MAYBE YOU’VE SEEN THE PHRASE, “MY DOG, HIS RULES.” It sounds cute, but according to experts, it is the perfect way to set your beloved furry friend up for failure. Optimally, they know how to follow the rules – and those rules should accommodate both you and your human guests. But how do you ensure successful social interactions? It depends on a range of factors, such as an animal’s comfort around other people, its personality and the environment.
Knowing your pet’s triggers and your guests’ allergies or level of comfort around animals will help you plan accordingly, so both humans and pets have a good experience. Introducing your pets to different people, old and young, can help them to have better interactions. Kids, for example, move faster, are louder and some can be unintentionally rough.
Bonnie Logue, behavioral training manager at SPCA Monterey County, says pet-parents should avoid putting their four-legged friends in an uncomfortable situation. If your dog or cat isn’t social, it is better to keep them away in another room instead of forcing them to be around human company. In the case of dogs, you can also move them to an outdoor space. Logue suggests using white noise in the background if your dog is especially sensitive or afraid of other people, or offering a chew toy. Another option is to teach their dogs to be in a certain safe location such as going to their beds in a cue.
The key is to train dogs – it’s better for you (and visitors to your home, or passersby on a walk), and it’s also better for your pet. The American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen program has trained over 1 million dogs since 1989, based on the premise that “all dogs can be good dogs” – and that dogs prefer to behave well and please their humans, and develop two-way trust.
How pets and humans meet also matters. Even for people-loving dogs, Logue recommends introducing them in a neutral environment, such as outdoors, for the first time. “A lot of dogs get really scared meeting a person inside because it’s more confined,” she says. Another suggestion: Provide dog treats to guests, so they can start to build a relationship with your pet.
Indoor cats often get afraid if they are suddenly surrounded by strangers, says Beth Brookhouser, spokesperson for SPCA Monterey County. “Some cats just are quieter and don’t like noise as much,” she says. It helps to socialize them starting as kittens.
For jumpy dogs, turning away and ignoring them sometimes works, or try providing a squeaky toy to redirect their attention, Logue says. She adds that most dogs don’t like being hugged and it’s important to let others know that, especially kids.
Learning to read your dog’s body language is important to avoid incidents like biting someone. “Dogs do not just bite out of the blue,” Logue says. Showing big opened eyes, tucked tail, paw-lifting or lip licking are signs your dog feels uncomfortable.
If your guests are afraid of animals, give both pet and person time and space to interact, hopefully making it a good experience for everyone. The key in any case is to provide a friendly environment to both parties to break the ice – and remember that not everyone is as crazy as you are about your pets.