Good Manners Toward Your Pets

She simply loves animals!
Always treat animals with respect. PeopleImages / Getty Images

We cherish the relationships we have with all family members, including our pets. Just remember that they rely on us to make sure other people give them the respect they deserve and don't crowd their space. Here is one of the questions I've received on proper etiquette for protecting our pets from unruly visitors.

Q&A

Question: My husband and I enjoy having friends over for card games during the winter and backyard cookouts during the summer.

We have decided not to have children for a few more years, but we do have a cat and a dog that we rescued from a shelter.

Our closest friends for many years now have two children who chased and poked at our animals last time they came over. Lucy the dog and Phoebe the cat aren't used to little ones, so they run and hide. What should we do? We like these people and want to continue having them over. Is it out of line to tell them to leave their children home with a babysitter?

Answer: It's wonderful to have long-time friends who enjoy getting together with you, but it's not good that they don't take control of their children when they visit your home. There is nothing wrong with you or your husband saying something to the parents and children when they misbehave. If they don't follow the rules in your home, you can mention next time that you're inviting only adults. Consider yourself warned, though, that they might not want to return if you leave their children out of the invitation.

Hosts with Pets

When you are the host of any type of get-together, plan in advance for what to do with your pets. Younger animals and those who enjoy being around a lot of people are fun to have at parties and will probably enjoy a little chaos. In fact, they often become the life of the party, as long as they are well trained.

Older pets and animals that aren't used to the faster motions of children might become nervous. You need to decide whether or not they can deal with the extra people in the house, and if not, come up with a plan to prevent stressing them out.

You also need to let your guests know that your pets will be there. Someone may have allergies to pet dander or a fear of animals. Or they may need to prepare their children for how to behave around your pets.

Here is a list of tips on what to do if your pets will be part of the party:

  1. Make sure all of your guests are aware that you have pets.
  2. Train your animal to obey a few essential commands such as "down," "sit," "stay," and "no" before you expose them to visitors.
  3. If your animal tends to run outdoors, have someone check the doors often to make sure they remain closed.
  4. Check on your pet periodically and look for signs of distress.
  5. Make sure you have plenty of food and water available for your pet.
  6. If you have a dog, make arrangements to take him out every couple of hours to relieve himself. Many animals have overactive bladders and tend to piddle when they get excited.
  7. Provide easy access to the litter pan for your cat.
  8. Keep an eye on children or anyone else who might tease or taunt your animal. If someone does something to upset your dog or cat, you are not out of line to say something like, "It hurts Lucy when you pull her tail," or "Phoebe doesn't like to be chased."
  1. If your pets aren't used to children, put the animals in another room or in the fenced-in backyard when the guests with kids arrive. Gradually introduce them and watch carefully to make sure there is no aggression from the animal or the children. Kids typically have more rapid and jerky movements than adults, so it might frighten your animals. Show the children how to act around your dog or cat, and you might discover that they can get along quite well.
  2. Before you allow your pet to join the party, make sure he's well trained and won't jump on your guests. Even dog lovers get annoyed by an over-eager pooch that knocks them over as soon as they enter a room. It's more difficult to train a cat not to jump on people, but most kitties scope out the situation before doing that. Older cats are more likely to find a place to hide until the "intruders" leave.
  1. Ask your guests not to encourage your animal's bad behavior by laughing at him or prodding him to repeat it. Animals are like children and will repeat something that gets the attention they enjoy.
  2. If your dog growls or your cat hisses, remove them from the situation. You don't want to risk someone getting bitten or scratched when the animal feels uncomfortable or threatened.

If you have older or more skittish animals, find a safe, familiar space to isolate them during the event. This might seem like you're leaving them out, but it's better than traumatizing them by exposing them to children and well-meaning friends who don't know better than to chase, poke, and prod.

Provide a comfortable area for your isolated pet and check on him periodically. Take him out without making a big deal of it with your guests. You don't want to make people feel bad about your nervous animal. Some people might not understand that he's better off in your comfortable, familiar bedroom than in a roomful of strangers.

Guests Who Visit Homes with Pets

When you are invited to the home of someone with a pet, be respectful of the animal. After all, he is a member of the family, and you're not.

Here are some tips for guests:

  1. Ask before touching the animal. Some dogs and cats are fine in a room with a stranger as long as the person keeps her hands to herself. If the host says it's okay to pet the animal, move slowly and allow him to sniff your hand before you touch him.
  2. Always be gentle and don't roughhouse with someone else's dog or cat.
  3. If you bring your children, explain to your kids before you arrive that they are to respect and obey house rules, and that includes how to act around the pets. Keep an eye on them to make sure they don't frighten or annoy the animals.
  4. Don't feed the animals treats unless the owners tell you it's okay. Many foods that are okay for people are bad for dogs and cats.
  5. The host will appreciate a "host gift" for his pet, but always give the item to the person in charge. She may encourage you to hand the gift to the animal to help make friends, but it should only be done with the master's permission.