Parenting a pet, no matter what kind, can be a frustrating and bewildering experience. Animals can’t tell you what they want and need (directly, at least), so we’re here to help you answer any questions you have about your favorite companion — whether they be furry, slimy, feathered, scaly or anything in between — with insight from the experts. This is “Basic Bitch,” an advice column for pet parents who just want the best for their best friend.
The Very Basic Concern
So I’ve been seeing this new woman, and I’m super into her. She shares my interests, appreciates my lifestyle and at least seems to like the way I look. In other words, she’s pretty much perfect. In fact, I’m hoping to move in with her ASAP.
There’s one problem, though: She absolutely despises my dog, and I’m afraid she won’t move in with me unless he’s out of the picture. But the little guy has been with me through thick and thin, so I’d never give him up.
It’s a real pickle, and I’m not sure what to do.
Basically: What happens when my new partner hates my pet?
The Expert Advice
Mary Kay Cocharo, couples therapist: I believe, like with any issue that comes up in an intimate relationship, it’s important to explore the underlying meaning. Sometimes the hater actually feels jealous of the time and attention getting paid to the animal. He or she may feel that the pet draws energy away from their connection. In that case, it’s important to explore how the couple is connecting on a day-to-day basis. Do they have enough time together? Do they sleep together without the pet? Has the pet taken on resentment about other unmet needs?
It’s also important to explore why the owner of the pet is so attached. One couple I worked with was having a terrible power struggle focused on whether or not the dog should sleep in their bed. By exploring the pet owner’s needs in a safe environment, it was revealed that it went back to her childhood. Her mother had died when she was about eight years old. No one really explained it to her or comforted her in her grief. At that time, she wept into the fur of her dog in bed at night. She remembered that her dog had been her only solace, and from that time on, she never slept well without one in her bed. She literally said, “He saved my life.”
Once he understood the deep symbolic meaning of the dog for her, he was willing to allow their dog in bed. Over time, she was able to revisit her mother’s death in therapy and complete a grief process that allowed her to let go of the need. Through deep exploration, they were able to unlock the power struggle and grow closer in their understanding of one another.
Not to mention, the dog eventually got out of their bed.
Linda Michaels, dog psychologist and author of Do No Harm Dog Training and Behavior Manual: Sadly, but most likely, no one’s going to feel the way you feel about your pet. Nevertheless, see if you can find a way that your pet can wiggle their way into your partner’s heart. Try to find out exactly what’s bothering your partner about your pet and if it’s fixable. Figure out what you can do to make it easier for your partner — that will, in turn, make home feel better for your pet, too.
Sometimes the answer may be simple. Hopefully, it’s a behavior — shedding or chewing, for example — and not truly your pet. At the very least, your partner should feel “neutral,” but tolerant toward your pet. If that’s all you can get from your partner, that can be good enough.
However, if your partner’s willing, do what you can to increase the bond between them. One of the fastest ways to help your pet bond with your partner and solicit attention from him or her is to have your partner do the feeding and treating. If your partner’s willing to walk around the home wearing a snack pack or treat bag and occasionally toss out a yummy piece of high-value food to your pet, the relationship may well improve from both sides. Tossing healthy tidbits can be done while watching TV or working at the computer.
Also, show your partner how to train your pet to “sit” or “come” the force-free, dog-friendly way. People love this, and it’s so easy to do with the right technique. Another great way to increase their bond is for your partner to take your dog on a “sniffari” around the neighborhood or park, or to take your dog for a ride now and then if your pet likes riding in the car.
Still, don’t have unrealistic expectations from someone who’s made it clear they don’t want anything to do with your pet — perhaps some separation between them is in order. However, if you find yourself with a partner who truly dislikes animals, you may want to rethink your choice in relationships. You don’t want to risk having your pet in harm’s way or damaged emotionally (research confirms that pets have emotions).
That said, someone who loves you can learn to love your pet — at least a little.
Trent Hamilton, a self-proclaimed “hardcore dog person” with two rottweilers: That person won’t become a new romantic partner. Hell, I won’t even be friends with someone who doesn’t like my ladies.