Top Ten Pet Etiquette Questions and Answers

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.

Q:** Lately I've noticed that my dog tries to nip at children who stop to pet her in the park. Although she seems to be warning them to stay away and has never actually bitten anyone, I am concerned that someday she might. Would I be held legally responsible? What can I do to prevent biting?**

A: In most states owners are liable for any harm their dog causes, even if the dog was not considered dangerous. You might find yourself responsible for medical expenses, lost wages, or even the therapy bills of a traumatized child. As a dog owner, you should be wary of any nipping or biting or even growling (a growl is a bite just waiting to happen). Taking a few precautions can avoid later problems.

It is your responsibility to train and socialize your dog. Enrolling in an obedience class will teach her to behave around other dogs and people.

Never let your dog run at large. Keep her in a fenced yard and walk her on a leash. You should also neuter or spay your dog because this helps to keep your dog from straying.

Keep your dog's vaccinations current. Rabies vaccinations are required by law and it will create even more of a problem if your dog bites someone and has not had a recent rabies shot.

Keep your dog away from strangers. This includes mail carriers, delivery persons and anyone who comes to your front door. When you walk your dog, keep away from others and do not allow children to pet her.

If she can't be trusted, a basket muzzle may be a possibility. She can still drink water and pant – she just can't bite.

You can minimize any problems by taking these few precautions. Remember: It is better to avoid injury rather than enter a legal battle.

Q: My children often play in the park across the street. Several people leash walk their dogs near where the children play and I am concerned that my children are too trusting where unfamiliar dogs are concerned. They seem to have no fear, and they usually try to pet these animals and play with them. Am I making too much of a little thing?

A: No, you are right to be concerned. Children are more likely to be bitten than are adults, mostly because they have never been taught how to behave around dogs. As a responsible parent, you should teach your children to stay away from dogs they don't know, as well as these basic rules:

Finally, always supervise your children when they are with a dog. Many children are bitten by dogs that they know.

Q: My new Rottweiler loves to jump up on anyone who comes through the door. This puppy is larger than many of my friends and relatives, and I'm afraid that he will not only continue with this naughty behavior, but will also do some real damage. How can I keep all four paws on the floor?

A: It's never too early to train your puppy; the basic commands – sit, down, stay, come and heel – help shape a good canine citizen. In a practical sense, obedience-trained dogs have an easier life than their untrained peers. Dogs taught to lie down at the arrival of visitors after barking their warnings or greetings are more likely to be included in the dinner party and less likely to be isolated in the garage. Obedience training is an education in good manners.

If you're inexperienced with training, consider enrolling your dog in a formal class (puppies can join "kindergartens" or pre-novice classes). Most obedience classes include the basic commands, which play an important part in the day-to-day vocabulary between people and dogs.

If you'd like to train your pup yourself, do some reading to find out how. 12 Rules for Training Dogs will help you understand the principles and goals of training your pooch.

For most people, Sit is the first command they teach their pet. This is often followed by Down. But for the purpose of safety, teaching your dog to Come when called is very important. This command has the potential to save your pet's life.

After mastering the sit and down commands, consider adding Stay. This command will help teach your pet who is in charge and to understand his place in your family.

Until your eager pup is trained, however, keep him on his leash when guests arrive so you will have better control.

Q: Although I don't like to get involved, I'm concerned about the way my neighbors care for their two dogs. The dogs are kept in the yard all day and all night, rain or shine. Once or twice a day someone brings food and water, but they don't seem to give them any attention or care. Exercise consists of letting them out of the yard to run around the neighborhood. There is space under the porch for them to sleep and to get out of the weather, but there is no real protection from the cold. Should I call Animal Control?

A: Most people don't like to call Animal Control. However, there are several instances when this is necessary. One is when owners intentionally or negligently allow their dogs to run at large. ("At large" means off the property of the owner and not under restraint.) It is not considered animal cruelty to house an animal outdoors. However, all animals must be provided adequate food, a constant supply of clean, fresh water and adequate shelter from the weather at all times.

If you feel the dogs are not receiving adequate care, call Animal Control or report your neighbors to your local chapter of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

Q: It's a common sight in our neighborhood: owners walking their dogs and standing by patiently while the dogs make soft piles on the lawn, sidewalk or driveway. Then they walk away, leaving the waste behind. I've tried to be tolerant; however, last week when I unknowingly drove through one such pile, and my soiled tire baked in my summer-hot garage for 12 hours, I finally hit the roof. There must be something I can do to get dog owners to clean up after their pets.

A: There is a solution, thanks to the growing number of "pooper scooper" laws now on the books in this country and abroad. These laws require pet owners to clean up and dispose of their dogs' feces from any public or private property other than their own.

Most people are like you; they don't want to deal with the mess of other people's dogs. But aside from that, there are also health issues to consider. Dog waste often contains a variety of organisms – like bacteria and internal parasites – that may be harmful to humans, especially children. Fecal coliform bacteria, for example, can cause severe stomach illness and rashes. In addition, various diseases and parasitic infestations also can be spread from dog to dog through uncollected feces.

Most laws usually target only those who leave doggie debris on property other then their own, and most ordinances stipulate that an officer of the law must actually witness the offense to impose a fine, which means that few violators are caught. In some communities, however, citizens themselves can report a violation. Fines often range from $25 to $100, and increase for repeat offenders. If you're unsure about the canine waste laws in your community, call your sanitation or parks and recreation department, or the local humane society.

As a final resort, try talking to dog walkers to let them know you don't appreciate their gifts. There is always a possibility that they are unaware of the problems they are causing and would be willing to change their ways.