Category Archives: Dog Etiquette

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

Food Aggression

I have two Chows.  One, whom I recently adopted, is a year old. My other Chow is three. They seem to get along great , until snacks are brought into the picture. The younger one  drops hers and goes for his almost instantly. She also likes to block him from food. This ends up in a brutal display of teeth and hair. They are both free feeders; I keep kibble out  for both of them at all times. Is this just a matter of seperating the food in different rooms, and giving them snacks seperately?

S. Brooks, Worcester MA

Dear S.

Your young female Chow is asserting her dominance over the male. One way in which dogs sort out the pecking order of any pack is by who eats first. The dominant dog always eats first. So, to be dominant in a new pack, your female is taking food from your other dog and keeping him away from the food.

I would definitely not feed them free-choice. This is not the most natural way for dogs to eat. They are predators who — in their natural state — hunt and feed, then don’t eat for a while. So two feedings a day, 12 hours apart, should help both their digestion and the food aggression problem. There are a couple of things you can do to minimize the competition for food.

First, watch how Cesar Millan, The Dog Whisperer, deals with food aggression. He asserts himself as the alpha dog by claiming the food. He puts down a dish of food, then stands over it, keeping the dogs from getting to it until they accept that they cannot get to it, at which point they usually lie down or sit calmly. Your female might be dominant over the male, but she must not be dominant over you. She must give way when you want to claim the food. This is a good thing to practice at every mealtime and snacktime.

If you have a helper, you can put both dogs on leashes at mealtimes, tell them to sit, put the food on the floor, then make them wait for your command before they eat. Keep them on leash while they eat, and leave them alone as long as everything’s going well. If the female begins to look at the male’s food, give her a firm correction on the leash and a vocal reprimand (one word or sound). Do this at the first sign that she’s thinking about going after the male. After a while, you can remove the leashes and maintain control with your voice.

If you don’t havea helper, you can also feed them in crates to minimize squabbling. But this does not teach the dogs to behave. It’s like putting the cookie jar out of reach of a child rather than teaching the child not to get into it. Your dogs may be boarded together some day, and have to eat side-by-side. So it’s always better to teach them good manners than put up physical barriers. Either way, this behavior should not be tolerated. If you do nothing, it’s the same — in your dog’s eyes — as approving of the behavior.


Posted by on March 26, 2007 in Dog Etiquette


Dog Guest at Christmas

Every Christmas our family gets together at our house for dinner and to exchange gifts. We have an older cat and our niece has a small dog. She brings the dog to our house every year, fully knowing that it is not welcome. Is it good etiquette that they should leave their dog home since we have a cat plus the dog is just not welcome ?

G., New York

Dear G.,

I assume that the dog presents a problem for the cat (chasing, barking, etc.). I agree that she should not bring the dog if she knows that he’s not welcome. Has anyone actually told her that it just doesn’t work out, or is everyone relying on common sense and hints? Clarity is a good thing, and even a difficult conversation can be handled with compassion and affection. I had to have a similar conversation with a relative whose dog marked my house when he came over (although he was perfectly housebroken at home). I asked for her help in solving the problem and we worked it out with a minimum of hurt feelings.  It could be too late to do anything about it this year since the boarding kennels are already booked (although she might be able to get a pet sitter to come to the house). Does she travel from out of town? If not, perhaps the dog would be okay at home alone for 5 hours or so. If the dog can be left home alone while she’s a work, it should be no problem to leave him home for a similar length of time for Christmas. 

If that’s not a solution, perhaps confining the dog during Christmas dinner and gift exchange with a baby gate, or putting him in another room, would be a temporary solution. You might also consider putting the cat in another room. You may think it’s not fair to confine the cat, who lives there. But actually, cats often prefer a quiet, private room when there’s more activity and people in the house than normal.  

In the end, I think if my uncle told me that the cat doesn’t handle my dog’s visits very well and then set up an area outside or in the garage for him to be when he visited, I’d end up making other arrangements without drama or resentment. Here’s a question to consider: If you didn’t have the cat (and someday you won’t), would the dog be welcome? Is part of the reason you wish she wouldn’t bring him because he’s noisy or destructive or distracting?  That’s perfectly legitimate and if it’s the case, you might want to just bring it up now and save yourself some awkwardness in the future if the issue comes up again.

Got a question about dog etiquette? Send it here.


Posted by on December 18, 2006 in Dog Etiquette


Groomer is hit and miss

I take our two dogs to a groomer who used to be very good. But now his business has grown, he’s hired some inexperienced help, and the dogs aren’t coming home as nice as they used to. They’ve had scabs on their bellies from the clippers, and the male had a nail cut too short and was limping for a day. This never happened when our regular groomer took care of them.  I’m ready to find another groomer over this, but what I really want is to have the dogs done the way he used to do them.  I just don’t know if I could tell him that. Should I? Or should I just find someone else? – V.

Dear V.,

It’s important to trust the people who work on your dogs. Not only do you have a right to mention the drop in quality to your groomer, but he very well may appreciate the feedback because it concerns the future of his business. Experienced groomers are expensive, so many shops hire inexperienced groomers as their demand grows. However, business soon begins to fall off as dissatisfied customers take their business elsewhere. The shop owner may never know that it’s because of the groomers he hired. Actually, if you like this groomer, you’d be doing him a favor by letting him know. He may be wondering.

Now, back to your dogs. You have several choices. The very best way to handle a complaint is to mention it when you pick up the dogs. Examine the dogs thoroughly at the groomer’s shop, and point out any unsatisfactory grooming or injuries that you find. As with most etiquette issues, sooner is better than later, and face-to-face is best. 

You could request that the shop owner be the only one to work on your dogs. If he still grooms, he should be accommdating.  If not, ask friends for referrals. The dog park is a great way to get referrals. Call a breed club to find out who their members like. Even if your dog is a mix, finding a groomer who does similar breeds could be your solution.

Be aware that finding another groomer may mean that you’ll pay more. Good groomers can and should charge more for the superior service they provide. This is probably why salon owners often go the cheaper route. But in my experience, dog owners don’t balk at price tags as much as they balk at badly done grooming jobs. Once you find a good groomer, expect annual increases to keep up with inflation. The price of everything goes up; rent, shampoos, insurance, equipment, utilities, etc. I know some dog owners who left a groomer because she raised her prices, and now they’re bouncing from groomer to groomer trying to find someone as good, too embarrassed to go back.

The main thing is, if you like this groomer and how he used to groom your dogs, you’d be doing both of you a favor by pointing out what’s driving a faithful customer away. And of course, do this face to face. It’s always better to have an difficult discussion with someone in a two-way format. Taking to him by phone would be a distant second choice, but do not tell him by email or leave a message with someone else.  We often tell ourselves that we “can’t face” someone with an awkward conversation, but to do otherwise is cowardly and less effective, so put on your big girl panties and face him. You’ll be glad you did.

Got a question about dog etiquette? Send it here.


Posted by on September 25, 2006 in Dog Etiquette


Smelly Yard

What do I do about the smell of my neighbor’s seven dogs’ feces? It is getting so bad. We live in town and we don’t even want to be in our back yard.  I have a child daycare and we have to go outside every day.  I have spoken with my neighbor but she does nothing about it. – S.

Dear S.,

This isn’t just a nuisance, it’s a health issue. I would urge you to have another talk with your neighbor. Mention the new yard pickup services that are springing up all over. For about $15 per week, they’ll come and pick up all the yard waste. Or a neighborhood kid might do it for even less. There’s also the Doggie Dooley, a small septic tank for dog waste that your neighbor can install in her yard.

During this talk, you might tactfully mention that the smell impacts several neighbors, your home values, your health and the health of her own dogs. Try to keep the talk reassuring and friendly, because if you lock horns with her, her attitude may change from indifferent to stubbornly refusing. Say something like, “I’m sure we can work something out without having to involved the board of health,” or “There’s going to come a point where one of our neighbors involves the city, but I think we can clear this up without involving them.”

Unfortunately, someone who never picks up the yard in spite of the smell is probably not going to invest in a service or product that will help the problem. It sounds to me like she doesn’t think there is a problem, and so won’t be inclined to do anything to fix it. In that case, you’ve given her fair warning, so it’s time to ask for help from others.

First, find out if your Home Owners’ Association has any bylaws concerning odor, cleanliness of yards, or the number of pets permitted to live in a house (the maximum in my county is four dogs, or six pets total). You might want to be sure there are no restrictions concerning in-home child care; I’d hate for you to get cited when you’re trying to solve a problem from next door. The odor emanating from her yard brings down the home values and makes it hard to sell a house on your block, so maybe a petition of neighbors would have some persuasive power, too.

If you don’t have an HOA, check with the city. There may be ordinances and health codes that would require your neighbor to keep the yard clean and in sanitary condition. You might also contact the animal health authorities, since her own seven dogs live in unsanitary conditions that might warrant a seizure of the animals from the home.

If the problem does not get solved by the HOA, city or county, you may have to consider that this is something you’ll have to live with, or move.

Got a question about dog etiquette? Send it here.


Posted by on September 8, 2006 in Dog Etiquette


Doesn’t Want Mother-in-Law to Dog-Sit

I have a wonderful relationship with my husband’s parents. My mother-in-law offered to dog-sit for us when we went on a last-minute, 10-day Christmas trip becaused the kennels and dog sitters were all booked. We delivered the dogs to her house with their food, toys, snacks and bed. We checked in by phone twice while we were gone and she mentioned she was feeding them the same food her own dog eats, and giving them table scraps, and “spoiling my granddogs.”

When we picked up the dogs, they had red, irritated areas on their skin, they had gained weight noticeably (in 10 days), and they had picked up two bad habits: begging and snatching at our food, which they had never done before. They refused to eat their own food for two days after we got home (a premium food that we think is superior to the grocery-store brand my mother-in-law feeds).

We got them back to health and didn’t say much about it to my mother-in-law, because she was so nice to take our two dogs for that long on short notice. Now we’re planning another vacation in October and she’s offering to dog-sit again. I’ve told her we’ll just board them at the kennel, but she insists that’s a waste of money and keeps urging us to leave them with her.

How can I make it clear to her that we’d rather not without hurting her feelings for her past generosity?
G.L., Garland, TX

Dear G.L.,
Your mother-in-law was generous in offering to take care of your dogs before, and now, and you’re right to be considerate of her feelings and grateful for her help in the past.

The most direct way to handle this is to have a sit-down with your mother-in-law (with your husband present to show his support). Tell her that you’re very thankful that she was able to help you out before, and that you could not have gone on your Christmas trip if it had not been for her. 

I assume you retrained your dogs to mind their manners since they returned home, so don’t mention the bad habits they picked up. Instead, focus on the dietary requirements of your dogs. Separation, a new routine and a new home (even a temporary one) can lead to digestive distress, so the problem may not have been entirely your mother-in-law’s fault. However, the weight gain probably was. If you’re boarding your dog at the vet, tell her you’d feel better if a veterinarian kept an eye on their digestive distress while you’re gone.

However, there’s another way to approach it. Why not give your dogs a vacation, too? Make reservations at a dog spa/day care center. While you’re gone, the dogs will be able to interact daily with other dogs during group playtime. Some of the fancier pet hotels include petting time, reading time, snack time and other extras designed to make dogs feel good and have fun. At the end of the week, the pups can have a day of pampering with a bath, brushout, nail and teeth treatment and a trim, and go home to you refreshed and renewed.

If you go this route, tell your mother-in-law that you’d like to take the opportunity to give your dogs a vacation with playtime in which they can work on social skills, supervised by professionals, plus a spa day for each. You might also mention to her that that there are a lot of couples out there whose in-laws don’t have the slightest interest in their dogs, don’t welcome the dogs into their homes, want the dogs locked in another room when they come over, and basically don’t want to have anything to do with them. Let her know that you recognize that you’re lucky to have a mother-in-law who’s dying to have the “granddogs” over to spoil them. Then make a date to meet her and her dog at the local dog park or dog beach for a playdate.
Got a question about dog etiquette? Send it here.


Posted by on August 26, 2006 in Dog Etiquette


Neighbor’s Dog Poops in My Yard

One of my neighbors lets his dog poop in my yard almost every day. He has a medium-sized mix, so these land mines are somewhat sizable. I’m not a dog hater (I have two of my own) but I wish he wouldn’t let his dog “go” on my grass. How do I raise this topic without alienating one of my neighbors?
B.C., Carlsbad, CA

Dear B.C.

Most dog owners these days know to pick up after their dogs, whether they’re at the park, on the sidewalk or anywhere else. But there are still some who think that leaving land mines outdoors is okay.

You could try a sign in your yard. I’ve seen one that’s made of wrought iron that is very attractive and small. If you can’t find one like that, perhaps a small sign like the real estate agents place beside the road would do the trick. Be sure the wording is tactful. You might even use humor to deflect any hurt feelings. Say something like, “We love ’em too, but we don’t want ‘piles’ in our yard. Please pick up after your dog.” Or try, “Pick up after your dog, please. It’s only human.” Something that your other neighbors won’t mind seeing every day.

If you don’t want a yard sign (or if that doesn’t get the point across), you might want to have a friendly chat with your neighbor. One friend of mind with a similar situation was able to get a neighbor to stop letting her dogs pee on her grass (it was turning her yard yellow) by getting to know the offender. She’s be sure to be outside getting her mail or pulling weeds as the woman walked by. She would greet the woman, stop to pat the dog, and talk about the weather or the neighborhood or traffic … something they both shared. As they got to know each other, the neighbor stopped letting her dogs make their stop at that particular yard.

If your neighbor is more of a hard case than that (or if you don’t want to invest the time needed for that approach), perhaps a more direct chat would be in order. Greet your neighbor, compliment the dog, then say something like, “I’m trying to keep my lawn in better condition, and I’m training my own dogs not to go on the front lawn. If you could keep your dog from going on my lawn, it would be a big help.”

Your homeowner’s association may be willing to remind everyone of city ordinances concerning picking up after dogs, or even write a letter to the neighbor directly.

Of course, the coward’s way out is to leave an annonymous note at the neighbor’s house stating that dog owners are expected to clean up after their pets. I once got an anonymous note in my mailbox when my grass was pretty shaggy. The note mentioned that neglected lawns bring down everyone’s home values. I was horrified, but my lawn has been mown, walkways edged and bushes clipped ever since. (By the way, don’t put anything in someone’s mailbox; it’s illegal.)

Got a question about dog etiquette? Send it here.


Posted by on August 21, 2006 in Dog Etiquette


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How to Keep Dog from Jumping on Kids

I walk my dog through our community of 100+ homes, many of which have children under 12. My dog is big and shaggy and lovable, and kids always want to pat him. The problem is that he jumps on kids. I don’t want to scare them or hurt them (liability is an issue here, too). I’m working with Peabody on training him not to jump on people, but in the mean time, is there a tactful way to warn kids that he jumps?
R.H., Salt Lake City, UT

Dear R.H.,

I’m glad you’re getting the jumping under control. Those of us who allowed our large-breed pups to jump on us when they were little often find it more difficult to deal with this problem when they’re not so little. The fastest way to deal with a dog who jumps on people is to involve a professional trainer. Then, anytime you run into someone during a walk, consider it a training opportunity. Be prepared to spend some time working on this issue with your dog in the beginning. As he realizes that jumping is not acceptable, you’ll have fewer instances of it and will be able to cover more ground on your walks.

Meanwhile, here’s an idea that may help you. Involve the kids in Peabody’s retraining. As children approach you, say something like, “I wonder if you would help me train my dog not to jump on people.” Almost any child will eagerly agree. Any who are afraid of dogs will likely back off. Ask the children to stand with their hands at their sides until Peabody is in a proper sit before they pet him. Make it a game. Their positive reinforcement is good for the dog. You’re also 1) warning the kids that he jumps and 2) teaching them a little bit about dog behavior and training. You might even consider getting Peabody a vest or t-shirt that says “dog in training” to help communicate to people that it’s not helpful for them to rush up to him and pat him.

A dog who is otherwise well-behaved should be able to break this habit in a couple of weeks at the most … if you have the help of a professional trainer.

Got a question about dog etiquette? Send it here.


Posted by on August 20, 2006 in Dog Etiquette