Introducing your pet to strangers
We all love social occasions, meeting friends and family for a get together but so often we overlook how our pets might react. It can be quite traumatic for the pets that share our lives to meet new people with all the strange voices and smells!
It is a sad fact of life that not everyone likes animals. Some just have a dislike of either cats or dogs, some even have a deep rooted fear. Your pet will be able to pick up these feelings quite easily and will become tense and wary themselves. This might even lead to poor behaviour, such as growling, barking, jumping up or even being snappy. So how can we make it as easy as possible for them and for the new people they meet.
If you get your new pet as a puppy or a kitten always get them to socialise with all visitors to your house as much as possible. However, don't allow boisterous play! Instead, ask any visitors to your home to be gentle with your new pet, just stroking and scratching ears, etc. Don't allow your pet (especially dogs) to become excited as they will become excited every time someone new comes to the house. Instead, teach them that it is acceptable to greet every new visitor in a calm way and, as they grow, continue to ask them to greet visitors in this way.
For a visitor, especially a child, there is nothing worse than having a barking dog rush at them as soon as you open the front door, it's often where a phobia are born! Much better to have a happy calm dog, wagging his tail! First of all, we need to remember that your dog considers your home as his territory and as such he will protect it. When the doorbell goes, his natural reaction will be to bark and rush towards the front door. It is very important, both for the person on the other side and for your dog to realise that there is no threat. Make sure that you go to the door calmly and slowly, talking softly to your dog and reassuring him. Before opening the door, make him calm down, say 'no' firmly if he barks and when he stops barking give him a treat. When you open the door, make sure that you use a soft voice to greet your visitor, this will put your dog at ease too. Letting him assess the situation will help him to calm down further. The important thing to remember is that your visitor must not approach the dog until you feel he is ready to accept contact with the stranger. Your dog will indicate this by wagging his tail or coming forward himself to greet the stranger. It is now very important that the strange visitor allows soft contact. Do not allow them to be enthusiastic as this may alarm the dog. Instead ask the visitor to put their hand down, palm side down, so that the dog can come forward and sniff their hand. This shows the dog that your visitor is not a threat and he will relax, as will you! Once your dog is comfortable a stroke and a scratch behind the ear should be acceptable to them. Just remember, some dogs are confident and will accept a stranger reasonably quickly, others may take longer, maybe even a few visits before they become accustomed to a new person.
Cats can also be wary of strangers and if you know your cat will react in this way make sure they have a 'safe' place they can go and curl up in when visitors are expected. Wariness usually happens because they have not been socialised with people when they are kittens. However, as with humans, cats have personalities too and can still be nervous with strangers even if they are comfortable with you. Over time they may become used to the sound of someone's voice and movement but a nervous cat will, generally, always be fairly nervous with visitors.
Of course, we also have to remember that people are the biggest factor! If you know your visitor does not like dogs or cats then taking the pet out of the situation is probably best for everyone. If your pet knows they are nervous of them then it will make them nervous too and more susceptible to unusual behaviour.
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