By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor
I remember the day well. Actually, too well.
I mostly shrug ii off now, but at the time it had me shaking even though the woman yelling and berating me wasn’t anywhere near me. She was on the other end of the phone, off air, while I was doing a weekly hour-long radio spot that I hosted for more than five years.
We covered hundreds of topics during those five years. None of them had come close to generating the passion of the topic of pet etiquette.
Some callers were defending me.
Some wanted to devour me.
If you’re like me, you love your pet. You spend time, attention, and money on it. You tend to its needs and wants, play with it, take it on vacation with you when possible, and when not, you trust a special person to babysit your pet as if it were your child. You wouldn’t harm your pet for anything.
Your tears flow for months. Your memories last a lifetime.
No good parent would disagree that we need to teach our sons and daughters manners so they get along well and are thought of favorably by others.
However, for some reason, there are pet owners who think that restricting their pet to a set of manners is as bad as putting it on a lifelong short leash.
Nothing could be further from fact.
Our four-legged house dwellers lead a more fulfilling life when we establish safe and kind boundaries for them the same way our children find security and reassuring predictability when they know how best to handle a situation.
If you remember from past posts, the word manners comes from the Latin word for hand. Manners are simply the best way to handle something.
If you love your pets AND people, you’ll want to know these manners for gracious pet ownership.
But Maralee, The Other Person Is the Problem, Not My Pet
We’re so used to our pets that it can be easy to forget that others don’t have our knowledge of the pets’ personalities and quirks. What’s cute to us might be alarming to houseguests.
The lady was yelling into her phone not because she was mad at me but because the show’s producer had let me suggest putting any pets that a guest is fearful of into another room.
Her argument was that her pet shouldn’t be punished by being shut in her bedroom while a guest visited.
I still wonder what’s in her bedroom that’s so horrible that being in it is punishment.
What? Is it full of steel traps or something?
When it comes to our guests, we don’t know their past with animals.
While our cute, tiny honey-bunny of a Chihuahua wouldn’t hurt a flea (not that she has any!) and is so tiny that no grown person should be afraid of her, we don’t know that our guest wasn’t chased by a small dog at age five and still hasn’t gotten over the fear.
The fear might be ridiculous to you and me, but you see, the thing about fears is that most of them aren’t rational. (At least until you know the back-story. And sometimes not even then.)
You can’t deal rationally with something that’s not rational. So don’t try. It will distance you from the other person.
Unless you’re a licensed mental health counselor and you are asked for help, it’s not your place to try and get people over their fears.
It is your responsibility as a host to make your guest feel comfortable and safe in your home.
Sometimes, that comes at the expense of your pet, since it won’t have free run over the house (and guest) during the visit.
The Manners of Gracious Pet Ownership
1. Tell first-time visitors about your pet(s) before the visitors arrive.
Inquire whether they’re allergic, tell them about your pets’ breeds, demeanors, and what they’ll probably do. “Fido is a terrier. He will bark, wag his tail, and excitedly jump on you a few times for your attention. Once you pet him, he’ll simmer down, and in five minutes you won’t know he’s here.”
Whatever you say, make sure you’re as positive as you can be that the dog is going to do that based on past experience.
If your guest seems uneasy, make plans now to deal with the situation. Maybe you’ll choose to go out to eat instead of hosting dinner at your home, or make your pet a comfy place in your bedroom (or some room with a door that closes) and have your pet already in that room before your guest arrives.
2. If you wouldn’t let your three-year-old child do it, it’s bad manners for your pet, too.
You wouldn’t think of letting your three-year-old son or daughter make strange or loud noises for twenty minutes, hang onto guests’ legs, jump on their lap, bring their toys and demand they play, lick them, beg for their food, or a whole list of other things that too many pet owners let their pets do to their guests.
You love your child(ren) too much to let them act like that. Love your pets, too.
Obedience school isn’t punishment. It’s a ticket to go anywhere, be anywhere, and then be forever fussed over because of their good behavior.
3. At any time, if a guest becomes fearful (especially a child), place your pet in another room ASAP.
Sometimes, all is going well, especially with small children, when all of the sudden they become fearful. If this happens, there’s no need to mention it to your guests. Simply and lovingly place your pet in a closed room and continue on with your conversation.
4. Don’t bring your pet to someone’s house without asking first.
Actually, it’s better if you don’t ask. Asking puts the host in the awkward position of feeling bad to say no.
It’s better to inquire along these lines: “Tamara, we’ll have Fluffy with us on this trip because we’re going on to three other places afterwards and don’t want to leave her for a week. For the two nights we’ll be at your house, can you recommend the best place in town to board her?”
This gives your host the chance to say, “What? Board Fluffy? No way! She’s welcome here.”
Or to say, “You’re right, our dog doesn’t get along well with other animals. However, our vet is who we leave our Zoey with. They’re the best! I’ll look their phone number up and text it to you.”
5. If your pet causes any harm, fix or replace the item. Don’t ask whether you may do it; just do it.
Along with the cleaning or replacement, mail a note to the home of the person(s), thanking them for understanding, and restating your apology.
6. Don’t be the crazy cat lady and not even realize it. (This syndrome affects men and dog owners, too.)
This tip is from Corbett, my youngest. He asked me what I was writing about this week, and I told him pet manners. Then I asked whether he had any ideas about what I should include, and sure enough, he did.
“Mama, remember that private tutor I had a couple of years ago?”
(Corbett is profoundly dyslexic with a laundry list of other learning challenges. For several years he was taught one-on-one by a special-ed tutor instead of attending school. Now he goes to a home-school co-op of six, including him. He’s making tremendous progress. He’s doing things that the educational psychologists said he would NEVER do, and he just turned 12! Please excuse my proud-Mom moment.)
“Yes, I remember her, Babe,” I replied.
“Every day, about ten times a day, she would talk about her dog and show me pictures on her phone. It was Bella this, and Bella that. And, Mama, she had a husband and kids. I know we love Lilly (our dog) and Lola (our cat), but I’m glad you don’t talk about them more than you do about me, and Marc (our oldest son), and Daddy. I think a person should talk about people more than pets.”
7. I know it’s gross, but you gotta pick up your pets’ poo if they put it in someone’s yard.
A little doggie dung never bothers me in my yard. I consider it free fertilizer, but others don’t feel the same, so pick up the poo when you take pets on walks. Or best yet, have them go in your yard first, and then take them on a walk. They probably won’t have any left to deposit in someone else’s front yard two feet off the sidewalk.
Lastly, but very important, have your pets spayed or neutered as soon as they reach the appropriate age. It will keep them closer to home and prevent their puppies or kittens from ever ending up in a shelter. And when you’re looking for a pet, make your local shelter your first stop.
Until next Monday, have a week full of great interactions and be kinder than necessary. You’re too great not to be you at your best every day!
If you haven’t already, join and get each Monday issue of my Manners Mentor post delivered FREE to your email inbox. Plus, as my gift to you, get my FREEBIE, an impactful, illustrated PDF dining guide Impressive Dining Skills for Every Meal. It will be sent to you FREE within three hours of joining the blog. Just type your email address in the box below this or any post, and you’ll receive your FREE copy.
Read it and you’ll be the most confident, at-ease, and savvy diner at any meal! It’s perfect for family, social, and business meals. It’s a great feeling knowing these skills because then you can relax and immediately enjoy your meal and the company of the people you’re sharing it with. Join now!