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

Meet and Greet?

You and your dog may want to make friends with others, but canine and human etiquette dictate a cautious approach

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

I was walking my dogs around our apartment complex when I saw the woman with the black pug approaching. I quickly turned around before my dogs saw hers -- and vice versa -- and created a ruckus. I was stunned when she ran after us, her dog barking and snarling all the way, stopped close to my now barking and snarling dogs, and asked, “Are they friendly?”

“No!” I replied, as I pulled my dogs away.

That’s not exactly true, but it worked to get us out of the situation. Outside our complex, my dogs ignore others because they aren’t patrolling “their” territory. Inside it, however, they view other dogs as unwelcome invaders, so I keep an eagle eye out for people walking their dogs and do my best to avoid them.

Lots of people, like my neighbor, want their dogs to meet and greet other people and dogs, but for many dog owners, that’s not a desirable event, for a number of reasons:

-- Their dogs may be reactive to other dogs -- even if they’re not on their own territory.

-- Some dogs are fearful of people, especially quick-moving children or people in uniform, to name just two common fears.

-- Dogs who are elderly or recovering from an illness could be stressed or even injured by an overenthusiastic greeting from a young or ill-mannered dog.

Just being on a leash and walking in an area with distractions such as traffic or other dogs can be stressful for even the best-behaved dog. He’s restrained by the leash and all his senses are on alert as he walks. Being approached by an off-leash dog or one on a retractable leash can set off his canine defense system, resulting in barking, snarling and lunging.

“Even very friendly dogs, when they know they’re on-leash, they’re not really in the mood to stop and make a new friend,” says veterinary behaviorist Karen van Haaften, DVM, at the British Columbia SPCA in Vancouver, Canada. “I wouldn’t want to stop and have a deep conversation with every person I walk by on the street. That’s exhausting.”

What’s a dog lover to do? If you’re the person approaching -- because you love cavaliers or Labs or spotted dogs, or you want your dog to have some friendly canine interaction -- stop! From a distance, call out and ask, “Does your dog want to meet another dog?”

If the answer is no, accept it and move on, keeping out of the other dog’s space. Don’t insist, saying “My dog’s friendly!” You’re likely to get the response “My dog’s not” -- or “I’m not.”

Rule of paw? “Don’t let your dog approach another dog unless you’re specifically asked or given permission by the other person,” Dr. van Haaften says.

If you’re the person being approached and you want to avoid human or canine interaction with your dog, practice assertiveness and avoidance techniques. Body language is your friend, too. The simplest way to ward off people approaching with dogs or children is to hold your hand out, palm up, in the universal signal for “Stop!” Turn aside, avoiding eye contact, and ask your dog to sit or perform some other cue until the other person passes. Or simply turn around and go the other way.

When firmer measures are called for, tried-and-true responses include saying the following:

-- "He’s contagious." (You don’t have to say for what.)

-- "We’re in training; please don’t pet her."

-- "She’s working."

-- "He bites."

-- "She is fearful of other dogs (or children or people in hats or uniforms)."

-- "Reel your dog in now," for uncontrolled dogs on extendable leashes.

-- "He’s not dog-friendly."

-- "Back away."

-- "No," or "Stop."


9 lives? How that

cat myth arose

Q: Where do we get the belief that cats have nine lives?

A: That’s a great question! Quite a few cultures share the idea that cats have multiple lives, though the number isn’t always nine. In Germany, Greece and Italy, for instance, cats are said to have seven lives. Some Middle Eastern traditions put a cat’s number of lives at six.

Whatever the number, I think it’s probably safe to say that the myth arose from the feline ability to escape what often looks to be certain death: the righting ability that often (but not always) has cats landing on their feet after a fall from a high place; their speed and agility in escaping a predator; and their finely tuned senses, which alert them to danger well before it appears.

The combination of a flexible spine and the inborn ability to orient the body properly as they fall is the source of the feline falling ability. That righting reflex begins to develop in kittens when they are 3 to 4 weeks old, and they have it down by the time they are 6 to 7 weeks old. (Never test this with kittens or cats; they can be injured or killed.)

If they need to make an escape, cats can fire the afterburners, putting on a burst of speed for short distances or hightail it over fences or up trees. Their slender, flexible bodies allow them to wriggle through small holes to save themselves as well.

Cats protect themselves in other ways. They can be finicky eaters, and they are less likely than dogs to ingest toxic substances -- with plants being a common exception to that rule.

It’s not surprising that an animal with those incredible survival skills would give rise to the idea that he cheats death over and over again. -- Dr. Marty Becker

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Fund benefits

pets in need

-- Since it was launched three years ago, the American Veterinary Medical Foundation’s Veterinary Care Charitable Fund has paid out nearly $379,000 to help animals in need, according to an article in the Journal of the AVMA. The nonprofit program for AVMA members allows veterinarians to provide care in cases of financial need, neglect or abuse. More than 1,000 veterinary hospitals are enrolled in the program, and so far, 1,234 animals have been helped.

-- The Museum of Dog, located in North Adams, Massachusetts, is closed for the winter, but it’s taking the show on the road. The MOD Instagram Tour mobile museum -- housed in a refitted school bus -- features antique dog collars, paintings, photographs, sculptures and more. The first stop is Barking Hound Village in Dallas between Nov. 22 and Dec. 23. Other cities on the tour include Atlanta; Charlotte, North Carolina; Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia; New York; and Boston, with dates to be announced. Each $20 ticket, sold in hourly blocks, allows entry for four, whether that’s two humans and two dogs or any other combination. For more information, visit

-- Two dogs in the United Kingdom have been trained to identify children with malaria simply by sniffing socks the kids have worn. That’s because the malarial parasites cause specific breath and skin odors in people who are infected. In a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, the dogs -- a Labrador and a Labrador-mix -- had a 70 percent success rate in identifying socks worn by children with malaria and a 90 percent success rate in identifying socks worn by children free of the disease. The non-invasive approach isn’t in use yet, but it could become yet another way in which dogs help to detect disease. -- 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.