Pet Conflict Management 101

When you don’t love your dockmates’ pets like they do

Published in the October 2017 Issue February 2019 Editorials, Feature Jean Knutson

That incessant barking reverberates across your eardrums like a Chinese gong and you roll over to stuff your ears with your pillow to muffle it out. If you could get away with it, you’d mail Bobby Jones’s terrier to Timbuktu in a Priority Express envelope. While you’re dreaming, you’d probably stuff Sandy Miller’s snarky tabby cat alongside it.

Short of these criminal offenses, what’s a boater to do when a dockmate’s pets are so irritating?

Scott Phelps, a managing partner at a U.S. marina, offers sage advice that’s simple to grasp and easy to execute: just follow the rules. At his marina, Scott and the other employees make it a point to deal with pet conflicts on an individual basis whenever there are issues.

“There are a lot of people on these marinas who have dogs and like to take them everywhere they go,” he explains. “When we have a problem, we usually just have to address that individual, because it’s like an out of control kid; it’s an out of control animal. And that’s all we can do.”

It’s a fairly simple — and yet often unrecognized — key to conflict resolution. Realize you don’t have ESP and neither do your neighbors — and for that matter, neither do animals. Politely communicate your problem directly to the owner of the pet perpetrator rather than letting your anger molder like an old Gouda cheese. What’s obvious to you might be news to them, because, let’s be honest, love can sometimes make us oblivious to poor behavior. When that doesn’t work (and it usually will), you can always call in the marina cavalry for backup. Typically there aren’t any major issues between dockmates and their animals, but if anything ever does come up, Scott says simply addressing the owners is the trick for peaceful and prompt resolution.

So if you’re the one with the “problem child” on the dock, what are ways you can lower your dockmates’ cortisol levels? Just put yourself in their flip-flops: What would annoy you?

Would you like finding presents not wrapped with a bow waiting to meet the bottom of your sandals on the dock?

Does a sucker punch to the gut make you want to give the Labrador that’s jumping all over you a sweet hug?

Do you giggle with joy when you smell the telltale scent of dog urine on your dock lines or find clinging cat hairs on your deck?

Simply respecting people’s personal space by not letting your pets do these things is a great place to start. If more training is in order, do the training.

That said, if you’re the one getting annoyed, make sure to analyze your irritation. Dogs will be dogs and cats will be cats. Are you getting upset over something that’s just in a carefree animal’s nature, or is it a genuine behavioral problem?

And remember, be patient with your dockmate’s efforts when an animal needs further obedience help. Despite the attractive prospect, there are better ways to solve pet conflict than by mailing off the irritant in the dead of night.


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