Walking etiquette

Recently, someone from rover.com approached me about writing an article on walking etiquette. (Rover.com is a new website for finding local pet care. After quizzing them on their protocol for emergencies, what they expect from the people they list, and checking out their customer service, I can honestly recommend them.)

Since walking etiquette is one of those things I assume everyone knows, but in fact, everyone doesn’t know, this seemed like a great idea! There are differing opinions on etiquette, and different expectations. I want my dogs to be welcome everywhere, so my expectation are high! If I’m out with my dogs or a client’s dogs, these are the etiquette rules I teach.

1 Dog-dog interactions

Unless your dog has perfect voice recall when off leash, don’t let it off leash. It’s great if your dog is friendly and comes running over to say hi to another dog (or person), but how friendly your dog is doesn’t matter if the other dog is aggressive or anxious (or the person is afraid of dogs). Your dog’s friendliness doesn’t transfer to that other dog, and in fact, may cause emotional and psychological trauma to a dog in a distressed state (or frightened human).

This is also true when your dog pulls to say hi to another dog. That other dog might not appreciate a visit, or might be working or training at that moment. If you do want to say hi, the most polite way to do so is to stop, ask your dog to sit, and ask the owner if it’s okay for them to meet. Now no one is invading anyone’s space, and you can find out if it’s a good idea! (See body language posts for whether or not that dog and your dog are being friendly and appropriate.) Dogs often assume other dogs are friendly, even when those other dogs aren’t.

If you have an aggressive dog, give way to other people. Most folks with aggressive dogs do this anyway, but it’s worth repeating! Step aside, try and get your dog to sit, and let people pass. (This will also help with your dog’s aggression.)

2. Dog-human manners

If you’re walking your dog past someone eating something, it’s also polite to catch your dog’s attention so it doesn’t catch their meal. At the very least, shorten up your leash and step away! People on benches and whatnot seem to especially appreciate knowing they’re not going to have a hound in their lap, after their ice cream!

When walking down crowded areas, also keep a short leash. Being unable to get around someone, or getting hamstrung by a dog, is no fun whatsoever.

Many people want to pet dogs, and I think that’s wonderful. Obviously, though, we don’t want our dogs to jump on them, if only to avoid fat lips! I ask my dogs to sit when someone wants to pet them, usually like this:

“Can I pet your dog?”
“Yes, after they sit! Sit, Doc!”

Now, let’s be realistic. As soon as they start petting Doc, he’s probably going to stand up in the hopes of a back/rump scratch. If I know he’s not going to jump, I may not care. If I’m worried about jumping, I probably want to sit him back down. I could tell the people to stop petting him, but generally speaking they don’t hear me; they’re too busy enjoying his wiggling. So instead, I just focus on Doc. I hold his collar (to keep him from jumping), and lift slightly up and back while pushing down on his butt. Usually, this gets him to sit again — at least for a second! I continue until the petting is over, and bit by bit, the dogs learn to stay seated, or at least stay calmer, when they get petted. Woo hoo!

Now, most people who engage with me want to pet my dog. But there are plenty of people out there who are afraid of dogs (or just afraid of my giant shepherd and two pit bulls), so I’ve also taught my dogs not to approach anyone until I tell them it’s all right. This keeps wayward tongues from greeting hanging hands as we wait in a crowd at a stoplight.

3. Dog-business manners

Finally, there are many businesses now that allow dogs. Yay! (And that list isn’t nearly comprehensive. Nordstrom’s, for instance, is also dog-friendly, and many bars, if they don’t serve food, will allow dogs.) I, personally, have a high expectation level for going into stores. I want my dogs to stay near me, preferably keeping fur and wet noses off the furniture/clothes, etc. I have a friend who is allergic to dog protein. This means that if a dog licks a shirt, and he later tries on that same shirt, he will break out in hives. Knowing this, I try and keep my dogs off and away from items that other people will be handling later!

I expect my dogs to keep four on the floor as we walk through, and not jump on things. I have a “if he pees on it or breaks it, I buy it” policy! I also want employees to be happy to see my dogs, rather than complain to management and have their dog policy reversed entirely.

4. Accidents happen

Everybody poops! And pees, for that matter. Obviously, if you’re out walking and your dog needs to potty, clean it up! If you’re on a sidewalk and it was a little soft, I try and take dirt from a planter and sprinkle it on top. This way, it’s covered until it dries out, and people are less likely to step in it and track it.

Here’s an embarrassing situation: early in Doc’s service dog training, he peed in Safeway. I was mortified. Instead of abandoning my cart and running out of the store, which I wanted to do, I placed my cart so no one would step in it, and went to find an employee with a mop. I apologized profusely, and offered to clean it up. (They cleaned it up, but the offer tends to make people more compassionate about the situation!)

If your dog messes up (or just messes!), admit it and make amends. This keeps everyone happy, even if we owners might be mortified.

There you go, my etiquette list! Have anything to add? Feel free!

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