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Petiquette Primer

pet behavior helpers

Sure, you love your dog or cat, but make sure your pals don’t have a panic attack every time they ring your doorbell. Here's how:

Prep your guests

Picture this situation: Your friend walks up to your front door, lifts her finger to ring the doorbell, and before she can even press the button, your 200-pound mastiff barrels his way down the hall straight toward her. For a split second, she thinks that he actually could come right through the door.

While Fido’s greeting is perfectly normal to you, your guests will be taken off guard, so you’ll need to warn them ahead of time about your pet’s personality. Find out if  your friends are comfortable with an animal that licks a lot or barks at new people.

Create a time-out zone

If your dog or cat is even the tiniest bit aggressive, fearful of strangers, or requires a lot of attention, don’t take any chances—put them in another room. You might feel sad that they’re missing out on all the action, but you’ll feel a whole lot worse if Frisky bites or scratches one of your guests. And if your friends’ kids are in tow? Fugghedaboudit.

To get your cat or dog used to their new “quiet time” area—whether it’s the bedroom or laundry room—confine them in there for an hour here and there in the days leading up to your dinner party or event. Provide toys and water, and play with them a bit so it doesn’t seem like a punishment. Her, your pet might even prefer this new spot.

Sidetrack your pet

A great bottle of Pinot Noir and stimulating conversation will keep your guests entertained. Meanwhile, your dog or cat has its own methods of entertainment and is most likely thinking, “Ooooh, some shiny patent leather shoes for me to chew on!” or, “Sniff, sniff, is that cheese?” or, “That lady looks really nice—I’m going to go lay my head in her crotch and stick my tail up her nose.”

That’s why you’ve got to give them toys that are way more exciting than all of the new people. For dogs, hold off on giving them dinner; instead, you can stuff chew toys like the Kong or Busy Buddy or even a hollowed-out bone (find these at petco.com, petnetdirect.com, or petedge.com) with some frozen kibble, peanut butter, or soft food. They’ll spend most of the night trying to dig their yummy treats out of their toys.

As for cats, they’re usually not quite as social and may actually prefer to be away from all of your guests. Take her into the bedroom, give her some catnip (if she’s into that), bring out toys that she only gets when guests are there, and turn on the TV.

Be the enforcer

Yeah, it’s real cute when your friend feeds your dog pieces of his filet mignon from the table. But it’s not so cute when, following the party, your pup goes all Oliver Twist on you, begging for food every time you sit down. Or your other friend might think it’s great to wrestle with your dog—then, two days later, while you’re doing a yoga DVD, Banjo decides it would be fun to jump on you and knock you over.

See, the “just this one time” concept is lost on your pooch. Once you start feeding the from the table or letting them jump up, they think, “Aweeeeeeesome!” and it’ll take additional training to break the habit and get them back on track.

Still, you don’t want to alienate friends who are just trying to have fun. And you do want your pet to have some fun too. So give your guests specific things to do with your pet that won’t trigger future bad behavior. For example, hint that the filet mignon stays on the table, but then hand guests some treats and have them practice a trick or two with your dog, whether it’s shake, roll over, or turn in place.

Nestperts: Andrea Arden, pet expert and professional dog trainer; Pam Johnson-Bennett, certified animal behavior consultant and author of Psycho Kitty.

See More: Pets , Training Camp