Category Archives: Dog Etiquette

Help with your toughest social problems involving dogs, whether you’re a dog owner or not.

A Dog Owner’s Guide to Hiring a Nanny

My friend Sara works full-time from home. It allows her to spend more time with her children and husband. But she still needs help. So she got a nanny to come over on weekday mornings, and it’s been working great for the past six years. She also has two terriers. Her nanny gets along well with everyone, but it’s not always like that.

We dog owners think that everyone is as enamored of our dogs as we are. It’s one thing to enjoy a dog at the park; it’s another thing to spend every weekday with the dog, especially if you’ve never had a dog. So before you hire a nanny, here are some things to think about.

  1. Not everyone likes dogs. Be up-front about the fact that you have dogs, and the kind of dogs you have. Don’t take it personally if some applicants are not interested in a position in a home with pets.
  2. Some people are allergic to dogs. Allergies can develop — or go away — with age, so if an applicant says she’s not allergic and then shows signs that she is, she may have an allergy she doesn’t know about. It’s a good idea to invite the applicant over to spend some time with your children and pets to find out if there are any allergies (as well as to see if everyone gets along).
  3. Not everyone who likes dogs knows how to care for them. If caring for your dog will be part of your nanny’s responsibilities, clarify that at the beginning. Training will be required, especially if the applicant has never owned a dog. Diligence on your part will help her to become comfortable with keeping the door closed, not leaving food on the kitchen counters, etc. She should go through the daily pet routine with you several times before being asked to do it herself.
  4. Be clear about responsibilities. If you’re advertising for a nanny, spell out which pet duties your nanny is expected to take care of, then honor the list. Review it periodically to assure that the list of pet duties hasn’t expanded over time from walking and feeding the dog to training it or cleaning up messes.

Check out this website for finding a nanny. They also have a good article for nannies whose employers have pets; it’s a good read.


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Do You Protect Your Dog?

A dog training video recently reminded me that my dog sees me as his pack leader. And as such, my job is to provide for him and protect him. I provide for him by feeding him, taking him for walks, getting him to the vet, etc. But — in his eyes — do I protect him?

A dog on a leash is at a disadvantage against an aggressive dog.

When small children run up to us wanting to pat him, so I just hang on to the end of the leash and let them rush him or do I ask them to stand still and let him approach them?

When stray dogs approach, do I put my dog at a disadvantage by keeping him on a tight leash or do I try to keep the dog away?

Do I keep my dog tethered on a leash at the dog park or do I take the leash off and let him move around freely?

When we’re on a walk, do I carry a spray bottle, stick, or other means of fending off dogs who threaten my dog?

Our dogs DO look to us for protection, and I think as modern dog owners, we forget that sometimes. I’m going to be more mindful of ways to protect my dog. Not to be an overprotective pet parent, and not to keep my dog from being a dog, but to provide protection when he needs it.


Posted by on August 18, 2012 in Dog Etiquette, Miscellany


Mother-in-Law Won’t Listen

I cannot stop my mother in law feeding my dogs, as we work together and the dogs come to work with me every day. She feeds them sandwiches under her desk. I have asked her to stop but she takes no notice.

One of my dogs has allergies and I like to keep my eye on what he eats. She still will not listen if I tell her to stop. She will say he is not allergic to food and the vet is talking crap. Sometimes, our dogs stay with her and when we get them back, they act like they don’t want to be with us. In fact, Charlie our male dog, growls at me if I pick him up or stroke him.

I have had arguments with her regarding these problems, but she thinks I don’t know what I’m talking about. She treats them like human babies. I think she likes it that the dogs don’t like me. Can you help me please? Any advice is welcome.

Wit’s End

United Kingdom


Dear Reader,

There are several things going on here. One is that your mother-in-law doesn’t respect you. She overrules you on matters that you alone have authority over. I would have a talk with her and ask her why she does it. She may brush you off at first and deny there’s a problem, but persist. Without anger, ask her why she ignores your decisions about your dogs’ diet, as well as the advice of your veterinarian. Depending on how badly her treats impact your dogs’ allergies, think about not bringing them to work with you. If not bringing them to work is not an option for you, provide some treats that your dogs can enjoy and ask your mother-in-law to feed them those treats. Or confine the dogs to an area where they cannot get to your mother-in-law’s desk for sandwiches. I knew one person who tied a long leash around his waist at the office, and clipped the other end to his dog’s collar. The dog had to go everywhere with him. After a few weeks, he took off the leash and the dog stayed by his side, never left his office, and didn’t wander around anymore. It might work. It might also make a point.

As far as the dogs acting like they’re not happy to see you, don’t take it personally. Dogs don’t live in the future or the past the way humans do. You should, however, seek the help of a
trainer to deal with the dominance displayed by Charlie when you try to pick him up or stroke him. It could be that he dominates your mother-in-law while you’re away and he needs a reminder when you return. But dogs can grasp the concept of different relationships with different people, so some training might help. If your mother-in-law enjoys the fact that your dogs are not overjoyed to see you, that’s spiteful. You should address that with her, also.

You may not get anywhere by talking to her, but you may make a point on another level. Imagine that you’re your mother-in-law. You engage in these little passive-aggressive behaviors to get a rise out of your daughter-in-law. You’re creating a problem for her. But what would happen if, every time you do, she comes to you and you have to have this big talk about it. The fact that she’s passive-aggressive tells me she wants to avoid confrontation. If she has an uncomfortable conversation with you every time she does something like that, now it’s her problem, not yours. I’ve done this and it really works. Don’t be angry or dramatic. Just be serious and thorough. Look her in the eye. Ask her to answer your questions instead of brushing them off. Don’t let her get out of it quickly or easily. Tell her you really want to understand her point of view. She’ll tire of that quickly and stop triggering it. Give it a try.

By the way, where is your husband in all this? If he won’t stand up to mommy now, he never will. Ask him to talk with her, too.

– L 


Posted by on August 25, 2009 in Dog Etiquette


Dog Sitter Etiquette

Q: I’m using a dog/house sitter for the first time while my husband and I go away for a much-needed long weekend. We’re using a very sweet young couple that walks our girls 3x a week. We’re friendly with the couple, but have used them only a couple of months and we really don’t know them outside their ‘walking’ service. What is the etiquette for having someone stay at the house? We don’t have a spare bed, unfortunately, but we have a very nice Aerobed and a spare room and bathroom. Should we offer up our bed instead? – CR
A: Great question. If you’re asking them to stay overnight at your house, you should offer them a comfortable place to sleep. However, your own bed is a rather intimate place to offer to an acquaintance. Ask if they prefer a firmer or softer bed, and it might open up the conversation to talk of your own bed or the inflatable bed. They may tell you that the inflatable bed is just fine, in which case your worries are over. Some of the newer inflatable beds are quite nice and high off the ground. If you have any reservations about them using your own bed, be sure they know before they take the job that they’ll be sleeping on an inflatable bed. It all depends on your own level of comfort and hospitality. I’ve stayed in homes where the hosts have offered up their bed without hesitation and wouldn’t hear of putting me anywhere else. Talk with the couple and see what you’re all comfortable with.

Posted by on July 31, 2009 in Dog Etiquette


Dog Who Challenges Houseguests

I have a long-haired Chihuahua who is very territorial when friends come over. He barks and growls and, if unleashed, will run at them and bark at their heels. We have worked with a trainer about this but have not had success. When people come over, we keep him confined in another room while we are greeting our guests and when wait until everyone has settled down and then let him out– he usually calms down after a few sniffs and then does his own thing.
Some of our friends have taken it personally, insisting that they are dog lovers and never have issues like this with other pets. We try to explain to them that it’s not something they should feel is personalized and that our dog is just very protective and wary of strangers. He is actually very sweet and lovable once you get to know him.I have a friend who confided to me that she feels uncomfortable when she comes to my house because of this issue. She requested that I lock the dog in my bedroom while she is here and I told her that I thought that was unnecessary since he always calms down after the initial shock of visitors, but offered to leash him while she is here until she felt comfortable. I felt as thought that was a reasonable compromise, but she has told me that she will no longer attend gatherings at my house because of this and has even taken it a step further by saying that she is upset with me and feels as though I would choose a dog over our friendship.

My dog is not used to being confined and will consistently bark and scratch at the door until he is let out –which is the only reason I will not confine him. What should I do?

Diamond in the Ruff


Dear Diamond,

There are two issues here; your dog’s reaction to strangers in the house, and what it is doing to your relationships. Let’s take them one at a time.

There are two reasons why dogs in stable households challenge strangers: they’re either afraid or they haven’t been given boundaries to let them know which behaviors are unacceptable. I encourage you to find another trainer if the first one has been innefective, with the following caveat. If you don’t follow your trainer’s advice, do your homework, and be consistent with the techniques he/she teaches you, no trainer will be able to help. So find a trainer who can help, then do your part at home.

One thing you can tell visitors to do is a tip from Cesar Millan. When they enter the house, they should ignore the dog. No look, no touch, no talk, as Cesar says. Tell them that you’re retraining your dog and they can help by completely ignoring him until he quiets down. If you have a friend who is comfortable with dogs and willing to help, ask him to come over, ignore the dog until he calms down, then (without looking at him or talking to him), step into the dog’s space. This forces the dog to make way, which dogs in the wild will do for pack leaders. This helps to reinforce to your dog that all people outrank all dogs.

As far as your friend goes, I think she has a point. I once worked on a book project with an author who lived on a horse farm. She had a dog who nipped people’s heels. I’m a dog lover, but this frightened and annoyed me. And I never went back to her home again. Let me tell you what I would do if I were you.

I would get the dog a crate and get some great interactive toys that your dog can play with only when he’s in the crate. You can find some in the Home Alone department at When you let your dog out of the crate, pick up the toys and put them out of the dog’s reach. He only gets them when he’s in the crate. Practice this for 10 to 30 minutes every day for a couple of weeks, and your dog will be racing into that crate. Before a guest arrives or a pizza is delivered, put your dog in the crate. When the doorbell rings, put a peanut-butter-filled toy in the crate with your dog, then answer the door. If the bell rings before you can put your dog in the crate, you can say, “Just a minute” through the door while you put your dog in the crate. Practice this every time you order pizza or have anyone come to the house. This will help your dog to associate the doorbell with a VERY yummy treat.

You may be able to let your dog out when other people come to the house (and — with proper training — when your friend comes over). But do practice this crate/toy technique randomly when people come over. Soon, your dog won’t even care who’s at the door.



So now to problem number two. I think your friend has a point. I once worked on a book project with an author who lived on a horse ranch with a dog who bit people’s heels. I’m a dog person who’s owned large dogs all my life, but this behavior frightened and annoyed me. I never went back. Your friend doesn’t want to hear about how the dog isn’t happy in the other room. She wants to hear that it matters to you that she’s afraid or uncomfortable around your dog.

Other people don’t adore our fur kids like we do. All they see is the behavior the dog has around them. I have a large black dog who’s the sweetest thing in the whole world. She’d never hurt a fly. But I know she intimidates people. So I taught her to sit when pedestrians approach, to not bolt through the door at people when we open it, and to not bark at people. We should ask the dogs to accommodate humans, not the other way around.

Call your friend (don’t email her). Tell her you realize how your dog’s behavior affects her, and that you’re sorry you didn’t see how much it upset her before. Tell her you’re hiring another trainer to help with the problem, but meanwhile, you’ll crate the dog with a toy while she’s at your home. Then invite her over and do it. At the very least, reach out to her and invite her to get together at other locations so the dog is not an issue. Reassure her that you value your friendship. Friends are very important, and friendships must be cultivated.


Posted by on July 1, 2008 in Dog Etiquette


Outside Dogs Benefit No One

I believe the time has come to put an end to the outside dog.

Once upon a time, ours was a farming culture. We did not have fences, and dogs were working animals. Dog roamed their territory during the day, but stayed around their homes at night to provide an early warning system if any animal or person should approach.

It’s different now. We live on zero lots and in apartment buildings. We can’t let our dogs roam the neighborhood because there are a hundred ways they can cause damage or be hurt. So we keep them at home.

But many people still keep their dogs outside in the back yard. This mindset is a holdover whose time has passed.

People have a variety of reasons for keeping their dogs confined to the back yard. They have allergies. They don’t want dirt and dog hair on the carpet and furniture. They want the dog to provide protection. The dog pees in the house, so they keep it outside.

But let’s take a look at the dog’s needs for a moment. Dogs are pack animals. They need their pack, whether it be humans or other dogs. They’re social animals just like us. Dogs who are made to live in isolation in a yard are miserable. They bark, dig, run away and chew the deck down. Dogs need a social interaction. They need exercise. They need a change of scene, and mental stimulation, which is why walks are so good for them.

Making a dog stay outside is a costly waste, and — in my view — cruel. If you got a dog for protection, then bring the dog inside where it can protect your family and belongings. Dogs kept outside cause far more nuisance complaints from barking and escaping than any deterrent to intrusion. Dogs that annoy the neighbors are vulnerable to teasing, harm, theft and release. Locking a dog in a yard protects an intruder, not you. Most dogs will just run away if a gate is opened. Others are killed through the fence. Dogs who are tied are no threat to anyone who simply keeps out of their reach. They’ll bark, but outdoor dogs bark so much already that everyone ignores them.

Compare that to an indoor dog who barks like crazy or jumps up on the door or window that an intruder is attempting to get through and the effect is much different. A robber can’t hurt your indoor dog until the dog can hurt him. For most thieves, it’s not worth the risk. It’s easier to find a house where the dog is restrained outside or in the back yard, and out of the way. According to Dr. Dennis Fetko, Ph.D., yard dogs usually exhibit aggression, not protection. In this dog’s very small world, everyone who passes by or enters has already violated the territory that dog has marked dozens of times a day for years. That’s not protection, it’s not desirable and it overlooks the social contract. Property owners have an implied social contract with others in the community. Letter carriers, paper boys, delivery people, law enforcement, emergency medical personnel, meter readers and others are allowed near and at times on your property without your permission. Sure, that ten-year-old was not supposed to jump your fence after his ball, kite or Frisbee; but neither you nor your dog are allowed to cause him injury if he does.

If you have allergies to dogs, you need to find another home for the dog, or employ cleaning methods or flooring materials that allow you to live more comfortably with your dog. I’ve known couples who merge households only to discover that one of them is allergic to the other’s dog. But by replacing carpeting with hardwood or tile and replacing fabric sofas with leather, by teaching the dog not to enter certain rooms such as the bedroom, and teaching the dog not to get on the furniture, many of these allergies were reduced.

The truth is, the more you can control a dog’s environment, the more control you have over the dog itself. Indoor problems such as peeing and chewing are easier to solve than outdoor problems. When a dog is alone indoors, you are still an influence because your scent and personal areas are a reminder of you and your training.

If you keep your dog outside because it pees when it comes inside, then you need to learn how to train your dog not to pee and poop inside the house. Millions of homeowners do manage to teach dogs of all ages and breeds to go outside. There are lots of free resources on housebreaking and crate training that will have any dog housebroke in a couple of weeks. Likewise, there are plenty of low-cost ways to keep a dog occupied and busy so she won’t chew your sofa and cabinets to shreds. People who use behavior problems as an excuse for confining a dog in unnatural isolation in the yard are just abdicating their responsibility.

We’ve all heard countless stories about family dogs saving everyone during a fire. How many people would be dead today if those dogs were kept outside?

People who get dogs need companionship, protection and someone to care for. Our dogs need exercise, social interaction and something to do.

Bring your dogs in with the rest of the family, where they belong.

Special thanks to Dennis Fetko, Ph.D. (


Street Fouler Loses It — What Now?

Help! I live on a parkway with signs posted on either end to pick up after your dog. Today, while I was out washing my car, a regular offender walked by, letting both dogs leave a trail of doo doo. I am very unconfrontational, but I decided to address the situation. I said (very pleasantly) “Excuse me, but did you know you could be fined for not picking up after your dog?”

She kept walking, I said “Excuse me.” She started marching and I said, “Can you hear me?” Then she said, “I don’t have time for you.” I said “I don’t have time to clean up after your dogs.”

She started running away. I said, “How mature is that?” When she got far away, she started shrieking at the top of her lungs, didn’t understand a word she said but all I can think is, great! The first time I address this and I get a lunatic. Now I am worried she is nuts & may plan some sort of revenge and that I am stuck cleaning up after her dogs from now on. Any advice?

Friendly Reminder – Altadena, CA

Dear Friendly,

She was probably embarrassed when you told her to pick up after her dog and she didn’t handle it well. But believe me, she heard you. I once got a friendly reminder in my mailbox that said, “When we all keep our lawns mowed, it raises property values for everyone.” I was mortified, and for a few days, I wondered which one of my neighbors had left the note. But you knwo what? I kept my lawn mown, weeded, edged and the bushes trimmed after that. And now, it’s me looking at other lawns, thinking that the homeowners shouldn’t let them get so shaggy.

The point is that she may have handled the encounter badly, but she got the message. And since she has such a strong aversion to public reprimands, it’s unlikely that she continues to allow her dogs to foul the public areas (she’ll probably change her route and you won’t even see her again). But if she does, call your police department non-emergency line and ask them what the best way to proceed is. If she has a regular routine, tell them what time of day she normally walks her dog in your area, and describe her and her dog. The police normally have more important things to do than chase pickup law violators, but if it’s a slow day, they may send a car over. Or you could tell her she’s been reported (whether she has or not). That might put some sticking power on your point of view.

As far as retribution goes, I wouldn’t worry. Of course, if she threatens you or follows you or harasses you in any way, it would be a good idea to have a complaint on record with the police department in case she accelerates things.  Meanwhile, don’t feel bad about dealing nicely with things like this that affect the rest of us. We need social sanctions for unacceptable behavior because so some people simply don’t learn good manners at home. This is why clusters of giggling teenagers who race up and down the aisles and talk on their phones in the back movie theaters continue to disturb other patrons during movies. If more people would confront them, they wouldn’t do it. You were right to remind this woman (nicely) to pick up after her dog.

Got a question about dog etiquette? Send it here.


Posted by on June 8, 2007 in Dog Etiquette