Pet vs. Partner

Once upon a time there was a woman who sacrificed the love of her two cats to move away with her estranged husband and start a new life together. He wasn’t a fan of animals — and the cats were growing old — so she brought them to the vet and had them put to sleep. What she failed to consider — and will regret for the rest of her life — is that our attachment to animals is often just as strong as our attachment to people.

Having two different ideas of where a pet should be placed within the hierarchy of the household is often where the trouble starts. Let’s focus on one telling example:

The Bed-Hogging Collie
A man has owned a female collie for the past seven years, and she has slept in his bed ever since she was a puppy. He eventually meets a love interest, they begin dating, marry, and his new wife moves into the house only to find that she must now face competition for the choice spot in the bed — right next to her husband.

Many pets (particularly dogs) find themselves in competition with their owner’s attention when a new love interest enters the picture. The animal often sees this as a chance to exhibit their dominant ranking. Such actions may be seen as blocking their way, lying on their side of the bed, barking, jumping, nudging their arm, stealing food, or even nipping or biting.

How to Fix the Problem
The first step in any pet discussion is to communicate problems in an empathetic way, such as “I understand your affection for little Pookums, but …” That way, you don’t put your partner on the immediate defense. Focus on the problem at hand (‘what can we do about the dog on the bed’), rather than blaming the partner (‘What is wrong with you?’ ‘Why did you allow her to sleep on the bed?’). This helps angle the conversation away from a stance of attack, to one of problem-solving.

Once this is addressed, the dog needs to be told to get off the bed, physically forced to exit the bed (pushed, not by picking them up), and then instructed to sit down on the floor. While the dog is seated, the new partner then needs to stare them in the eyes (sign of dominance) and establish ownership of the space. It may take several times of pushing her off, but most all animals will eventually understand their proper placement in the household once dominance has been applied.

In order to fit a new partner into the mix, they must exhibit an alpha (leader) ranking, placing them in a position of control and respect. Often a partner does not get along with a pet because they feel bullied and unwelcome in the house. They must rightfully claim their place beside their husband or wife’s side, taking control of the situation. To do this, they must understand that they are now the boss. They must never show fear and never allow the animal to bark, jump, or take something from their hand. For an animal with a particularly bad behavioral disorder, a professional trainer may need to get involved.

What Not to Do
Getting rid of the animal is never good relationship advice, unless the situation calls for extreme action (severe allergies, etc.). Thousands of animals end up in shelters each year because one partner is unwilling to compromise. Both partners should be able to come to a mutual agreement, which in the case of bed-hog Pookums, might also include bringing a separate dog bed into the room for her to sleep on, or training her to sleep on the floor next to the bed.

Pets can wreck havoc on relationships, causing countless arguments, unless both partners are willing to communicate effectively and agree to compromise. Use understanding and logic when facing such pet-related difficulties, and you will be surprised how a tired argument suddenly resolves itself.

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