To pet lovers, a fear of dogs and cats can seem like a silly phobia. Hey, animals are part of the family — they share our bed, eat our food (sometimes) and are otherwise omnipresent in our homes.
Not so for people who have anxiety towards animals, or dogs and cats in particular. A fear of animals can develop at any time, and is usually triggered after a frightening incident, like a bite from a dog or a scratch from a cat. It can also come from just being unused to animals. Some people have never spent time around cats and dogs, and therefore aren’t familiar with their nonverbal cues and behavior.
So, it’s coming to be holiday time and guests will be arriving soon. How do you handle guests who have a fear of animals? A few simple precautions and preparations can make life easier for you, your guests, and your pets.
Introductions and Explanations are Key
If you’re aware that your guests have a fear of animals, make sure that your dog or cat is in another room when your guest first enters your home. The last thing you want is your guest to be bombarded by your overly-friendly Doberman who delights in meeting new people. Let your guest settle in and then introduce your furry family member once they’ve relaxed. Keep your pet(s) close to you and read your guest’s body language as you make the introduction.
It’s also key to explain your pet’s quirks to people who may not understand animal behavior. Simple phrases such as, “He always bares his teeth when we’re about to feed him” or “She always barks at the mail carrier” will assure your guest that your pet’s behavior has nothing to do with them and is just a normal part of life with your pet!
Double Down on Training Your Pet and Empower your Guests
Any guests with a fear of animals will not want your pets to jump on them or generally share space with them. Even guests who do not have a fear of dogs or cats do not always appreciate being jumped on, licked, or sitting upon furniture with a pet on it. Training your pet not to jump up on people and to listen when you tell them to stay off the furniture is simply good pet ownership etiquette, which can be worked on whether you have guests coming into town or not!
While you shouldn’t allow your guests to be jumped on by your dog, teach them how to react if he or she does. Instead of petting them politely, tell your guests to turn your back on the dog, which is how you signal to him or her, “Hey, I’m not reinforcing this bad behavior.” Teaching your guest how to react in certain situations will empower them to feel they have control over their environment and avoid a serious situation, like them hitting or kicking your animal out of fear.
Exercise Away Your Pet’s Energy
If you walk your dog regularly every day, you know they’ll give you a hard time if that scheduled walk is missed. A lot of exercise before company comes over will help to calm your dog, keeping them docile and less excitable around guests. A long hike or a trip to the dog park can be the perfect activity to wear out your pup and keep them chilled out while your guests are around.
While cats are less outgoing than dogs and unlikely to approach a guest with a fear of animals, plan on exercising your cat too. Grab that laser pointer or feather toy and give your cat a little extra play. Let your guest watch playtime if they’re comfortable. They may even see that your feline isn’t that ferocious, just towards his or her toys!
Consider Separation Time
Depending on the degree of your guest’s fear of animals, consider separating your human friends from your furry friends during gatherings. Use baby gates in the main areas of the house to give your dog its own space to eat, play, or sleep while still giving them a feeling of being nearby where you can see them. Use a dog run or fenced-in area to give them extra outdoor time. If necessary, you may need to confine your cat or dog to a crate or closed room. Be sure to check on them regularly, give them frequent potty breaks, and plenty of fresh water.
Having guests come and stay is never easy, and hosting folks who are hesitant around your pet is an added challenge. Exercising a little compassion, understanding and education will make the process easier for host and guest alike. And who knows? Maybe after a few days with Fritz or Cuddles, your guests’ fears may be assuaged enough to where they don’t mind animal companionship. Turning them into straight up animal lovers is unlikely – but at least you’re changing fears and attitudes, one visit at a time.