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14 Rude Habits Dog Owners Need to Stop ASAP

No. 1 is not picking up your doggo's poop! Here's everything you need to know about the basics of dog etiquette.

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Dog etiquette for pet parents

It’s an unfortunate truth, but it needs to be said: Not everyone loves your dog as much as you do. It can be hard to remember that when you really love your pup. After all, your dog is a beloved companion and a part of the family. But although you find dog behavior endearing, others can find it disruptive or even frightening. That’s why it’s important to practice good dog etiquette to respect everyone around you, whether they are a fellow dog lover or have a fear of dogs. (If you learn how to train a puppy to follow these etiquette rules when they are young, your dog will be well-behaved as an adult!) To practice good dog etiquette, make sure to avoid these common mistakes.

Brown dog poop bag resting on grass
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Leaving the bag of poop on the ground

The No. 1 rude habit of dog owners that our experts identified was, no surprise, failing to pick up your dog’s poop. But it’s not enough to simply pick it up and bag it—you also need to find an appropriate public garbage to throw it away in, says Erin Askeland, certified animal health and behavior expert for Camp Bow Wow.

You may think someone else, like the grounds crew, will pick it up for you, but it’s your job, she explains. “A park worker actually thanked me [when I threw the bag of poop in the garbage] and said most people don’t bother; he also said he’s not allowed to say anything to those who leave the poop behind,” she says. “This is incredibly rude behavior.” And in case you were wondering, this is why dogs spin around before they poop.

Dog walker with siberian husky in the park
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Talking on your phone at the dog park

Dog parks are for dogs, so why can’t you do your thing while your pooch does his? Well, talking on your phone is actually a breach of dog park etiquette.

“When you take your puppy to the dog park, yes, he’s there to play with his friends, but just like a child, it’s important to keep tabs on him and watch his behavior,” says Halle Rieckmann, a dog behavior expert and the owner of Heel House K9 Training. “If he gets upset or starts picking on another dog, you’ll need your hands free and all your attention to help him out.”

Jack Russell Terrier
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Putting your dog outside when he won’t stop barking

Banishing your pet to the backyard when he won’t calm down may make you feel better, but it’s sure to upset your neighbors, says Sara Ochoa, DVM, a veterinarian and consultant for doglab.com. If your dog barks nonstop, talk to your vet about possible reasons for the behavior and measures you can take to address it, she says. Don’t just make it someone else’s problem by putting the dog outside—that’s bad dog etiquette and will certainly be noticed by your unhappy neighbors. A good first step to fixing this rude behavior is learning why dogs bark so you can address the problem if it gets to be too much.

Sign: no dogs allowed, dogs prohibited
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Ignoring “No pets allowed” signs

We know how much you adore your pooch, but there are some public spaces, like restaurants and stores, where dogs aren’t welcome or are explicitly banned. Yet too many dog owners think those signs apply to all pets except theirs, so they either sneak in or brazenly bring in their animals, says Ruth MacPete, DVM, veterinarian and author of Lisette the Vet.

This is disrespectful to the place you’re in and to those around you. It’s a serious breach of dog etiquette—you don’t know who there might have an allergy to or serious fear of dogs, she says. Follow the rules. If you can’t leave your dog at home or outside with somebody else while you pop in the store, that could be a sign your dog may need obedience training.

Man with disability and service dog
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Calling it a “support” or “service” animal when it’s not

A service dog has a specific definition—a “dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability,” according to the Americans with Disabilities Act—and it must be specially trained, tested and certified. However, some people choose to call their dogs a “support” animal or even lie about them being a trained service dog in order to take them places they don’t belong.

This isn’t just rude, it’s dangerous, Dr. MacPete says. “People who flaunt these rules make it harder for those dog owners who truly depend on their certified service animals,” she says. Here’s the difference between emotional support animals and service animals.

Disability Stray Dog peeing on wheel
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Allowing your dog to pee on other people’s property

Letting your dog pee on fence posts, mailboxes, shrubs, trees, trash cans or car tires that are on someone else’s property is a definite breach in dog etiquette, says Neil Cohen, owner and head trainer at Sit Means Sit. Some people go to great lengths to keep dogs out of their yard, so be respectful about where you allow your dogs to go.

“While it is in male dogs’ nature to ‘mark,’ there is nothing that says he needs to do it anywhere he chooses,” Cohen explains. “It shows poor manners for the human and the dog. Additionally, it teaches the dog that there are no boundaries. Dogs, like children, need to know their boundaries.”

Yellow Lab
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Dropping the leash to let your dog “make a friend”

Your dog understandably gets excited when she sees a new dog, but allowing your dog to just walk up to another dog and owner is begging for trouble, Rieckmann says. While many dogs like to make furry friends, some dogs don’t do well with other dogs, especially if they are leashed and the approaching dog isn’t, she explains. Even if you have an affectionate dog breed, you never know if the other dog they are approaching is friendly.

“Dogs are just like us in that they enjoy their personal space and want to warm up to meeting a new friend,” she says. “Don’t be that obnoxious party guy that hugs everyone the first time he meets them—no one sticks around him for long!”

Dog in standing in profile looking forward at open road
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Letting your dog off-leash anywhere that isn’t a dog park

“Being on a leash in public is an absolute must, no exceptions,” Rieckmann says. Yes, your dog needs to be leashed even if he follows voice commands, even if he thinks the leash is uncomfortable, even if you’re in the woods and you don’t see other people, and, yes, even if you think he’s so gentle and sweet nothing bad can happen. Even the most well-behaved pup can have an off moment and snap, startle or run away. If you want off-leash time, go to a dog park or other place made specifically for that purpose. Also, make sure you know these everyday habits of great dog owners.

Two funny dogs sniffing smelling scent noses in park on leashes looking at each other pedigree street cute
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Saying “It’s OK, she’s friendly” to excuse bad behavior

“Just because your dog is friendly with you, doesn’t mean she will be the same with every person or dog she encounters, and you can’t predict her actions in every situation,” says Askeland. Letting your dog get away with bad manners because “she’s a sweetheart” makes you look negligent and doesn’t teach your dog the skills she needs to be in public, she says. This holds true even if you have a pup from a usually calm dog breed.

Boys playing with her dog in the living room
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Allowing your dog to jump up on other people

Dogs are naturally gregarious and love to show their enthusiasm for new (or old) human friends by jumping up on them. You may think this is cute, but it could catch a person unaware, knock them down or cause other injuries, particularly with kids or senior adults, Askeland says.

“Just because a dog might do this out of excitement doesn’t mean it’s appropriate,” she adds. Instead of rewarding your pup for jumping with petting, look for these ways your dog is trying to say “I love you” and reward those.

aggression of small dogs, the owner got into the personal space of the dog, angry pet
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Ignoring what your dog is trying to tell you

Just like we want other people to listen to us, we need to listen to what our dogs are trying to say, Askeland says. When dogs bark, snarl, lunge or whimper, they are trying to tell you they are uncomfortable with the situation, and you need to take it seriously, she says. “Dismissing this behavior could put someone else or another dog at risk of injury,” she adds. Pets can communicate a wide range of feelings and wants, but since they can’t exactly talk, these are among the things your dog secretly wishes you knew.

happy senior pointer dog portrait outdoors in summer
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Forcing your dog to accept being petted

Having a stranger ask to pet your adorable pup can feel like a great compliment, but sometimes dogs aren’t as open as their humans to new friends, Askeland says. And yet when animals resist being petted, hugged or otherwise handled, she often sees owners forcing their dog into social interaction by holding them in place. Not only is this bad dog etiquette, it can make your dog more fearful of strangers over time, as they will build a negative association to people or animals approaching them, Askeland says. Find out the other things you do that your dog secretly hates.

Aggressive dog threatens another dog with frightful fangs
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Knowingly bringing an aggressive dog around other people or animals

If you know your dog is prone to aggressive behavior toward others, particularly children or other dogs, it’s rude and dangerous to bring that dog to public places, Dr. MacPete says. Unfortunately, some owners of aggressive dogs are either in denial about their nature or mistakenly think they will be able to always control them, and that’s when people or animals get hurt or even seriously injured. Unfortunately, it’s a dog myth that all dogs are always happy and well behaved—or that they will never bite people or other dogs.

Pet dog taking cbd hemp oil - Canine licking cannabis dropper for anxiety treatment
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Giving human medications to your dog

It’s true that there are some crossovers between human and canine medicine, but that doesn’t mean that anything that works for you will work for your dog (and vice versa), Dr. Ochoa says. “Most human drugs are not approved for dogs and can make your dog very sick and even die from just a small amount,” she explains.

The meds could also cause them to behave in unexpected—and dangerous—ways. Always talk to your vet before giving any medication to your dog. And to be a truly good dog owner, check that you’re not making any of these other mistakes most dog owners make.

About the experts

  • Erin Askeland is a certified animal health and behavior expert and the senior manager of program development for Camp Bow Wow.
  • Halle Rieckmann is a dog behavior expert and the owner of Heel House K9 Training.
  • Sara Ochoa, DVM, is a veterinarian and consultant for DogLab, a dog product review website.
  • Ruth MacPete, DVM, is a veterinarian, pet media personality and the author of Lisette the Vet.
  • Neil Cohen is the owner and head trainer at Sit Means Sit, a dog training franchise.


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Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte is an award-winning journalist who covers etiquette, relationships, psychology, health and lifestyle. She has written more than 50 etiquette stories for Reader’s Digest, spearheading the site’s popular Polite Habits and Best Messages series. With a knack for capturing the essence of an interview subject, she also specializes in human-interest and “as told to” stories. In addition to Reader’s Digest and The Healthy, her work has been published in Shape, Cosmopolitan, Women's Health, O Magazine, Fitness, Redbook, Seventeen, What to Expect When You're Expecting and more.