MiamiAngel recently requested that I talk a bit about dog etiquette. She related the following story:

My friend Jennifer has a 2-3 pound poodle she takes everywhere … during our formal Christmas dinner with other guests she placed him in her purse/dog bag at the dinner table! I never allow my dog to sit at table, especially with guests. My dog wanted to then sit on the chair, and when I scolded her, she peed on the sofa! She was upset and protesting but I did not punish her. I was to blame. I know I should have told my friend house rules for dogs.

It's put a strain on our friendship. Since she got the dog she won't go out to any restaurants unless it's outdoors and she can bring the dog.

I certainly do not claim any expertise in etiquette, but I’ll tackle the subject for two reasons.

  1. The scenario described above falls at least as much under the heading of common sense as it does etiquette.
  2. Although I’m sure Jennifer has her dog’s best interests at heart, I don’t think she is doing him any favors by encouraging him to be so dependent on her.

We animal lovers need to remember that our feelings towards pets are not universal, and we need to respect other people’s feelings in that regard. Individuals may have perfectly good reasons for disliking or being scared of certain types of animals, or not wanting to interact with them under particular conditions.

I wrote a book on caring for lizards a few years back. When I talked about bringing lizards out into the community, I said that I think the general public has the right not to be confronted by a potentially "scary" pet where a person would not expect to find one. While this may seem like an extreme example, seating a poodle at the dinner table is not really all that different for many people. So by all means, bring your dog, cat, or iguana to places where they are welcome, but if you are unsure of the situation, ask first.

MiamiAngel asked for a book recommendation on dog etiquette. While I haven’t read the whole thing, I did skim through Miss Fido Manners Complete Book Of Dog Etiquette: The Definitive Guide to Manners for Pets and Their People, by Charlotte Reed. I certainly liked how chapter one started:

My mother believed in home training. She always said, "Good manners are learned at home." Mrs. Reed instilled in her children the knowledge that although making a favorable impression is something you have the opportunity to do only once, it is something that is done over and over again, everywhere you go. The same lesson can be applied to life with your pet.

And while dogs generally love to spend as much time as possible with their human family members, they do need to learn to be by themselves. One of the most vital lessons we can teach our animal companions is that although we may have to be apart from time to time, we will always come home to them.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Susan Schmitz / via Shutterstock