The Etiquette of Having/Seeing a Dog



“It wouldn’t be fair” was the constant refrain about dogs I heard when I was a kid. I grew up in an apartment, with cats, and the prospect of getting a dog just seemed insane. With cats, you can fill up a bowl of food and pretty much let them take care of themselves. With dogs you have to walk them, groom them, train them, come home every day right from work to make sure they’re ok instead of going out with friends, etc. They’re work!

Ahh but what work to have a dog, where his widdle face would jump up and lick yours at the end of the day and the widdle tail wagging and oh my god, I want a dog. I can’t have a dog, because I have two cats and a busy social life and no yard for anyone to run around in and that is just fine. But, like with children, I do live in a world with many dogs and notice some things that both dog owners and dog admirers can do to make the world a better place.

When the dog is yours

  • Think about where you live– My upstairs neighbors (in Queens) had a dog for a little bit. It was a part-beagle mutt that they got from a shelter, and though he was the most adorable thing, eventually they had to give him back. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with beagles, but they are NOT CITY DOGS. They are hounds! All they want to do is howl and hunt and run, which is very difficult to provide if you live in a 1,000 sq./ft. apartment and have a full time job.  In that same vein, think about your neighbors. If you live in close quarters they will most likely be hearing your dog yelp at 3am just as much as you are.
  • For fuck’s sake clean up after your dog– This should not need to be said but oh my god does it need to be said. Cleaning up after your dog means bringing enough bags to pick up its poop, picking up its poop, and throwing away its poop. And maybe if it’s a super messy poop bringing a bottle of water to rinse off the sidewalk. No saying you forgot bags. No putting the poop in the bag and then leaving it next to a tree (happens all the time in my neighborhood). No walking away and pretending it’s not there. If you cannot do this you should not own a dog. Period. (Obviously this is for city/suburban living. If you have a farm where you dog just runs around and does its thing, awesome, you need not worry.)
  • Some minor training is nice– There are many people in this world who are afraid of dogs and will be very uncomfortable if your dog jumps on or barks at them, no matter now much you know Fifi just wants to play. This can be more difficult depending on the dog you have (I assume young dogs are easier to train than older/abused dogs), but make an effort to make sure your dog knows how to sit. This also means knowing your dog and its limitations. Does your dog have an aggressive history? Don’t let it off the leash unless you’re 100% positive it can’t attack.
  • Not everyone is going to love your dog- As I said before, some people are afraid of dogs, or perhaps they’re allergic to dogs or just don’t like dogs. This is not a judgment on you for owning a dog, but perhaps they are not going to want to come over if they know you have a dog around. Offer alternatives for get-togethers, or train your dog to be ok for a few hours in the bedroom with the door closed.

When the dog is not yours

  • Do not pet dogs without the owner’s permission– Unless you’re sitting in a park and an unleashed dog runs up to you and jumps on you, you should always ask before petting a dog. There are a few reasons for this. One is that it’s just rude to start talking to a dog when the person in charge of it is right there. The second is that the dog may have some personal issues. Many rescued dogs have anxiety or aggression problems, and their owners may be trying to socialize them gradually. The Yellow Dog Project attempts to get owners with dogs like this to tie yellow ribbons to their dogs’ leashes, so if you see a yellow bow on a leash, definitely do not touch the dog.
  • Get to know the dogs in your neighborhood– Our friend David Shiffman mentions that his neighbors always say “good boy” when his dog, Magnolia, is wearing a pink bow and collar and is clearly a girl. We’ll save my very valid argument about GENDER NORMS for another day, but if someone has told you their dog’s name and gender, try to remember it.
  • Never pet a service dog– Service dogs are not so much pets as employed companions. Teeny weeny adorable companions in itsy vests, sure, but they are on the job! You would not pet a nurse pushing someone in a wheelchair, would you? No. Then don’t pet a service dog.

And always remember…