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Pet etiquette: How to be a better owner for your furry friends

Being a great pet owner is more than playing fetch and giving tummy rubs. Learn some basic pet etiquette to keep your animals healthy, happy and safe.

It’s official: Australia is an animal-loving nation. According to a nationwide survey by Animal Medicines Australia, almost two-thirds of households include a pet. By far the most popular pets are dogs (40%), followed by cats (27%).

You don’t have to look far to find the physical and mental benefits of owning a furry friend. As well as providing us with company and unconditional love, walking our pets and playing with them helps keep us active.

As pets go, dogs can be especially good for our mental health. Research reveals that simply patting a dog can reduce the level of cortisol – often called the stress hormone – in our bodies. And when people and dogs interact, they both release oxytocin, the hormone that helps us feel attached and happy.

While pets give us a lot in the way of wellbeing, it’s our job to care for them and their needs. Being a good pet parent is not just about looking after our animals at home, but also how we treat and train them to behave out in the world.

Here are some basic pet etiquette tips to help keep you and your pets healthy and happy.

Keep dogs on leads

Media vet Dr Katrina Warren says we need to be mindful of other people and dogs when we’re taking our pooches out for a walk. She recommends keeping even the best-behaved dog on a lead in public areas. The reason for this, says Katrina, is the safety and wellbeing of other people and dogs, and also that of our own pets.

“Cafes, playgrounds, on the street – anywhere there are other people and dogs around that isn’t a designated off-leash dog park – we need to keep our dogs on leads.

“If a dog approaches another dog too quickly, or runs at a reactive dog, it can be really dangerous. Equally, if I’m at a cafe with a hot coffee and a dog suddenly jumps up to ‘say hello’, it can end badly.”

For more help on how to leash train your pup check out this guide from the RSCPA.

Train your pooch

The surge in people becoming pet owners during the pandemic went hand-in-hand with a lack of access to puppy training schools. As a result, many new owners missed out on basic guidance to teach their pups essential life skills. Katrina says it’s important to take the time to train a new puppy before you let it loose in the local park.

“While a lot of people might think you need to let a puppy run in the park for an hour to tire it out, walking around the block and teaching a pup to sit, stay, and make eye contact with you will take just as much energy, and give your dog the skills it needs to stay safe.”

If your dog knows the basics, like coming back to you when called, this will help keep it safe in off-leash dog parks and near busy roads. Take the time to learn how to best train your new dog or speak to your local vet about puppy training classes.

Keep your cat indoors

From July 2022, the ACT Government is extending its ‘cat containment’ area to all suburbs, in an effort to protect cats and native wildlife. While Katrina knows that not all cat owners will agree on this topic, she recommends keeping your cats indoors and not allowing them to roam freely around the neighbourhood, whether during the day or night.

“Cats that roam have much shorter lifespans due to car accidents, catching diseases from other cats, and other injuries. Cats are also a real threat to our wildlife because they’re excellent hunters. It’s our responsibility to keep cats indoors where they’re safe, and they can’t cause harm to native animals.”

Keeping a cat happy indoors takes some effort, and Katrina recommends taking the time to create an enriching space for your feline.

“Give cats things to do. Climbing trees, scratching posts and interactive toys are all a great start.” The RSPCA also has some great resources and ideas for how to keep your cats happy at home.

If you have a garden or courtyard where you’d like your cat to be able to spend time, use a containment method such as Catnets. This way, cats can explore, chase insects and lie in the sun, without the risk of jumping the fence.

Steer clear of sticks

We all know dogs love to fetch sticks, but while it might look like a lot of fun, throwing a stick for your furry buddy could cause injuries and even death.

Katrina explains that when sticks splinter in a dog’s mouth, small pieces can be swallowed and may cause serious damage in the digestive tract. And dogs can even be impaled by sticks when running to catch them.

“It’s not uncommon,” says Katrina. “There are plenty of blunt-ended toys for dogs out there that are safe. If you’re choosing a ball, make sure it’s not small enough to be a choking hazard. If in doubt, go up a size.”

Ask your local pet shop about safe, durable toys for dogs, or check out KONG, AussieDog or LuckyPet for some great stick alternatives.

Be prepared for the poop

Let’s talk about poo. Have you noticed there’s a lot of it about?

“Thanks to the pandemic, there are more dogs in our neighbourhoods than ever before,” says Katrina. And with more of us working from home, our dogs are also getting more frequent walks.

Katrina reckons being caught out without a doggy bag is a good pet owner’s worst nightmare. She recalls having to rifle through bins for a bag, even improvising with a used coffee cup.

“Even if there are other people walking our dogs who don’t normally do it, or might not be happy about picking up after the dog, we all have to do it,” she says. “Attach a bag dispenser to the lead and remember to refill. And don’t forget to pick up after your dog at night. Just because it’s dark, we can still see it the next morning.”

Your local pet store and vets will often sell bag dispensers that attach to leads.

Words by Kerry McCarthy
First published December 2021

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