Pet-Obsessed Spouse When one spouse is obsessed with the family dog but the other just doesn’t quite get it, what do you do? BY FRANCINE KIZNER
Is your dog too much of a family member?
When it comes to a relationship with man’s best friend, we often walk the fine line between love and obsession. There are luxury pet spas; gourmet, organic doggie bakeries; and high-end designers creating cute little carry-alls and edgy outfits for the littlest yappers. But pet obsession isn’t just an affliction for Paris Hilton-types. You probably know someone who goes a bit overboard when it comes to their pets. Maybe it’s you. And if your spouse doesn’t feel the same way towards Fido, or your fawning is infringing on your relationship, it may be time to reassess your priorities.
"I am in love with my two dogs," says Elinor Robin, who runs the mediation service, A Friendly Divorce with her husband, David Spofford. "My husband doesn’t understand it. He says I’ve spoiled these dogs and let them rule the roost. He should only know that I bought them a $28 toy yesterday. It’s the only time in our marriage that I’ve withheld the price of anything."
At 53, Elinor is using her dogs to help her empty-nest syndrome. "My children are 30 and 32. I’m ready to be a grandmother," she says. "But neither of them seems to be going in that direction, so I see my dogs almost as substitute grandchildren."
Blinded by her love for her pets, Elinor believes her dogs can do no wrong. "I see them as my two little angels and whatever they want to do is okay," she says. "Honestly, if someone doesn’t like them, they don’t have to come over."
This attitude makes David feel frustrated, trapped and angry—especially when it comes to the dogs digging up their yard, jumping up on people and tracking mud all over their house. "Sometimes I yell angrily and use a nasty voice—it can't be good for our relationship," he says. "I tell her she's teaching them the wrong things and that she needs to show them who's boss rather than letting them walk all over her." But Elinor’s behavior hasn’t changed, and David isn’t hopeful it will.
"Too much pampering can, in many pets, nurture their insecurities," says Jim Burwell, founder of Jim Burwell's Petiquette (www.petiquettedog.com), a national in-home dog training franchise opportunity. "This can lead to unwanted behaviors like house soiling, separation anxiety, barking and, sometimes, territorial aggression."
You Become the Alpha
When Burwell consults with a couple that disagrees on how much attention to give their pet, he first finds out if their dog is exhibiting any behavioral problems. Then he encourages them to start training their dog with a "learn-to-earn program," where every time the dog wants something, like food or praise, he has to work for it by sitting. "Many behavioral problems can be solved with a simple sit," he says.
Training a dog won’t happen unless the couple is committed to the process. "They have to agree to help each other do what’s best for the dog, their relationship with the dog and, as important, their relationship with each other," says Burwell. "Dogs, in many ways like children, need structure, expectations, boundaries and discipline. They rely on both husband and wife to be on the same page."
If you’re ready to reclaim the alpha spot in your household, Burwell gives these simple tips to keep your dog in line while still allowing you plenty of leeway to dress it up, show it off and have fun playing in the yard:
* Don’t give in when the dog demands your attention. You have two options here: send the dog to its place and then, if you want, call it to you and give it affection; or have the dog do a sit or down to earn that affection.
* When your dog is physically in your path, make the dog move. Don't go around the dog.
* Start controlling your walks. Make sure you're in charge, not your dog. Walking your dog has tremendous benefits. The structured part of the walk exercises your dog and your leadership while providing an excellent way to effectively manage their energy.
* Don't share the food you’re eating with your dog. The alpha never shares food.
* Always remember that if your dog feels you can control him or her, your dog will feel secure in the fact that you can control everything.
* Don't forget the value and merit of training. Training gives you behaviors like sit and down, to which you can redirect inappropriate behaviors. It also reinforces your leadership and helps develop a quick response to cues or commands.
Even if you’re obsessed with your pooch, it can still be well-behaved. It doesn’t have to sleep between you and your spouse at night, and it shouldn’t be calling the shots in your household. Ultimately, your dog will be happier—and you and your spouse will be, too—if you’re in control.