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Top Ten Pet Etiquette Questions and Answers

By: Virginia Wells

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Q: We have been invited to visit our close friends in another city. Since they have a dog of their own, they have invited our dog as well, and my husband has convinced me it is the right thing to do. What can I do to make sure the visit is a smooth one?

A: If your dog is well trained, the trip can be pleasant for everyone involved, including your dog. But there are a few things you can do to make it pleasant. Make sure you bring everything your pet needs. This includes his regular food, food dish, treats, toys, medications, and even his crate if he is crate-trained. You should also include a blanket so that he does not soil your friend's carpet; he may have some extra shedding in new surroundings.

When you arrive, keep your dog on a leash until you feel that he is comfortable. Introduce him to the other dog slowly, and allow them to go through their doggie ritual of sniffing and tail wagging. You should also leash-walk your dog through his new surroundings while you are in control – before you release him inside. This should include a trip to the back yard.

Finally, although your dog may be well behaved at home, don't expect the same behavior in someone else's house. Never leave him unattended with the resident dog. If you must leave them alone, confine your dog alone in safe quarters.

Q: My new roommate is great and we get along fine, except for one problem. Her cat enjoys scratching on my furniture, especially the upholstered couch and chair. What can I do to eliminate this problem?

A: It might be easier to deal with this problem if you understand why a cat likes to scratch. In the wild, cats scratch to mark their territory and to claim the area. Scratching leaves visual markings as well as a scent. He also scratches to exercise the muscles and tendons of his paws and to shuck off old nail husks.

Although you can't eliminate his need to scratch, you can teach him to scratch in an appropriate place. Try providing him with a scratching post as well as scratching materials hung from doorknobs or lying on the floor. These are usually covered with carpeting or burlap, and your pet store will carry them. Try placing them close to his sleeping area and other favorite places.

In the meantime, cover your furniture with foil or plastic to discourage further scratching. When he heads there for a scratch, redirect him to his scratching post and praise him when he does the right thing. Or try one of several sprays that deter cats from specific furniture pieces – check with your local pet store. Your friend should also keep her pet's nails trimmed or use nail caps to minimize scratching.

If these methods do not work, you might consider finding a new roommate.

Q: My husband and I have good friends whom we visit quite often, and they have a dog that seems to give a "friendlier" greeting than they do. But I'm getting tired of smiling to hide my embarrassment as I try to push the dog away. Our friends do nothing to discourage this behavior, so how do I handle this situation in a polite way?

A: Unfortunately, smells are just odors that supply information for dogs to interpret. If a dog smells your shoe, he can tell where you've been, whom you've been with, and lots of other things. But I suppose if he just smelled your shoe, you wouldn't be complaining.

If dealing with his vigorous greeting is left up to you, there are a couple of things you can do that are acceptable in a social setting. One is to step forward into him instead of moving back. Use your best no-nonsense tone to say, "No!" If he stops, even for a brief time, pet him and say, "Good doggie!"

You can also raise your knee gently and say, "No," which will make it difficult for him to put his nose where he wants to put it. When he moves back, pet him and say, "Good doggie."

If these strategies don't work, try appealing to your friends. Tell them of your discomfort and suggest that they put the dog on a leash and have him sit or lie down as they greet you at the door. Maybe this will prompt them to train their pup to have better manners where guests are concerned.

Q: Recently our dog dug a hole under our fence and escaped to our neighbor's property, where he proceeded to tiptoe through their tulips and dig up their prize flower bed. Our neighbors are very nice people and I would like our friendly relationship to continue. What can I do to remedy this situation?

A: In some states you are automatically liable for any injury your dog causes while roaming. Talk to your neighbors and find out how you can replace their flowerbeds and make up for their hard work. Then it is important that you get to the bottom of your doggie's digging problem so that it doesn't happen again. The first thing to consider is why he's digging, then you can remedy the situation.

Dogs dig for a variety of reasons. He might be digging up food or digging for shelter. Some dogs dig just for the fun of it. To them your yard doesn't represent hundreds of dollars worth of landscaping; it is just a giant pile of dirt for digging. If this is the case and your yard looks like a giant mine field, you may have to reinforce the area under the fence with chicken wire buried beneath the surface.

Your dog may be digging out of boredom. It's interesting that you used the word escaped. Is he confined to the yard all day? Does he receive enough interaction with the family? Dogs are social animals and providing 20 minutes of quality time with the family is not enough. The best solution is to keep him in the house with the family and allow him outside time only under supervision. Make sure you give him plenty of exercise by leash walking him twice a day.

Dogs also need mental stimulation. Perhaps you can join an obedience class, which will offer both quality time together and stimulation for your dog. Then continue with the training at home as part of your interaction with him.

You can train your dog to dig in places you think are appropriate. First you need to make a special spot for him, call him over to it, and start digging in it with your hands. Encourage him to do the same. Make a big game out of it and give him lots of praise in the process. Then, every time he starts to dig, take him to that area, and praise him for digging there.

Q: My new in-laws will be visiting with us soon and I really want to make a good impression. My problem is our cat. She is well behaved for the most part, except for the fact that she loves to investigate the kitchen counters and even the dining room table. We try to discourage this, but nothing seems to work. Can you help?

A: If you want to train your cat keep this in mind: Don't try to make her NOT want to do something; make her WANT to do something else. First, you should create a space for her that is higher than the counters and the table. Build a shelf for her, or empty a shelf that you already have, perhaps in a bookcase or top of a China closet. You can also purchase something at your local pet store, such as a kitty totem pole. Next, blow up some balloons or double sided tape and attach them around the counter and table. Leave them there, although you can remove them for company, so that they will work for you even when you are not there. At the same time, introduce your cat to her new climbing place and encourage her to make use of it. Soon, she may lose interest in the counters and the table.

You might consider keeping her confined to one room during meals. If your cat has been doing it for years, changing her in a weekend will only cause undo stress.

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