Feature image via Shutterstock
Hey y’all! (I can say y’all genuinely because I’m from Alabama!) It’s my first post ever on Autostraddle; I thought I should introduce myself. So hi! Hey. I’m Mary and I train animals for a living!
Specifically, I currently do a lot of dog training in Los Angeles. One time, I was in the 2013 Autostraddle Calendar and I’ve also been a counselor at the last four A-Camps! I thought it was very appropriate and long-overdue to talk about pets — our pets, your pets, things related to having pets — because so many of you have pets. We have the infographic to prove it:
When I’m first dating someone, there are of course many little things that can make a big impact on my feelings about that person, like: how do they interact with their friends/family/coworkers? Do they read books? Can they cook food? Etc. But the interaction that I scrutinize the most — the one that if it doesn’t go well would stop the budding relationship dead in its tracks — is how the person I’m dating interacts with my 95 lb bear-dog, Kai.
Let me start by sharing with you all that Kai is a special dog, and by “special” I mean he’s an absolute pain in the ass. He’s very sensitive to basically everything. If you are excited at all, or touch him on the head, or walk, or move, or look at him, or express a feeling, or have a feeling, Kai will: jump or run around, or mouth your arm like a beef bone, or bring you every toy he owns and stare at you until you throw one/all of them, or he’ll just knock everything over. He’s big, he’s clumsy, he’s the center of my universe.
If you have an animal at home, like me, you probably know them better than you know yourself — you know their tics, if they’re easily amped up, if they have anxiety around new people, whatever their thing is. Watching new people interact with your “special” animal for the first time can be stressful, for both you and your dog/cat/lizard/whatever you have at home.
When my dog Kai met Alex (now my serious girlfriend) for the first time, like many people, she was a bit taken aback by his size. It was a shaky start, really. And yet just a few days later when we were watching an episode of Jersey Shore on my couch, Kai laid next to her, put his head in her lap, and fell asleep. And that’s the moment I knew that our relationship had serious potential.
The way to your crush’s heart is through the animal they keep in their house. You can increase your love points with your crush or girlfriend a billion times just simply by getting their pet to be completely and utterly obsessed with you.
Luckily it’s easy, and I happen to know a few secrets about getting critters to love me!
Meeting a new pet for the first time? Do. Nothing.
The first thing to do when meeting a new animal is nothing. DO. NOTHING. Please, fight every urge you have to chase them down and squeeze the dog/cat’s face with your own face or hands while very loudly exclaiming HOW MUCH YOU JUST FREAKIN’ LOVE CATS OR DOGS ZOMGSRSLY. Don’t be this guy. Don’t make eye contact, don’t reach out and touch, don’t get excited and lose your shit.
Channel what to do (or at least what everyone is supposed to do) when meeting a new human for the first time: maybe you say “hello” in a calm, relaxed voice, and there might be a hand shake, and a comfortable amount of space between you and this human you just met. There’s no aggressive head-rubbing of the new human or excessive shrieking at the new human. Imagine if a stranger approached you in the same way most people approach dogs they’ve never met before — you’d probably run in the opposite direction.
The rule is: if you wouldn’t do it when meeting a new person, then don’t do it with a new cat or dog. It’s rude and they don’t like it. Even if it looks like they like it, I promise they really don’t.
Get on their level
Since we’re not going up to the cat or dog and getting in their face, we’re going to give them space to come to us on their own terms, when they feel comfortable. The best way to invite this interaction is to sit somewhere in the house on the same level as the pet — usually this is the floor. I don’t sit close to or next to them; in fact, I will try to sit on the opposite side of the room.
Ask questions (in a calm, quiet voice) to whoever parents the animal and listen to what they say. Ask what the animal likes and what they don’t like. Ask where and how they like to be touched. Ask if there are any training goals they are working on. Do they like treats? Do they like to play with toys? Then you totally take this knowledge and use it against them! apply it!
I can’t tell you how many friends I’ve introduced to my dog who interacted with him in a way that drove me nuts! It’s a huge turn-off. Ask questions and listen to the answers.
PRO TIP: Most dogs and cats hate being touched on the top of the head by a stranger — try to instead touch them gently on the chest or under their chin. It’s a much more polite way to touch!
Don’t go to them, let them come to you
Once you’ve made it through the door and you’re on the animal’s level, let them come to you in their own way and at their own speed. If the animal approaches you, put your hand out and let them determine the type of interaction they want. Do they smell you and walk away? Let them leave. Do they rub up against you and elicit a scratch? Give them some love! Most animals will “yo-yo” at first — they’ll come in close, then leave, come back again, then leave. Give them the space to get to know you in a way that makes them feel comfortable. When you do finally reach out and touch them, do so gently, keep it short and sweet, don’t make direct eye contact, and keep your voice calm and quiet.
All of these little gestures are understood by animals as “calming signals.” Basically, you are communicating to the animal that you’re cool and calm and mean no harm. It isn’t unlike the non-verbal communication we would have with each other.
On the flip side, there are other non-verbal signals you can send to an animal that can send the wrong message. Animals can perceive things like making direct eye contact, hugging, going over their head, vigorous touch, getting in their face, kissing, quick movements, and speaking in a loud voice as confrontational and threatening. In most cases, this type of body language will prompt that animal to get as far away from you as possible. Sometimes, if the animal feels trapped or seriously threatened, it can even elicit an aggressive response. The exact opposite of what we want!
Don’t get cray
Don’t get too crazy too fast. No wrestling or rough play — not at first! (Or ever.) Contain your excitement and keep the meeting low energy. Getting someone’s pet all amped up is rude unless you plan on sticking around long enough to expel that energy. It will also encourage unwanted behavior that most pet owners want to discourage. Calm animals are happy animals.
Get involved, take an interest!
If all goes well, take an interest! Is your special person working late? Offer to take Fido on a walk! Teach them something new! Go with them to a training class! Come up with some fun enrichment ideas! The more you invest in the animal, the more you’re investing in your special person. There is nothing worse than dating someone who doesn’t like your pet. Don’t make your special person feel like they have to choose between hanging with you and spending time with their four-legged child.
The beginning of a new relationship can be so much fun and full of excitement, not only with getting to know a new human, but also with getting to know a with a new animal! We tend to expect animals to be obsessed with us simply because we are humans. The bottom line is: don’t be that guy. Spend some time! Give them experiences to show them they can trust you! Bring fun activities into their life! Get to know them and find out what they actually like. You won’t believe the difference!
Follow Mary’s dog training company, Tully’s Training, on Facebook and Instagram.
mary, i loved this so much.
Wow i love dogs so much I jUST WANT TO BE THAT GUY but also constantly trying to get people to interact with my dog in ways that work for her I LOVE HER I LOVE DOGS what a mixed bag of emotions
This is all such good advice!
I have two very good looking dogs, so whenever people come round obviously they want ALL THE DOG CUDDLES.
However one of them is very anxious around new people, and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to tell people to just ignore her and definitely not to pet her on top of her head, and the number of times that people will just carry on anyway… how hard is it to just turn your hand the other way up, really? And then they get offended when she barks at them – serves them right for ignoring me!
Thankfully my girlfriend is not one of these people and although she has received her share of unprovoked barking she is cool enough to ignore it, stay calm and then even maybe play fetch once things have settled down. It’s nice to see her win my unsociable dogs’ affection, because that is a pretty rare occurrence – another sign that she’s the girl for me!
The petting on the top of the head! Seriously. I think it drives me more crazy than the dog it’s happening to :P
I wish I had the luxury of feeling insulted very time a dog barks at me, but my mum runs a dog daycare… I sort of have to be able to ignore dogs barking at me. :P
And what should people do with my dog when she runs up immediately excited that they exist and jumps on their legs (she’s just a little beagle and really wants to be close to them)?
And don’t even think about sitting on the ground. She’ll climb into your lap and lick your face right off.
Great question! In THAT case, the best response to discourage the behavior of jumping on people would be for the person being jumped on to turn around. Once the dog has all four paws on the ground or sits, they get some calm attention. Dogs don’t jump on people for the sake of jumping, they do it because it gets them something they want – attention! So we can teach them standing on all four paws or sitting is what gets them that attention instead of jumping.
I can tell you that these jumping, happy, dogs absolutely benefit tremendously from a calm approach – the line between happy excited and anxious excited is a very thin one :)
Unless they’re afraid of dogs, probably ask you if it’s okay to say hi and then calmly crouch down so she can indeed get closer. :) From my limited knowledge, it’s almost as important to be calm and appropriate with excited/extra social dogs. Sometimes the same dogs who run up to strangers bite strangers who loom over them or pet them for too long… And the owner usually knows best.
Oh so real. I have an awkward anxious dog of nightmares, who came to me that way from an old couple, and maybe because she’s small people seem to think it’s ok to pick her up or touch her or generally be inappropriate and they also seem to think it’s ok for their kids to do this…. When did we stop teaching kids not to run up to and touch strange dogs? Yikes.
I pretty much got my gf and dog on the same day by weird coincidence so I can safely say her taking a major interest in my new pet helped cement my feels. Nothing cuter than a hot girl willing to get up and check in on a howling pup at 2 am.
The real test in my house is how people react when my cat launches himself at their feet. (He just really, really likes shoes.)
My cat is so in love with a pair of hot pink wingtips a friend gifted me that she keeps hiding them to make out with while I’m not home.
My cat hasn’t gone quite that far yet, but probably only because the boots of mine that he loves best are too heavy for him to cart around.
To be fair though, no human really GETS cats. It’s impossible.
But…but…why no reptiles included in the survey??
I agree with all of this for my dogs, cats, and rats, but it doesn’t really apply to my ferret because usually people are like “OMG WHAT IS THAT IS THAT A FERRET” and he’ll be like “YES HELLO HUMAN LET ME CLIMB UP YOUR PANT LEG”
I don’t think this would actually apply to my dog Pepe because he is special in a mean kind of way. I will have to try this with my girlfriend :)
Almost all aggression is a result of fear and insecurity. Pair these methods with some super special food rewards and some precautions to keep guests safe!
I was dating a girl that lurrved the pants off her dog and I was like, “Ok, if this dog hates me I´m screwed”.
Unfortantely I have a thing about “small dogs”. I´m a “big dog” person. Her dog looked like a mop head wishing it was a dog. But the first time I saw the dog I swear our conversation went like this:
Me: Hey dog, help me out. Don´t bark at me. Or growl at me. Or bite me. Please.
Me: Your mum´s hella hot.
Me: I´ll get her to let you on the sofa with us.
Fastforward to me running round a park being sickeningly cute with this dog. Dog cute as hell, me “accidentally” bending over to stroke the dog in a low cut top.
I got so laid :D :D :D
The way to my heart is through my dog. My crush has already met my dog, and they got along really well (the one time they met). My dog pretty much loves everyone, though…
The sitting on the ground advice is new to me. I bet it would work with some dogs, but definitely not mine. Sitting on the ground is a major trigger for my huge, special dog. When you get on her level like that she starts thinking she’s in charge now and should rough you up a little bit. Anyone else ever had a paw to the face? Come sit next to my dog on the floor, and I guarantee you’ll get one!
1. A lot of this can also apply to meeting your GFs toddler.
2. Is this why dogs love people who aren’t interested in them?
1 – Couldn’t agree more!
2 – Yes! Absolutely! Great observation.
THIS IS SO RELEVANT MY GOD.
I just want to attack the dog. Attack it. That’s how much I love it. Like Louise Belcher, “Oh, gross. He’s so gorgeous. I just want to slap it. I wanna slap it. I wanna slap his beautiful face.”
This is great advice! My cat is an anxious mess who’s just (after 3 years of having him), adjusted to people and company.
No one seems to get that when I say he’s shy and anxious that it means calm down. Seeing people try to beckon him is the worst, I’m pretty sure he hates it. he’ll like you eventually but give it time, he’s got to come to you.
I have three slightly special dogs: one’s anxious and highly strung, one’s a rescue who came out of an abusive situation and who is not comfortable with strangers, and one’s an enthusiastic weirdo who divides the world into Friends and Friend-I-Have-Not-Yet-Met.
My partner did not grow up with pets and suddenly had to contend with the complex personalities of my three. Happily, she was unsure of them so did everything right in terms of giving them space and letting them initiate things, and now even the anxious one will sit on her and use her as a pillow. The hardest thing for her to get used was Penny’s extreme enthusiasm about being friends.
Wow, I’m not an “animal person” but I’m happy to have learned so much reading this! I had no idea about any of it! Really informative, useful info. …now, someone (not me) should post an article about how to meet your significant other’s children for the first time!
Love this! I’m picking up my new dog from the rescue tomorrow. I hope you write more pet articles!
Good luck! I hope you and your new companion have many happy years together.
I plan on it!
YES YES A THOUSAND TIMES YES. Thank you for this Mary! (I wish I had had this three years ago.)
Great article. Some eye contact can be helpful with cats though! Don’t stare them down or anything, but, if you do meet their eyes, try doing a slow blink or two and see if they return it. It’s a friendly gesture cats use tell each other they’re not a threat and it’s okay to relax, and people can do with them too. (Some even call this a “blink kiss”.) If the cat doesn’t return the blink then let it go and try again later, after the cat’s been around you longer.
ALL THE CAT ADVICE. I feel as if I am a lone cat lover in a land of dog people. My roommate compared kittens to puppies. So not true! Cats socialize differently! Are you “not a cat person”? Avoid cats? That draws cats to you, you are the “sub”- if you will, in the relationship.
Also, cats like being rubbed and scratched mainly on ears, head, and chest. Very rarely on the belly. It activates a natural instinct to protect the most vulnerable part of their body.
Fun cat facts to impress you cat lady lover? All calico cats are female because the majority of cat coat genetics are sex linked. The calico pattern only appears on female cats because it only appears on an recessive female gene pairing- just like yellow tabbies are almost always boys! Girl yellow tabbies and boy calicos are usually the result of chromosomal abnormalities such as XXY, chromosomal mosaicism or chimerism (the merging of two embryos into on individual).
Sorry, I had to geek out for a second- I’ve been called a “cat whisperer” by many people, I’ve dropped off cats to shelters, found many homes for wayward kittens, nursed kittens, and even returned a lost cat to his family many miles away. I taught my childhood cat to ride on my shoulder. I’ve never judged a person on their first impression of my animal- but inability to get used to and read my animal, and no compassion for animals is a huge turn off.
So many people say they are not cat people, than they met my childhood pet, Louise. I always said I wasn’t a dog person, than I met Elvis, the golden retriever that captured my heart.
Keep an open mind about animals!
Some dogs like eye contact too… And they do the slow blink thing!
My cat is so shy she basically hides under the couch when new people come over, and doesn’t come out until they leave or a reasonably far away, so this isn’t much of a problem for me!
But certainly useful advice. Exes have had pets and it is definitely a moment of truth when you meet the pet and wait hopefully for them to like you!
Advice for pet snakes?
How can I get my two maltese dogs to love my boyfriend as much as I do?
We have tried everything giving treats, affection, etc. but still they cower, run away and act scared.
this but times 500 for birds (esp parrots)!
they are prey animals:
Don’t Run Up To The Cage and stick your face next to their beaks!! And try not to talk with your hands near them. They don’t like that. Stand still and be predictable in your movements. Ask about body language and eye pinning. Ask about what space is “theirs” and then stay out of that space.
This is a great article and totally applies to 99.9% of pets I bet (for sure my Special Cat), but I’m also laughing because my girlfriend’s dog LOVES the shit out of me. I accomplished this by 1) existing and 2) scratching his butt one time. Best friend forever.
He could totally learn from the graphic about approaching other people/animals, though! We’re slowly getting my cats used to him because he LOVES cats. Cats are best friend! Love all the cats! WHINE at cats when they won’t come play!
Great article here!
Introduce your pet to other dogs. One of the conditions for successful puppy socialization is communication with dogs and other animals, so your pet should take part in family walks as often as possible. You can find a lot of useful tips on this subject here https://animalvee.com/