By: Chryssa Rich
Pets Best Insurance Marketing Associate
Before I returned to my hometown about three years ago, I moved every 18 months or so, cats in tow. There was never a shortage of new people for my cats to meet. Luisa always did well, but her daughter Monica, a shy orange tabby, is typically afraid of new people. My dad commented that in a week of cat-sitting, he didn’t see her once. This type of fear and anxiety in a pet isn’t good for pet health or the overall happiness of a home.
Adding to the mix, I adopted my dog last spring. She’s presented a new set of issues when it comes to meeting new people, namely fear-based aggression. If anything she’s helped me understand and develop numerous dog health care and behavioral tactics.
The following tips have helped us welcome new people into our lives, and they just might help you too:
1. Stay calm and act natural
Before someone comes over, many of us tend to rush around the house cleaning with weird-smelling chemicals and big scary vacuums. This behavior sends the message that something new is about to happen and it can create anxiety. Keep your routine as normal as possible before your guests arrive to ensure pet health and happiness.
2. Don’t tolerate aggressive behavior
If you’re dealing with a dog, under no circumstances should you accept aggressive behavior. Growling, barking, lunging and jumping up are all dominance behaviors dogs can show. You may need to keep Fido on-leash at first to ensure a calm, happy meeting. If that doesn’t work, keep him in a crate or in another room, and only let him out when he’s quiet.
Special note for owners of small dogs: Resist the urge to pick up your dog when it growls, barks, lunges or jumps. This rewards the behavior with your attention and tells your little dog that it’s okay to behave aggressively. Instead, invest in a tiny prong collar or harness and leash, and use the same obedience commands you’d use with a large dog. This may seem mean to the average person, but asserting your dominance as pack leader will garner respect from your dog and guarantee proper dog health care and obedience.
3. Let the pet decide when to say hi
If your pet prefers to hide when someone new arrives, let her. Once your friend has arrived and settled in, see if you can coax your pet to come out using a soothing voice and maybe a treat or a favorite toy.
4. Use lots of praise
If I sit and chat with a new friend, my scaredy-cat Monica will usually come out from hiding within a few minutes. As long as I praise her and pet her, she’ll stick around. Most pets have amazing memories and will remember friends when they come back next time. So, if someone comes to visit and your pet doesn’t hide, recognize the progress and use lots of praise.
5. Keep treats by the front door
This works especially well for dogs. Keep a few treats near the front door, and if a guest is willing, ask him or her to tell your dog to sit before accepting the treat. This way, your dog has something to focus on (the “sit” command) and will be rewarded by the new friend. Having positive activities to focus on can prevent the nervous growling and barking seen in some dogs.