Miss Conduct

Advice: Dog owners, listen up! Not everyone loves your pet

Plus, is it too soon to add our son’s girlfriend to the family holiday photo?

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Need advice? Submit questions for Miss Conduct here.

How can I more effectively tell dog owners that I dislike being sniffed, licked, or jumped on? I’ve tried to be direct: “Hey, dog owner, I prefer not to be sniffed, etc.,” or “I’m a little afraid of dogs. Would you please rein yours in?” It always results in nasty looks or offended rebuttals, often without any dog restraint. Do you have any other ideas?

G.L. / Arlington

Oh, I wish our parents had not lied to us, that there were indeed polite “magic words” that would unlock correct behavior from others!

You are doing nothing wrong. The most frustrating thing about bad “petiquette” (forgive me, I am weak) is that there isn’t even any actual conflict of interest between you and the dogs here. Dogs want to be around people who like them and can interact with them appropriately, and vice versa. The problem is on the other end of the leash.


Listen up, dog owners: When people acknowledge dislike, fear, or discomfort around dogs, they are saying that they’re not going to provide a good experience for your dog. Be grateful for the heads-up and spare your dog the interspecies awkwardness.

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Also, please, please train your dogs to accept being petted while sitting, and only getting up on people to “pet them back,” as it were, if they’ve been invited to. The behavior doesn’t have to be extinguished — dogs naturally want to sniff, lick, cuddle, and wrestle with their canine and human friends — but it needs to be based on ongoing consent from the other party.

Dog lovers: When dog owners tell their dogs not to jump on you, don’t say “I don’t mind!” It’s not about you — they’re trying to teach their pets how to get along in the whole big world. Support that effort.

Dog non-lovers: Experiment with better living through chemistry, if you know you’re going to a doggy environment. Dogs hate the smell of citrus, so a retro-’70s splash of Jean Nate on your legs or some lemon juice on your pulse points might keep them off.

I send yearly Christmas cards with a picture of our family (my husband and me, two sons, and dog). My son’s girlfriend of the past year and a half has become a part of the family, participating in all holidays, celebrations, and vacations. I would like to include her in the photo this year because not including her would seem weird, but I am wondering what the protocol is? They are not engaged. I am hoping to be inclusive without breaking any etiquette rules.

P.R. / Framingham


Ask your son! This is his decision to make.

There’s no etiquette rule on when and how romantic partners get included in family photos. There’s only the risk of having people interpret the girlfriend-inclusive photo to mean there is news to share, and the couple may or may not want to deal with that. (You must worry about this a bit or you wouldn’t have described the makeup of the photo, but no one — trust me, no one — will interpret a girlfriend-free photo to mean that the young woman has lower standing in your family than the dog.)

Whatever they decide is what you should do.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.