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Petiquette: The rules every dog owner should know and follow

Australia is a nation of pet lovers, and even more people have chosen to bring a furry friend into their homes since the COVID-19 pandemic. The increase in the number of pets, along with the rise of medium and high density living, means that pets potentially have more impact on their owners’ friends, family and the general public. The benefits of companion animals are widely acknowledged, but it’s important to ensure our pets don’t create problems for the broader community, as this can lead to conflict and encourage negative attitudes towards particular species. This is where pet etiquette, or ‘petiquette’ for your dog comes in!

So, if you’d like to share the news about how wonderful your pets are and support the view of animals as valued members of society, consider the following points of pet etiquette, which are really about being a responsible pet owner:

Keep your dog under control in public

Taking dogs out in public is important for their physical and mental health and is also beneficial for owners, but we need to comply with the ‘petiquette’ rule of keeping them under control at all times. Some people might find it intimidating if a bounding dog jumps up on them (especially with wet or muddy feet), pushes them over, frightens children or elderly people or becomes boisterous with other dogs. All of this is preventable by initial leash training, keeping your dog on a short leash when out in public (apart from in designated off-leash areas) and teaching them to approach other dogs and people respectfully and only when invited.

When greeting another dog, allow your dog a quick sniff for a few seconds and then move on. Staying longer while dogs circle each other usually results in leashes becoming entangled, which is a safety risk to both dogs and people. Petiquette also applies in off-leash areas such as dog parks. The first rule is to ensure your dog has been trained to come when called. They need to be reliable at responding to the ‘recall’ command to prevent them from racing around out of control, annoying other dogs and their owners, and running ahead into potential hazards.

They should also have been socialised with other dogs in settings such as training classes or doggie day care. Dogs who are unable to relate to other dogs without becoming fearful or aggressive risk being bitten or becoming involved in a dog fight through their inability to read the cues from other dogs to ‘back off’. To ensure the experience of visiting an off-leash park is a positive one for your dog and for others, supervise your dog continually, watch how they interact with others and end the outing by walking them away on a leash if you notice any signs they are feeling stressed.

Keep your pet safe around others

One of the most distressing situations an owner can find themselves in is when their dog is the cause of an accident or injury to another dog or person. This is often the result of fear-based aggression. To keep your dog safe around other dogs and people, be familiar with the signs they may be feeling stressed, such as a tense body posture, flattened ears, or even signs that warn they may become aggressive, such as growling or baring their teeth. This is when it’s time to calmly remove them from the situation.

If your dog has previously shown aggression towards others, take precautions by consulting your veterinarian and working with a trainer or accredited animal behaviourist who uses reward-based techniques. It’s also important never to leave your dog unsupervised around children. The same applies to elderly people, who may be at risk of falling over dogs or being accidentally scratched or pushed over.

Only take your pet where they are welcome

As much as we love our pets, some people either feel neutral towards them, fear or actively dislike them. They may also have allergies or feel uncomfortable around pets for other reasons. The ‘petiquette’ solution for your dog to this issue is to never assume your pet is welcome somewhere unless invited. Bringing animals unannounced or asking to bring them to any kind of gathering or event can put everyone in an awkward position, including your pet, who may end up in an environment where they feel uncomfortable and where their needs cannot be met. This applies to your own workplace – some workplaces are dog-friendly, but before bringing your dog to work, make sure this is allowed, find out the views of your coworkers, talk to your employer about how to prevent any risks, supervise your dog and never force your co-workers to interact with him or her.

Responsible pet owners also avoid taking their pets to areas that are out of bounds due to council or other regulations, although exceptions apply for accredited assistance animals. Avoid taking your dog to national parks or any other locations for wildlife protection, areas where food is being prepared, on public transport, near children’s play areas or in school grounds or childcare centres.

Generally, dogs are not allowed in restaurants (although they may be welcome in outdoor cafes), many stores, beaches (apart from designated areas in some) and most holiday accommodation, so check first to see whether where you are planning on going is dog-friendly rather than just turning up. And remember that in any area your dog is welcome, pack their necessary supplies, keep them calmly occupied, don’t leave them unattended and make sure they don’t interfere with the comfort or safety of others.

Teach your pet good manners

Well-behaved pets are great ambassadors, so make sure your pet leaves others wanting more of their company! You can do this by training your dog to greet visitors calmly rather than jumping up and barking, and to take food only when offered. Dogs without this training should be separated from guests as needed, to prevent annoying and potentially dangerous behaviours such as accidentally biting someone’s fingers when grabbing food.

Attend to hygiene

One of the most common complaints about dogs in public is actually about owners who don’t scoop up their dogs’ poop! This is not only messy and unpleasant but is also illegal and can contaminate the environment with microorganisms that spread infectious diseases to other dogs and even people. Most owners would be aware of the petiquette of picking up dog litter, but it’s important to be prepared every time by carrying litter bags, which can be attached to dispensers on your dog’s leash. Other ways to avoid your pet being ‘on the nose’ are to prevent dogs from urinating on the property of others, be prepared with towels, odor and stain remover sprays to mop up any accidents, bath your dog if they become smelly and ensure their parasite control is up to date to prevent other dogs or their owners being affected by fleas or worms.

Avoid complaints about noise

Another common complaint about dogs is excessive barking, which may be accompanied by destructive behaviours. This can be disruptive to the peace and comfort of neighbours and could be grounds for lodging a complaint to the local council. It’s important to understand what causes dogs to bark excessively to provide the training and treatment needed. The reasons for excessive barking are often boredom and separation anxiety, which you can aim to minimise by providing your dog with sufficient exercise, enrichment (such as chew toys and puzzles) and enlisting a dog walker, dog minder or doggie day care centre to avoid leaving your dog alone for long periods.

Pets can have a positive impact on your life

Spending time with our pets is rewarding for us and strengthens that special bond with our furry friends. Companion animals can also have a positive impact on others in the community so, providing owners observe the rules of pet etiquette, more areas may be designated as pet-friendly in future.

Try using our tips to help you follow the pet etiquette rules every owner should know and follow and seek the advice of your veterinarian for further guidance. Having pet insurance can be a great way to ensure your pet will receive veterinary treatment as needed by helping to reduce your veterinary bills for specified accidents or illnesses. With RSPCA Pet Insurance, a portion of first-year premiums help support the RSPCA.

Image of Dr Rosemary Elliot

Dr Rosemary Elliot 

Dr Rosemary studied veterinary science at the University of Sydney after having established her career as a clinical psychologist, and has qualifications of BVSc (Hons), MANZCVS (Animal Welfare), MPsych (Clin), BA (Hons) as well as previously establishing her career as a clinical psychologist. Her experiences during veterinary training fostered an ambition to focus directly on animal welfare and ethics, with a particular interest in animal sentience and the human-animal bond. Currently working in small animal practice, Dr Rosemary combines her psychology background and veterinary skills to contribute to and promote animal welfare, and regularly contributes quality content to RSPCA Pet Insurance's Pet Care blog.