’t getting along well with the group of dogs at the park or seems stressed or bored, or has stopped listening to you- it’s ok to go.
Do I even need to mention always picking up after your dog?
THE PLAYTIME THAT GOES WRONG
If you are witness to a dogfight or your dog is involved in one, the fastest way to stop it is to pour the drinking water bucket at the park over the fight. If you don’t have access to water, pull the dog’s hind two legs, backwards to pull them apart, this will separate them from the altercation. This way, you won’t risk getting bitten by grabbing for their collars.
If all of this seems like French to you, or you’re struggling with a difficult pup, consider getting outside help. We recommend Zoom Room, but you can also search the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants for a top-notch trainer. Be aware that dog training is not a regulated profession, so any one who watches a couple of YouTube videos can call themselves a trainer. The IAABC is a great place to start to find a certified behavior consultant.
THE MEET & GREET
If you see a dog walking down the street that you’d like to pet and say hello to, always ask permission of the owner before greeting the dog. Crystal often sees people ask and start petting simultaneously, without getting a specific answer from the owner. Dogs have all sorts of weird quirks, so you’ll want to know if Fluffy hates being touched on his ears. Ask first. Wait for the answer. Then say hello and pet.
If you constantly see a dog in your neighborhood that is poorly behaved (jumping/barking), and you’re patient enough, you could gently work with the owner to train the dog to perform a certain command at the sight of you. You can try, “Do they know how to sit?” Every time you see this dog you can command a “sit,” and you can even work with the owner to dispense a treat when they follow the command.
If you see a dog walking down the street that you’d like to avoid, you are allowed to override social customs and move calmly across the street, or step into a doorway to wait for the dog to pass.
On this note, Crystal recommends spending some time figuring out exactly what you’re afraid of in a dog. Pinpointing your exact fear can help you overcome it. Personally, I have a fear of big dogs that stems from a mean dog that lived next door to me as a child. I can pinpoint my fear to a certain breed, dark in coloring and to dogs over 50 pounds. Crystal recommends finding your fear threshold and working up towards it with a friendly dog. My (trusted) friends’ dog happens to have all of the characteristics of which I am afraid, but because he’s so well trained and under control, I’ve been able to spend time with him over the last couple of years and this has helped lessen the intensity of my fear around all dogs.
Leave out a bowl of cold water and make sure you ‘show’ the dog where the bowl is located.
Right when the dog and her parents arrive, show the dog outside to your backyard so they can go to the bathroom. Very often people say that their dogs are house trained, but they are sometimes trained within a context. So the dog knows not to go to the bathroom in their own house, but when in a new place, their training often doesn’t apply. Showing the dog outside first thing can help set up a new context for the dog.
Set out a soft blanket or towel so the dog feels like they have a special spot to lie.
Call ahead of the visit to ask what the dog likes in terms of treats or toys. If the dog is bugging you, you can break out the toy you purchased.
Close the doors to the rooms you’re not hosting in. Often when a dog is going to go to the bathroom indoors, they are going to sneak away and pick a location far from you.
Maybe your neighbor’s dog spends the first two hours after they go to work crying and barking? The best way to deal with this is to first inquire without an accusation. They may have no idea this is an issue. Try saying, ‘Is your dog new to your family? She seems to really miss you when you leave.’ Most people will get the hint with this feedback.
If you ever see truly bad treatment of dogs (mishandling or abuse, no food/water/shelter, tethering, neglect, living outside in extreme weather, etc.) call your local animal control (or RSPCA in Australia) and make a service request. You can do this anonymously. Animal control is obligated to investigate every call, so don’t hesitate. If you’re seeing abusive treatment in the moment or a dog is stuck in a hot/cold car you can call the police.
Thanks Rachel and Crystal! I know I have some work to do with my girls... What's your dog's worst habit?