Pets are the best (they can spike our happiness hormones! Lower our blood pressure!)… except when you're stuck in an elevator with a crotch-sniffing retriever, or your cat mauls your perfectly nice date. Read on for a good-manners guide to how we should behave when those (licking, growling, shedding, peeing) "furkids" don't.
You see a stranger not doing his pooper-scooper duty.
Eew, what's that sm— Oh, it's your shoes! "This is a real public health concern," says veterinarian Jessica Vogelsang, author of All Dogs Go to Kevin. Dog poop can contain parasitic bugs like roundworm, which you might track into your home, or it can get washed into storm drains, polluting lakes and rivers. Still, give that owner the benefit of the doubt. "Say, 'Hi! You probably didn't notice — your dog pooped,'" she says. Then offer a bag if you have one.
A neighbor's retriever makes a beeline for your crotch.
First, a little Dog 101: They learn about the world through smells, and let's just say that this area's the money spot. If you'd just bend down and let him sniff your behind, it probably wouldn't be an issue! Since that's not an option, turn sideways to the dog, then make a fist (safer for fingers!) and hold it out so the pup has something else to sniff, advises Stephen Zawistowski, PhD, an adjunct professor of animal behavior at Hunter College. If you want to make friends, pet him on the side of his face or under his chin, which is a less threatening gesture than going for the top of his head. Boom — you'll be his new favorite person without having to do that weird dance around his snuffly snout.
Your friend insists on showing you so many photos of her cat's emotional states.
If you don't appear interested, your friend might feel rejected. Pets = children for some people. (Many even have their own social media accounts, #petobsession.) After you've cooed and said "What a cutie!" a few times, you've done your good-friend duty; bring up the latest election news or ask her for advice on a work conundrum. Monopolizing the convo about anything is rude; it's her turn to listen.
You want to stay with your cat-happy friend, but you're allergic. Can you ask her to vacuum before your visit?
Cat owners know they've got achoo-inducing furballs on their hands. So ideally the exchange would go like this, says Amy Dickinson, who writes the syndicated advice column "Ask Amy": "The guest says, 'I'm allergic to Muffin but I can usually handle it if there isn't too much dander. I don't want to cause you more work, but an extra pass with the vacuum can usually help a lot.' Then the host will hop in and do everything possible to make a clean space for the guest." You can also try limiting how much time you spend at her house. Either way, know that even the most fastidious cat owner may have trouble removing all of the allergens from her home. So be sure to pop a 24-hour allergy med at least 12 hours before you arrive, recommends Becker, and wash your hands often so you don't pick up allergens and then touch your face.
You're grieving over a pet; everyone is taking it lightly.
"At least you had 10 years with him.…" "Well, it's not like your sister died.… " "Time to get another cat!" Ouch. Some friends may not understand how much the death of a beloved animal hurts. "It can be one of the hardest things we go through, because pets give us uncomplicated, unconditional love," says veterinarian Marty Becker, author of The Healing Power of Pets. Some people also feel uneasy with dark emotions and may not know how to respond. Help them out by saying, "I know this is my own pain, but I would feel less alone with it if you listened to how I'm feeling." Still not finding much support? Reach out to a fellow pet owner who gets it.
Your friend likes PDA — with her teacup poodle.
For the record, it's a myth that dogs' mouths are cleaner than humans. Think about it: Do you lick your butt? Because butt licking is their favorite hobby. "I tell people time and time again not to let their pets lick them on the mouth because of the risk of diseases like parasites — but when I come home from a trip, I give my dogs kisses," Becker admits. Your friend is taking a small risk by, say, letting her pup lick syrup off her at brunch. It's probably not what you want to watch when digging into pancakes, so go ahead and make jokes: "Get a room, you two!" But, says Becker, a dog kisser is most likely a dog kisser for life.
Your friend wants your kid to meet her pet snake.
People who own snakes, turtles, and lizards would like the rest of us to feel more comfortable around them, says Becker. But reptiles and amphibians, like frogs, may carry salmonella, which can make you seriously sick, according to the Centers for Disease Control. This is especially dangerous for older adults, kids under age 5, and the immuno compromised. So if your kids are young and you're visiting someone with scaly critters, says Becker, tell her in advance that your pediatrician says they can look but not touch.
Your normally nice dog seems to hate one of your friends. (Why else would she follow him around, yipping and snarling?)
It's possible that your friend is animal-wary, and your dog picks up on that. "Dogs can read body language, posture, and facial expressions and may sense if people are uncomfortable," says Zawistowski. (This random hostility can happen with cats, as well, he adds: "In some cases a cat will hiss because the other person has one too, and its scent is on her clothes.") Put your pup in another room if you can, and don't get all defensive if your friend is (understandably) freaked out. "We can sometimes be blind to the behavior of our pets. When a good friend tells you there are problems, it's often true," says Zawistowski. Instead of shutting down the idea that your little angel may need extra training, take it seriously — pets can and should be a pleasant part of peoples' visits.
This story originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.
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