We Britons love our pets and there are now an estimated 12.5 million dog owners in the UK. That’s a lot of pooches to navigate in pubs, parks and on public transport. Leila McNeelance, a registered dog trainer and consultant who founded the London-based dog behavior service Huxley Hooch, says that basic etiquette is essential.
She says: “I love the fact that places are becoming more dog-friendly – but an unruly dog can ruin everyone’s day. Dog owners need to think about what is best for the animal and the people around it. If dogs can live harmoniously with us it makes everyone’s life easier.”
Here, she shares her tips to help dog owners master some manners.
Going out for a pub lunch
Post-pandemic, we have a new breed of owners who take their dogs everywhere. Dogs will only display behaviors that are annoying to others, such as pacing or barking, if they are nervous. Make sure the pub you are going to is dog-friendly. Then do a practice run. Go for a half-pint to suss out the space. Make sure your dog has a safe little area to settle. A snuffle mat with hidden treats is a great distraction.
Meeting young children
A lot of people assume dogs are more comfortable with children than they are. Kids are completely unpredictable. Perhaps get your dog to watch them from a distance first. Learn your dog’s body language. It’s OK to say “no” to a parent if you don’t want a child to pat your dog. It’s easy to forget that dogs are animals with teeth and even the loveliest dogs reach a certain threshold. If in doubt, children can blow the dog a kiss or wave.
Inviting new guests into your home
This comes down to fear of the unknown. Have a plan in place when people come over. Pop your dog into another room or in their bed with an activity or toy. They will have a safe space to sit, but can approach your guests if they want to. It can be helpful to ask guests to ignore the dog when they arrive. Dogs don’t like eye contact – it can be scary. If your dog has a real fear of visitors, consider seeing a positive reinforcement trainer.
People take dogs to protests or festivals and I would say: don’t. Putting an animal, especially an anxious one, into a big crowd can be scary for them. If you encounter a crowd accidentally, look for an alternative route. If you’ve got a small dog in a big crowd, pick them up. People don’t often look at their feet and dogs can get knocked down. You could sit and watch the crowd from far to get them comfortable. But as a rule, I would say avoid big crowds.
A walk in the park
Always check the park’s guidelines and signs: some are off-lead friendly, but a lot of them are not – especially in city centres. Your dog needs to have excellent recall. That means if you let it off its lead you can call it back immediately before it steals someone’s picnic. The only thing you can ever control in a situation is your own dog. If they are still learning recall, keep them on a super-long lead.
Going on public transport
For dogs, this means being in a small, very loud metal box and it can be tough. What you can do is some noise desensitization training. First, take them close to the transport, but not on it. You can sit and watch it so they get used to people milling around and all the sounds. Teach them how to sit and settle and ignore distractions before they go on the bus or train. Sit smaller dogs on your lap or tuck bigger breeds under your legs for protection. Carry treats with you and reward them for being well behaved.
talking and walking
One of my biggest pet hates is when people walk their dogs and talk on the phone. Being really present with your dog and remaining vigilant is so important. I’m always seeing people let their dog off lead, turn to their phone and five minutes later casually call their dog. They have no idea where it is. There’s no harm in taking an hour to be phone-free and enjoy bonding with your dog.
meeting other dogs
There’s a weird assumption that all dogs have to be friends with all dogs. Not all dogs have the same play style and you could put your dog in a situation that will make them feel stressed. I tend not to do dog meetings on a lead. The flight part of “fight or flight” is no longer an option so they feel trapped. You can do a rule of three when walking: the first dog you see they ignore, the second they have a sniff and then the third dog they play with.
cleaning up dog mess
It’s not nice for anyone to fall over or step in dog poo and there is no excuse for not picking it up. It’s pure laziness and very inconsiderate. Kids are constantly on the ground so it’s dangerous and disgusting. Keep a poo bag in every pocket of every jacket you own. If you can afford a dog, you can afford the bags. The majority of dog owners do clean up after their pet but, unfortunately, the ones that do not are reducing dog-friendly opportunities for others.
Leaving your dog at home
It is a really crucial skill for dogs to know how to be by themselves. But separation training can be hard. It might feel easier to bring your dog everywhere, but will they actually enjoy being in a busy pub garden or will they be comfier at home? We tend to say no more than four hours on their own as a welfare rule. Each dog is an individual and so there is no blanket rule – just learn what makes your dog happiest.
Claire Haynes, of the animal behavior services team at Blue Cross, on pet etiquette in the home
DOGS: Visitors can be a very exciting time for dogs; ensure everyone who comes into your house greets your dog(s) in the same way. It’s really important to be consistent.
CATS: All cats respond differently to visitors. For social cats, allow them to approach your visitors and investigate. Advise people to interact with your cat when they have four feet on the ground; cats generally prefer frequent but short interactions and high places to retreat to and feel secure.
RABBITS: Rabbits are a prey species so are more comfortable on the ground; they need to be able to get away from fearful situations. Ask visitors to sit on the floor so your rabbit can explore and socialize while feeling safe.
Leila’s four quick-fire rules on dog etiquette
- Treat little dogs as if they are huge and do the same level of training.
- Don’t make Instagram “likes” a priority over your dog’s welfare and needs. It’s not always a good idea to bring your pet everywhere.
- Dogs won’t necessarily bark if they feel uncomfortable. Signs of stress include tongue flicking and yawning, showing the whites of their eyes, shaking and pacing.
- Dogs don’t naturally want to meet every single person or every single dog they pass.