"Having the time and money to care for an animal in the city is a real privilege, not some inalienable right," local writer Jackson West said when he was told that the topic of this Etiquette Week report would be dog guardianship. Yes, today we wade into the sometimes troubled waters of pet/companion dogs (to be clear, we're not talking about service and/or support animals in today's piece). It's not big news that there are a lot of people with dogs who could, shall we say, do way better, etiquette-wise. Will they listen to us if we call them out? We can only hope.
DO NOT EQUATE YOUR DOG WITH SOMEONE ELSE'S HUMAN FAMILY MEMBER
Yes, I know your heart overfills with love any time you behold your dog. That's great, and why you're a terrific dog guardian. But, please, check yourself before you bring up your dog when talking to an exhausted parent ("You think your new baby wakes you up a lot? You should have seen Buster when he was a puppy, he wanted to go out to pee all night long!") or, even worse, a person grieving the loss of a loved one. Sure, you want to empathize, but telling someone you relate to the sudden death of their spouse because your dog got hit by a car makes you sound like a dick.
OBSERVE SAN FRANCISCO'S LEASH LAWS
Do you mean to tell us that you have such incredible control over your dog that you can prevent it, solely with the power of your voice, from wandering into the street as you plod down the sidewalk? Sorry, Stalin, you don't, and now your dog is dead because, for whatever reason, you neglected to tether it to your hand with a string. It's been posited that a dog is about as smart as a two-year-old. I know I just told you not to equate your dog with a child, but riddle me this: would you expect every two-year-old kid to consistently remember not to walk into the street? No you would not, because they are dumb, and they are reliant on us to protect them from your hazards. Just like your dog is. (AS I TYPED THIS SENTENCE I WATCHED A GUY SKATEBOARDING DOWN THE SIDEWALK AND BLOWING THROUGH STOP SIGNS WITH A SMALL, UNLEASHED DOG RACING TO KEEP UP. I GIVE UP, YOU GUYS.)
Relatedly, it's rude to assume that everyone who's sharing the city with you is comfortable around off-leash dogs. This isn't an "if you don't like it, move to the suburbs" situation: fear of dogs is not an uncommon one, and anyone who's been bitten by a dog knows that it can be a reasonable fear, too. I promise you, these people are not going to your off-leash park to ruin the party. The least you can do is let them have the sidewalk. Finally, per SFist E. Chang, "if your off-leash dog is a threat to endangered or threatened species like snowy plovers, don't make a fuss about leashes."
PICK UP YOUR DOG SHIT
San Francisco faces so many intractable issues: homelessness, Muni, Glassholes, etc. But imagine how much nicer SF would be if every dog guardian agreed to do one simple thing: pick up their dogs' defecation. (Yes, we've all gone out and forgotten a bag. Your penance: pick up a "stranger" poo next time as well as your own dog's. See, the universe is back in balance!) Also, when you pick up that poop, Curbed SF editor Sally Kuchar reminds us that it goes in the black bin, not the green one.
GET REAL ABOUT HOW AGGRESSIVE YOUR DOG IS
SFist Jay Barmann encourages me to address those “who are in denial about how aggressive [their dogs are] are in off-leash parks." Additionally, SFist pal Brittney Gilbert notes that a "feisty, un-exercised dog in a highly stimulating dog park environment can cause unnecessary roughness on the playground." People are going to the dog park so they and their dogs can have a good time, not so they can learn the newest UFC moves. Exercise your dog before you get to the park to avoid the syndrome Gilbert describes above, and then get honest with yourself: if even then your dog can't comport him or herself reasonably around other people or dogs, keep him or her on a leash. If that makes them even more aggressive (this sometimes happens), take them to a more open spot where they can run free without having to socialize. Pine Lake Park, for example, is great for this, as is the off-leash section of Ocean Beach, especially on overcast weekdays. (I'm telling you this from sad experience: as she has aged, my own dear SFist Franny has become one of the dogs Jay's talking about.)
IF YOUR LEASE PROHIBITS DOGS DON'T GET ONE
It's really hard to find pet-friendly apartments in San Francisco, yes. And I know, you really want a dog, waaaah! Guess what? One of your neighbors probably does, too, and they'll hate you for breaking a rule that they've dutifully observed. And, yes, landlord-tenant relationships are, uh, complicated (especially in the present market), but you signed a contract with this person saying that you would not have a dog, so by breaking it you're not just being rude to your rule-abiding neighbors, you're violating a covenant with the person who owns your home. Besides, what's the plan for when your landlord finds out and evicts you (maybe because your neighbors now hate you and rat you out)? Are you going to "return" the dog to wherever it came from?
DON'T GIVE THE EMPLOYEE OF A BUSINESS SHIT IF THEY TELL YOU YOU CAN'T BRING IN YOUR DOG
Again, we're not talking about service animals. But many businesses, especially ones that sell food, are prohibited by state and local laws from allowing non-service-animals on the premises. If they ask you to leave your dog outside, it is because they are trying to remain in business. If you don't like the laws, then start working your legislators; don't berate your barista. In a related point: you really don't have to take your dog with you everywhere you go. Sure, tie your dog up outside while you grab a coffee to go, but leaving your dog tethered to the parking meter while you close out the bar? What on earth are you thinking.
CARE FOR YOUR DOG THE WAY YOU'D WANT TO BE CARED FOR IF YOU WERE A DOG
The focus of this piece isn't "dog care tips," it's about how to be a dog owner that other people won't hate. But there are a few "good dog guardian" tips that kept coming up as I spoke to people for this piece that I'd like to address. After all, everyone despises a neglectful dog guardian!
- Take your dog to the vet for regular checkups, not just emergencies. Can't afford it? It happens to us all. Vet hospitals like the SF SPCA (they have campuses in the Mission and in Pac Heights) offer financial assistance for pet guardians in need. You just need to ask.
- Don't let your dog get super fat. I know, they are so cute when they beg, and so grateful. But pet obesity is a high mortality factor. Keeping them on higher-quality food will help their weight and their overall health (just like it does yours).
- As SFist Brock Keeling puts it, "a dog is neither an accessory nor furniture." Don't expect it to behave like one of those things, and don't treat it like one of those things.
- Did I ever tell you about the time I watched an SFPD officer smash open a car's window to rescue a dog that had been left there on a warm day? "I live for this shit" said the officer to me as he bashed in the driver's side window. He then handed the dog off to ACC and settled in to wait for the car/dog owner. I still wish I'd figured out an excuse to stay and to watch the ensuing fireworks.
- Go ahead, try to justify buying a dog from a breeder, when so many dogs in San Francisco need homes. What is this, Dynasty? You don't need a fancy designer dog, Alexis.
- I find guys who freak out at the prospect of neutering their dogs fascinating. Are they so limited in the junk department that they can't bear the thought of even their dog losing a portion of their genitals? Bob Barker had it right, spay and neuter your pets.
This post only scratches the surface of rules one should follow to be a non-despicable dog guardian. But we also know that the longer it gets, the fewer of you will read it, so we're winding it up here. But, by all means, please add your rules in the comments!