Since I was a little girl, I can remember being around dogs. My Grandma went through a series of dogs that included a Poodle, Pomeranian and Shitzu. From owning Spots, a Border Collie, I was also used to handling large dogs.
After attending several dog centered events with my husband, we quickly discovered that many parents (both fur and human) and children do not exercise the proper etiquette when around dogs. So, I would like to share our top etiquette rules that we enforce when out with our pack.
- Not all dogs are friendly. I know that everything most people have learned about dogs comes from television and movies. With superhero dogs like Lassie and lovable cartoon characters such as Disney’s Bolt, it is easy to see where people are taught this misconception. Children especially need to be taught that not every dog will want to be petted by a complete stranger. Some dogs can become quite territorial around their owner as they feel the need to protect him/her. This does not mean that the dog is vicious. It simply means that the dog takes his/her role as his owner’s guardian very seriously.
2. Dogs are not toys. Being the owners of three Chihuahuas, we know all too well the idea that this breed is nothing more than a living toy. Again, movies like “Legally Blonde” and “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” portray these pooches as being nothing more than an accessory that is carried around in his/her owner’s purse while she shops, hits the spa, etc. Children appear to be drawn to Chihuahuas because of their small size. I believe that they do not feel intimidated when approaching such dogs. However, since this breed is known for being tiny in stature and weighing very little, many children like to simply grab at the dog, attempting to pick him/her up without the owner’s permission. We have also seen cases where children pull on the dog’s ears and tail and poke at its’ nose and eyes. Please, teach your children that dogs are no different than people. They deserve respect and should never be manhandled.
3. Never pet a dog without the owner’s permission. While this seems like a no brainer to most of us, you would be surprised at how many children come running up to our pack at events like Bark in the Park and the Canine Carnival and just stick their hand in the dog’s face. One year, we even had an unattended child unzip the flap to our pet stroller while my husband and I were eating lunch! We have since purchased a set of locks for both the top and bottom flap so that this does not happen again. As parents, we know our fur babies very well. We know their quirks and their history. People typically cannot tell an abused dog when they see one unless it has been burned or beaten. Theo, our eldest dog, was abused by children and wants nothing to do with them. He will snarl and bare his teeth (which is why he no longer attends such events). Domino is very particular about strangers coming into our home, but loves to be petted while on territory that is not his. While he, too, was abused, he seems to be fine when meeting people outside of the house. Cole becomes spooked if you approach him from behind. Again, these are things that you don’t know until you ask. To avoid a potentially dangerous situation, please, encourage your children to always ask the dog’s owner before attempting to pet him/her.
4. Do not bring retractable leashes to pet events. I cannot tell you how many events we have attended where this etiquette rule was actually listed on the event poster. But, despite the rule, some pet owners still insist on bringing this type of leash. There is a reason why most venues are banning the retractable leash: people can easily become tangled and fall. While attending the Celebrate Spot event, one woman had nothing but trouble with her large dog. He was hooked to a retractable leash and pulled his owner the entire time. Plus, she did not think to lock the leash so as to limit the dog’s mobility. Instead, he would race out to the end of the leash and entangle himself in the runners that were passing by. The woman kept apologizing, but everyone seemed very annoyed. Not only could this cause injury to other event participants, it could end up choking your dog. Please, respect the rules of the pet event that you are attending and leave the retractable leash at home.
5. Proper petting techniques should be enforced at all times. Remember the reference to children simply sticking their hand in a dog’s face? Unfortunately, this is how many children have approached our dogs. Matt is always so patient in showing them how to properly pet a dog that you are meeting for the first time. His rules are:
a. Ask the dog’s owner if it is okay to pet his/her dog.
b.Crouch down to the dog’s level so that he/she does not feel that you are trying to dominate or intimidate.
c. Slowly, place you hand in front of the dog’s nose (your palm should be facing you).
d. Remain calm and allow the dog to sniff your hand. He/she is learning a great deal about you from this initial sniffing.
e. Read the dog’s reaction. Is he/she wagging her tail? If so, you may proceed with petting the dog. If he/she is pulling away or cowering, you should probably not try to pet him/her.
6. Never feed someone else’s dog. Matt and I have witnessed many a dog being fed chips, hot dogs and even hamburgers! We choose to listen to our vet and not give our dog’s “people food.” Some may say, “What’s the harm?” Our dog, Theo, found the answer to that question. He began to urinate all over the apartment we were living in. The truly frightening moment was when he urinated inside a Petsmart and we saw blood. It turns out that he had developed bladder stones. Our ex-vet said that there are a variety of things that can cause this. One of them, eating certain kinds of food. For years, my mom allowed Theo to do a “pre-wash” of the dinner plates. His little tummy was exposed to cheese, bread, meatloaf bits and everything in between. She thought that she was treating him, but in the end, it did more harm than good. Theo needed surgery to remove the stones and now has to be on a special (and expensive) form of dog food for the rest of his life. Other dogs have skin conditions that require a special diet as well. And certain breeds, like Dachshunds, need to be particularly careful about packing on the pounds. So, even though you are trying to be friendly, do not “treat” someone else’s dog.
I hope that these etiquette tips have been helpful as well as informative. By following these few simple guidelines, we can all continue to share our love of dogs with each other and the world.