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Does Fido Hate Your Date?

Sunday, February 13, 2005; Page M03

So far, so good: You've leapt over the initial hurdles -- the awkward exchange of phone numbers, the crucial first date, the bungled first breakfast -- and everyone agrees that your new S.O. is a catch. That is, everyone except your pet. Nothing sobers a romantic moment faster than a huffy tabby or a barking pooch. But you needn't choose between puppy love and new love. With these tips, your date can win your pet's heart, too.

1 Don't force it

"Hit the couch, chickee -- I'm a drooler, and this bed's only big enough for two of us." (Courtesy Of Brand X Pictures/getty Images)

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If your significant other had professed love for you the very first time you met, you'd probably have been a little weirded out. Chances are Fido and Tabby are likewise leery of strangers. So don't restrain a dog while your date pets him. Instead, sit "at a comfortable distance and give him treats," advises Dr. Lee Morgan, a vet at Georgetown Veterinary Hospital. "You're calming the dog."

Let your cat keep his distance from a high perch, like a cat tree or the back of a sofa, says Amy Shojai, author of "Petiquette: Solving Behavior Problems in Your Multi-Pet Household." "It's a lookout. It makes them feel safer." Another kitty nugget: Don't make eye contact, and he'll eventually sidle over. "You know when a cat's in a room full of cat-lovers and one cat-hater? The cat goes to the person that hates him," Shojai says.

2 Feed the friendship.

Everyone likes to be wined and dined -- pups included. Your date should come armed with savory treats to woo Max. But rather than coaxing the dog out of his comfort zone to retrieve the food, instruct your date to toss the treat a ways, coming closer as the game progresses. "You're giving the dog a chance to make the connection between the scary person and delicious food," says Victoria Schade, owner of Good Dog Obedience Training in Annandale.

3 Make scents.

Does your date love the way you smell? So does your pet. Have your honey spray a little of your cologne or perfume on a sock before coming to see you, and put a dab under your cat's chin, Shojai advises. Then when your cat rubs up against your date's leg, it'll make him think of his favorite smell: you. Better still, have your date rub a sock with catnip -- "it'll really turn your cat on," Shojai says. A less kinky alternative? Get a piece of your date's clothing in advance and let your pooch or tabby get used to its scent.

4 Be a playmate

Encourage your date to join you on a pooch walk -- it's a good icebreaker, says Carlos Mejias, a trainer and owner of Olde Towne School for Dogs in Alexandria. "Let your date hold the leash so they get a little bit of a rapport going," he advises. For cats, Shojai recommends fishing-pole style toys -- by dangling something, your date enables the cat to play while keeping his distance. Laser or lightbeam chases are another fun, non-intrusive answer.

5 Train together

Ever felt left behind when your best friend disappeared into a new relationship? Your pet likely feels the same way. "He'll think, 'Who's this person getting all the attention now instead of just me?'" Mejias says. "You have to incorporate him." One way to do that is to go through dog training as a couple -- it gives you, your amour and your pooch a chance to redefine the boundaries of your relationships. And if your date still can't charm Fido? Mejias has a last-ditch tactic: "Dip 'em in bacon fat." Call it love at first lick. Julie Feldmeier

Need some pet info? Drop a line to pets@washpost.com. Include your name, city and phone number.

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