Recently it has come to my attention that most people have no idea how to be in an environment with pets. I have unique pets. “My pets are unique too!” you say. Yes, all pets are unique, so I should say; I have pets with unique sets of issues. We have two dogs, both rescued from local foster groups, both with pretty extreme stranger anxiety.
Stranger anxiety isn’t just a rescue dog thing; most cats have stranger anxiety too, as do many purebred-bought-from-a-breeder dogs. You can never be sure how pets will feel about strangers; some might jump up and lick your face, others will cower in the corner, some might hiss and bite you. So here are a few tips for walking into a house with pets:
- When you enter my house one of my dogs is going to be a barking, howling, hair-raised little mess. Let me invite you in, then wait by the door. Don’t try to talk over him, or yell questions at me, or ask if you should wait outside. Give me a fucking minute to calm him or put him in a place where he feels safe.
- Do not try to approach pets when they are clearly terrified of you. “I’m great with pets!” you’ll say as you run toward my cowering dog. Maybe you are, but it’s really not about you, it’s about how my cat or dog feels around strangers. You’ll be really good with pets until you get your goddamn hand bitten off for being an idiot.
- Ignore them. Don’t shush them or try to pet them, just go on about your business whether that’s fixing the washing machine or making yourself a drink because you’re here for a dinner party.
- Don’t yell. Let’s pretend my dog is a sleeping baby. Would you yell if I were holding a sleeping baby?
- Don’t pop around doors or be otherwise sneaky. This is a scary thing that robbers and other bad people do. This is not a fun game. You are a stranger and no one wants to play peek-a-boo with a stranger.
- Don’t be that guy at a party who thinks he’s the dog whisperer. If the dogs are separated during a party, there’s a reason for it. If the cat is hiding under the bed it’s because she’s scared. Leave her alone.
- Don’t bring your pet over unless you’ve asked first. Some pets are totally cool with humans but totally uncool with other pets. Some pets are totally cool with other pets in public spaces but get all, “you’re in my house now, bitch” (see what I did there?) when pets come into their territory.
- Call or text before you’re coming over. After an experience with a landlord who liked to peer in the window and let himself in (illegal and also not appreciated), and maintenance workers using their own keys to access the house we’re leasing, I’ve realized how much I appreciate having the time to get the dogs settled before a stranger comes in.
- Understand that you’re still a stranger even if you’ve met my pets once or twice, or came over a bunch of times several years ago.
Try to keep in mind that they aren't just being asshole dogs for the sake of being asshole dogs. Your presence is stressing them out for a variety of reasons. Basically just think about what you would do if you met a strange human; you’d likely not run up to them, or yell. You’d be cautious, ignore them or let someone else introduce you.