16 Pet Behavior Issues and How to Deal With Them
Issue: A friend brings her dog to a party and he’s all over you. Or you’re at someone’s house and her cat is constantly jumping into your lap.
What to do: “You hope your friend would recognize that her pet is jumping up on you,” says Jennifer Quasha, author of Don't Pet a Pooch While He's Pooping ($9, amazon.com). “But if she doesn’t, politely say, ‘Oh, do you mind? My outfit is black, and I don’t like cat hair,’ or ‘I’m scared of dogs―do you mind putting him outside?’ ” It should be the owner’s responsibility to notice these situations and ask people if they’re comfortable with, say, a dog roaming among the party guests. But if an owner seems oblivious, it’s fine to remind her tactfully.
Issue: Every time you’re out on a walk, your dog insists on conducting his business in an inappropriate spot.
What to do: In the suburbs, don’t let your dog use someone’s lawn as a toilet. “Even if you’re going to pick up the mess, people don’t like the fact that their kids may be running around barefoot where a dog has done his business,” says veterinarian Betsy Brevitz, author of Hound Health Handbook. Instead, she advises, take your dog to the street or to the grassy strip between the sidewalk and the curb. Be sure to pick up any messes and throw them in your own garbage can.
In the city, “don’t take your dog to the one tree on the block,” says Stephen Zawistowski, an animal behaviorist and senior vice president of the ASPCA. The salt in urine can harm the tree if every dog that walks by gives it a sprinkle. “Curb your dog when he urinates,” he says. “Also, keep him out of small gardens and flower beds.” And always pick up after him. (In an American Kennel Club survey, 46 percent of dog owners and 47 percent of nonowners cited those who don’t clean up their dogs’ messes as their biggest pet-related annoyance.)
Issue: There’s a stray animal skulking up and down your street.
What to do: “Use extreme caution when going up to a dog or a cat―you could get a severe bite,” says Brevitz. One option is to call your local animal-control agency. If you’re comfortable with animals and can read their body language well, determine whether the stray seems approachable; if he does, look for identification, usually on the collar. The lack of a collar may be a sign that a dog is not friendly, so it’s usually best to wait for an animal-control officer. An agency’s decision to put the animal up for adoption, send him to a rescue organization, or put him down―and the time frame―will depend on local ordinances.
Issue: The dander from your friend’s cat or dog is driving you―ah-choo!―crazy.
What to do: Pet allergies are generally reactions to a cat’s or dog’s dander (tiny flakes of skin that can get into carpeting and upholstered furniture) or saliva (which dries on the fur after the animal grooms itself). If you live with the pet’s owner, try taking antihistamines or getting desensitization shots. And if the animal is a dog, suggest that he be bathed weekly. “Try keeping the animal out of the bedroom at all times so there is less dander or hair where you sleep,” says Brevitz. You can also purchase an air cleaner or try a rinse such as Allerpet ($11, amazon.com), which is applied to the pet weekly to reduce dander. If it’s simply an acquaintance’s pet, let her know you’re allergic and arrange to meet her at a restaurant.
As for those lists of supposedly hypoallergenic animals, most experts agree this is erroneous terminology. “There is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog,” says Gina Lash, assistant executive secretary of the American Kennel Club. “But some breeds can be better for people with allergies, including poodles and Portuguese water dogs.” (For the AKC’s full list of breeds that usually produce less dander, go to akc.org.)
Issue: Your neighbor’s dog barks loudly during the day―when she’s not around.
What to do: Your first course of action should be to gently alert her. “Leave a polite note if you’re not comfortable talking about it face-to-face,” says Quasha. She suggests writing something like: “Dear Sally, I’ve noticed recently that Angel has taken to barking when you leave your house/put her outside to play by herself. The noise is distracting, and I was wondering if you could do something about it. Let me know if I can help.” In case your neighbor does ask you for help, keep the number of a local dog trainer handy.
Issue: It’s your pooch that’s having the barking fits.
What to do: Make sure your dog is comfortable when you’re away, says Zawistowski: “Give her a good bit of exercise at the start of the day. Most dogs just need a walk in the morning, breakfast, a chew toy, and blankets, and they’ll probably spend most of the day sleeping.” And don’t ignore a comment that your dog was barking, he says. Find out when, then consult with a trainer, who may suggest such strategies as giving the dog a treat whenever you leave the house to help ease his separation anxiety. You can also leave a radio or a TV on, says Valerie Angeli, senior director of public information and special projects for the ASPCA. “Sometimes background noise can alleviate the stress of silence,” she explains. If all else fails, Brevitz says, consider taking the dog to an animal day-care facility.
Issue: Your pet relieves herself on a friend’s carpet or decides to use her chair as a scratching post.
What to do: “If your pet makes a mess on your friend’s rug, offer to pay to have it cleaned,” says Quasha. If the item is ruined, offer to pitch in to buy a replacement. “Consider what a hotel would ask you to do,” she says. “The carpet owner should not be left in the position of having to ask for reimbursement.” (As it happens, the terms-and-conditions sheet at pet-friendly W Hotels includes a provision requiring guests accompanied by pets to pay an additional fee and cover any cleaning or repairs.) Finally, Quasha suggests bringing a crate or a carrier on extended visits. That way, whenever you’re not in your friend’s house, you can leave the animal in her crate with the door latched.
Issue: Your dog behaves aggressively with other dogs that aren’t in the mood to frolic.
What to do: “Dogs that are aggressive toward other dogs should always be walked on a leash,” says Brevitz. Zawistowski says it’s just a matter of common sense: “If you have a larger dog, simply don’t put him in a dog run or a play area with the small dogs.” The American Kennel Club also recommends letting your dog socialize with other dogs from the time he’s a puppy; he’ll learn he has to play nicely.
Issue: Strangers (and their children) assume that your dog wants to be petted.
What to do: Simply say, “I’m sorry―please don’t pet him.” You should also warn anyone approaching him if your dog isn’t friendly: “He’s not in the greatest mood today” or “He doesn’t like strangers.” But if your dog welcomes the attention, encourage people to pet him first under the chin, says Zawistowski. Dogs may feel threatened if a hand comes at them from above.
When it’s you encountering someone else’s animal, “always ask, ‘May I pet your dog?’ ” says Zawistowski. “Hold out a closed hand, and let the dog smell it.” It’s especially important to educate children about how to behave around dogs. “Teach your children to ask, ‘Is your dog friendly?’ ” says Quasha. “And ‘Is it OK if I pet your dog?’ ”
Issue: Cujo is off-leash and barreling toward you, and his owner is nowhere in sight.
What to do: Try to remain calm, don’t make any sudden movements, and don’t look directly at the dog, says Lash. Never run away if a dog approaches you in an aggressive manner, and don’t make loud noises. “Stand with your arms folded, and look away from the animal,” she says. “A dog can read your stare as a challenge, and you don’t want that.” If you have food or something that might be of interest to the dog, throw it away from you and the dog. That should distract him, and you can walk slowly away.
Issue: Visitors repeatedly ask you to put your pet outside.
What to do: If you don’t know your guests well, tell them in advance that you have animals. If someone is allergic, it’s fair for him to ask you to put the pet in another place in the house. “It’s never appropriate to leave the animal outside unsupervised,” says Angeli. “But you can set up a room with the animal’s blanket, crate, or basket, as well as toys and water. And turn the TV or radio on to calm the animal.” In fact, she adds, consider doing this when you have a party, as it can be stressful for the animal (and for you) if there’s a lot of commotion.
Issue: A neighbor’s kid is kicking your pet or pulling its tail.
What to do: “Be the voice of the voiceless,” says Angeli, “and tell the child that what he is doing is cruel and wrong―and against the law.” Kids might not get the message right away, so say something like “If I pulled your hair, it would hurt you, and that’s how it feels to the cat. Try petting him nicely―like this―instead.” Show the child how to pet the animal properly. Also, consider the child’s age: There is obviously a big difference between a toddler pulling a fluffy tail and an older child knowingly harming a living creature. Talk to the child’s parents, suggests Angeli, because young people who are cruel to animals have shown a tendency to become troubled―even dangerous―adults.
Issue: A strange animal scratches or bites your child.
What to do: Administer first aid, then seek medical attention. “Because of the bacteria in an animal’s saliva and on its claws, bites or scratches can get infected very easily,” says Angeli. A course of antibiotics may be necessary. “Ask the owner if the cat or dog is up-to-date on its vaccinations, and ask to see documentation,” says Angeli. “The ‘parents’ of an animal are responsible for its behavior, just like the parents of children. If there’s a medical cost involved, the owner should pay for it unless the animal was provoked and defending itself.” Homeowners’ insurance, Angeli points out, will often cover animal bites and scratches.
Issue: A neighbor and pet take up the entire sidewalk on their morning strolls.
What to do: Many owners prefer a retractable leash, which can become a trip wire for walkers and joggers whenever the dog wanders away. “Ask the pet owner to keep the leash tucked up until he reaches his final destination,” says Zawistowski. If you’re the pet owner, he adds, “have the dog stay relatively close to you―not more than four feet away. Sidewalks are crowded enough already, so your leash shouldn’t be taking up the whole area.”
Issue: You invite friends for the weekend, and they unexpectedly bring their dog.
What to do: If someone shows up with a pet in tow―never having mentioned the possibility―you’re justified in asking that he be taken to a kennel. “Ideally, make sure you discuss your plans beforehand,” says Quasha. And if you want to suggest subtly that your friend ought to leave Bruiser at home, remind her that he may be happier that way, since he won’t be able to join in the activities you have planned.
Issue: Cats and dogs that dart out in front of your car.
What to do: “If you strike a cat or a dog, pull over and call the police or animal control immediately,” says Angeli. Some police officers are trained to deal with accidents involving pets, so they can check the animal and will know whom to contact next―a veterinarian, an emergency animal hospital, or the local Humane Society. Unless you are an expert, it’s best not to tend to an injured animal yourself―it will be scared, and you could get hurt.
If the pet has a collar and you can safely read the identification tag, call the owner. Let her know you’ll do whatever you can to help, suggests Quasha: “Hitting or killing someone’s dog by accident will not be solved by saying the right thing―there is no right thing to say. Offer your help, even if it’s just simple support.”