Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Meet and Greet

When it comes to pets, don't "lean in." 7 tips on greeting etiquette

I was with friends in my hometown of Bonners Ferry, Idaho, and we were standing on the porte-cochere of a local hotel's restaurant. Coming directly at us on a retractable leash was a cute, energetic canine with curly black hair, weighing about 12 pounds. What stood out to me was not his physical appearance, but his emotions: He was clearly anxious and fearful.

He ran around on the end of the retractable leash, zigging and zagging like a marlin hooked off the Baja Peninsula. Like a blinking neon sign, he alternated between relaxing and returning to his anxious, fearful behavior. His owner was oblivious to his fear, anxiety and stress. All he needed was the comfort of a couple of pet lovers, right?


Both of my female friends moved straight for the pooch, leaned over him, stretched out their hands toward his head and with direct eye contact said, "Aren't you a cute little doggy!"

The dog was in full-blown panic.

For decades, millions of pet lovers have done exactly the same. Taught by parents, grandparents, friends, neighbors and other animal lovers, they learned to show affection for a dog by leaning in, extending a friendly hand and locking eyes in loving contact. But in working with dozens of boarded animal behaviorists, behavior technicians and trainers, I've learned that all of that is wrong. All of it!

Here's how you should greet a dog.

1. Ask. Before you do anything, get the owner's permission to pet the dog. Not all dogs like meeting strangers.

2. Play hard to get. Don't rush toward the dog. Move slowly, talk slowly, extend your closed fist slowly. Let the dog choose if he or she wants to interact with you. Debbie Martin, a veterinary technician specialist in behavior and co-author of the "Puppy Start Right" book and preschool curriculum, says: "Let the dog make the first move. Dogs have an incredible sense of smell, and they can smell us from across the street. We do not need to reach our hands into their personal space so they can smell us."

3. Get small. Looming over a dog can make him feel threatened or fearful. Rather than greeting a dog full-on, as if you're a store greeter ready to shake hands, turn your body sideways to reduce your profile, thus presenting a smaller perceived threat to the dog.

4. Extend a friendly fist. Once the dog has made the first move and is signaling interest in interacting with you, put out a closed fist down low, and let him make the approach. This is less threatening (and less annoying to the dog) than reaching out with the open palm of your hand and petting him on top of the head.

5. Eyes right. Your mom was right when she told you it was rude to stare. Dogs think it's rude, too. Don't make eye contact with a dog. That's considered a threat in his world. You can glance at him, but let your peripheral vision guide you.

6. Don't touch the head. Dogs have special places they like to be petted, but the head isn't one of them. The top of the head is taboo. Along the top of the back isn't so good, either. The best way to pet a dog is to lightly scratch along the side of the neck, side of the chest, or at the base of the tail.

7. What if a dog doesn't want to approach you? That's his business. Be content to admire him from a distance. He'll appreciate it more than you can imagine.


How to choose the

best litter box

Q: I'm getting a cat and need to buy supplies. What's the best type of litter box? -- via Facebook

A: There are probably as many different types of litter boxes as there are cat preferences in litter boxes. What your cat purr-fers depends on such factors as age, size, predilection toward privacy and elimination style.

A kitten might do best with a basic open litter box. It's easy to get into and offers plenty of space for her to search out the ideal pee or poop spot. An open box is also a good choice for any cat who doesn't kick a lot when covering waste, doesn't spray and doesn't mind an audience while she does her business.

The benefits of this style box for you are that it's inexpensive, it's easy to see right away that it needs to be scooped and there's no lid to remove or moving parts that could break. Not all cats like them, but if yours doesn't mind a plastic liner, using one can reduce the frequency of washing the box when you change the litter.

Consider a covered litter box if your cat likes to dig and kick in the litter or has an aversion to being caught with her britches down. It's important to check it a couple of times a day to see if it needs to be scooped.

Remember that an adult cat needs a larger box than a kitten. A good size is one and a half times your cat's length, including the tail. Clues that a cat needs a larger box include kicking out a lot of litter or having trouble moving around inside the box.

Adopting a kitten or a senior cat? Try to find a box with a step to make it easier for your small or arthritic cat to get in and out. -- Kim Campbell Thornton

Do you have a pet question? Send it to or visit


Tearstains may

be treatable

-- Does your dog have red or brown tearstains beneath his eyes? The stains aren't just unsightly; they may hint at an eye problem. Irritation from abnormal growth of eyelashes or facial hair rubbing against the eye is one possibility. Allergies, corneal ulcers and eye infections can also cause dogs to tear up. Blocked ducts can cause tears to spill over onto the face and stain the area beneath the eyes as well. Take your dog to the veterinarian to see if the staining has a treatable cause. Otherwise, clean the under-eye area regularly with mild shampoo and water.

-- Dogs taken from fighting rings will no longer automatically be labeled "vicious," according to new legislation signed last month by California governor Jerry Brown. Instead, AB 1825 permits individual dogs to be evaluated by animal welfare experts or veterinarians to determine if they are suitable for placement as pets. Previously, any dog whose owner was convicted of felony dogfighting was deemed vicious. The term now applies to any dog who hurts a person without provocation. In other animal-welfare legislation signed by Brown, shelters may no longer kill animals by gassing them with carbon dioxide.

-- Who hasn't dreamed of getting a long-term work assignment abroad, especially in one of Europe's glamorous capitals? But of course you wouldn't want to go without your best canine or feline friend. So how do you get him there? Small pets under 20 pounds may be able to fly in the cabin with you, depending on the airline and destination, but larger animals are relegated to cargo, which can be stressful and potentially dangerous, not to mention expensive, with costs ranging from $200 to $2,500. A floating alternative is the Queen Mary II, which has kennel service on its transatlantic crossings. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.