Visiting Dog Ethics

A question to the New York Times’ “The Ethicist” raised multiple issues, perhaps the least interesting of which was the subject of the letter:

My brother-in-law and his wife adopted a dog a year ago. Since then, every time they have come over to our home, they have brought the dog too. My husband and children aren’t incredibly fond of pets. This creates some uncomfortable situations for us. I don’t think we truly enjoy their company, because they are always running around after the dog while they are with us. I have tried to indirectly hint that getting a dog sitter may be an option, but that’s hit or miss.

Nowadays we don’t feel that comfortable inviting them over as often. I feel sad, because it’s creating a distance between us. Shouldn’t they just accept the fact that not everyone is comfortable with a pet and find ways to leave it at home (for a few hours) instead of taking it with them everywhere they go? I hate bringing this up with my husband, because I know he is torn as well. How can we delicately and politely let them know without hurting their feelings?

“The Ethicist,” , issued the obvious answer: it is ethics blindness for visitors not to seek permission to bring their dogs to another home (even if the dog isn’t a Caucasian Shepherd like the one above), but also irresponsible for a family being inflicted with an unwanted canine guest to keep its resentment secret so it can fester. The brother-in-law should be told that his family dog isn’t welcome.

I was bothered by other things in the letter:

  • Parents should teach their children to understand and be comfortable around dogs. My mother helped make my sister phobic about dogs and cats for most of her life. When my sister finally adopted a dog out of loneliness after her children left the nest, she found that it brought new joy into her life. She’s told me that she now feels cheated out of so many good experiences and relationships with dogs around her (like our three over the years…heaven knows I tried).  A visitor’s dog can be a great way for children to acquire this basic life competence knowledge, provided that the dog is well-behaved.
  • The writer engages in either incompetent or deliberate communications ambiguity, gratuitous weasel words. What does “My husband and children aren’t incredibly fond of pets” mean? I assume it means they don’t like pets; if that’s the case, then say it and own it. This kind of phrasing is cowardly, passive-aggressive and needlessly confusing. (It is akin to Rationalization 19B, The Insidious Confession, or “It wasn’t the best choice.”)
  • “I don’t think we truly enjoy their company, because they are always running around after the dog while they are with us.” What does THAT mean? Is the dog misbehaving? If not, why are they “running around after” it? If the family is visiting for just a few hours, their dog could be left in a fences back yard, or on a lead, with family members checking on the dog periodically. It’s not a big deal.

Having faced this issue with dogs of all sizes and temperaments, I can’t imagine visiting someone’s home an bringing along one without asking first. What’s the matter with these people?

8 thoughts on “Visiting Dog Ethics

  1. The passive aggressive generations. You can never say “no” to your pets or children. Positive reinforcement must be handed out regardless of behavior. You can never, ever criticize anyone or anything. We have to respect their “lived experience.” Improvement and discipline are white supremacist concepts used to oppress marginalized, vulnerable populations. The result is: everyone is forced to live in a micro shithole.

  2. This isn’t hard: “uh, Dave? Please don’t bring your dog.”

    Whether hubby likes or dislikes pets is irrelevant. If I don’t want your dog at my house, I got to say so. It’s my house.


  3. I wouldn’t leave a dog like that alone in a fenced yard situation. If that dog is already erratic indoors, letting it get more frustrated outdoors will lead to a potential bite. Instead, the dog should be trained to be at home. But I agree that keeping the dog at least on leash during the visit is a viable option.

    Many dogs get the shit end of things because their humans refuse to learn about dogs. Then when the dog invariably “acts out” people act shocked. Canine body language isn’t that hard to learn and every dog owner should learn to discern even little things like a head turn or a yawn. A good start is learning to do a canine consent test.

    As a trainer I usually have to undo a lot of behavioral neglect. Owners letting their dogs rule the home and not doing anything about it or just yelling – is setting up the dog for rehoming or euthanasia. I’m amazed that with all the free resources out there for training a dog, that more people don’t invest a little time and attention in having a calm functional home environment.

    I have found that often, the dog’s behavior is a reflection of what’s going on at home. If a dog is crazy, it’s probably because the owners are crazy or unwilling to mitigate unwanted behaviors or are clueless and willfully remain so. People have every right to say no to an erratic dog visiting because it’s likely the humans will be unable to keep the dog in check.

    This family needs to grow a pair and say no. It may be in the dog’s best interest to do so.

    • What about parents leaving their children ignorant about dogs? I constantly have to admonish small children in our neighborhood not to run up to dogs, or run screaming by them, or to come up behind Spuds without warning. (I have to explain this to joggers a lot too.)

      • Jack,

        I really can’t relate.

        From Day One, it was always: “ask the owner if you can pet the dog.” “Let the dog sniff you first.”

        Of course, it was not without mishaps. A friendly 80-pound Boxer can easily knock over a 50-pound little girl on accident.

        And, Xena, our dachshund-chihuahua mix, has nipped at some of the smaller children who have visited.

        And, she is a barker.

        So, she may have traumatized one child, but no physical injury. And, Xena is quickly getting outgrown by the children around. Even the child she nipped at will likely suffer no permanent problem (though she and her sister remain pet-less—to their dissatisfaction).


  4. We have entered the sphere where pets of all sorts have become a “necessary’ appendage to human beings. I have no argument with the idea that a dog, cat, boa constrictor, hampster, goldfish, etc bring comfort and emotional support to their owners. But those same owners do not have the right to impose their pets on others. Pets do not belong in restaurants, any mode of public transportation, or other people’s homes.
    The airline industry in particular is responsible for this sense that one cannot say no to a pet when it is self-declared by its owner to be “emotionally supportive.” This is nonsense that must come to an end. If one is so emotionally fragile that Fluffy needs to be close by at all times, perhaps one should seek psychotherapy.

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