Beast Mode is Slate’s pet advice column. Have a question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. We love dogs and cats equally, and reserve treats for questions about your turtle, guinea pig, bird, snake, fish, or other beast.
Dear Beast Mode,
My husband and I adopted a 7-year-old Lab mix from our local Humane Society this weekend. I don’t think we anticipated adopting such a big dog, but the shelter staff just lit up talking about what a sweet dog he is. Since we brought him home 48 hours ago, 95 percent of his behavior has been exemplary.
The remaining 5 percent involves more mixed interactions with other dogs in and around our building. We live in a condo building that has many dogs. He is very attentive to other dogs when he sees them, but nothing can break his focus on them. There have been two instances where he’s barked or growled at another dog, so I just try to give other pooches a wide berth.
I think I know how to navigate most situations with him, but I have a condo-specific question: What is good elevator etiquette with dogs? So far, if we get on the elevator and someone else is already there, I have asked if they mind him coming on, and plan to only get on if they say yes. Some people may not like being in confined spaces with a big dog, and I respect that. Yesterday, we were on the elevator, and the door opened up and another lady with a dog asked if he was OK with other dogs. I said we had just adopted him the day before so I couldn’t swear to it, and she politely offered to catch the next elevator.
I think it’s unwise to put two leashed, unfamiliar dogs in such small spaces with each other. Will I be my neighbors’ least favorite fellow dog owner in the building if I ask other dogs to catch the next elevator while we’re riding it? Any other tips for polite dog ownership in a condo?
—Sit. Stay. Lobby, Please.
Dear Sit. Stay. Lobby, Please,
I like this question for nostalgic reasons. I lived in a building with an elevator when I was growing up, and my family had a small terrier mix. I didn’t think too much about high-rise decorum or niceties because I was a child and had more important things to do, like press the elevator buttons with my nose. (It was an ongoing science experiment.) Distracted as I may have been, I always wondered what went through my dog’s head as she rode the elevator. It was a bizarre and frequent tradition: wait by the big metal door until it opens, step into a wobbly little room, and then wait some more until the door slides open again to reveal a totally different part of the building. What magic! Did she think I was Willy Wonka?
When adopting a dog, we accept that it will spark some big changes in our lives. This is undoubtedly true, but no one feels these changes more than the dog. There is so much for him to take in, and it’s going to take some time for him to get used to his new environment. I mean, there’s a magic room that transports him from the lobby to your hallway. That’s insane.
It’s wise to exercise caution (or even overcaution) in these early days and weeks. Giving neighbors a wide berth is good, and you can use these small pockets of time to do some training. Tell your dog to sit, and reward his compliance with treats as you make your way through the building’s communal areas (and especially in the elevator). His strange surroundings won’t seem so strange when he’s focused on you. A few basic commands can go a long way, so consider enrolling him in a training course if this proves to be a struggle.
The elevator is a tricky space, and you’re doing a swell job of making it comfortable for both the dog and your neighbors. It never hurts to ask someone if they are OK with dogs, especially when tight quarters are involved. Besides being great companions, dogs are also ace hypnotists, and they often trick us into believing that everyone loves them as much as we do. I don’t know whom this hypnosis benefits (I suspect it benefits the dogs), but I’m glad to hear you haven’t been totally swayed by his dark magic. Yet.
After some time you’ll learn who in your building is pro-pooch and who is ambivalent to his charm. Tacit elevator agreements will start to coalesce, and you won’t have to bother with a formal question-and-answer session every time the door opens.
I also think the situation with those other dogs went swimmingly, even if it may have felt awkward to you. A cramped, rapidly descending room isn’t the best place for an excited Lab mix to make a first impression. With any luck, you’ll soon encounter that woman and her pups on a walk (or at the park) where the dogs can mingle freely and get to know each other. You can even set up a quick play date if you keep encountering each other in the elevator. As a fellow dog person in your building, she’ll have gone through many of the same things you are going through and will understand the intricacies of canine condo life.
You may have to set aside a little extra time every day to accommodate any neighbors who want a pooch-free ride, but the situation should eventually become normal for everyone. Well, it will be as normal as a mysterious trip in a magic metal room can be.