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Pets or Pawns

couple with dog

Do you use your dog to control your partner?

There’s an old theory that arguing with your partner about leaving the cap off the toothpaste or leaving the toilet seat up isn’t really about that at all.  It is supposedly the catalyst for an argument about more serious issues and the simple, obvious behaviour is an excuse to vent feelings.  So could that be true of couples who own dogs?  Could your partner’s complaints about your pet really be about your own relationship?

If your partner tells you that your dog howls the house down and sulks when you leave can you really believe them?  Do you live with someone who is insecure and manipulative and could they be using your dog to keep you home?  Be honest with yourself, are you the one who’s using your pet’s behaviour to manipulate your partner?

Couples often end up fighting each other over their dogs. One often thinks the other is too soft and so is harder on the dog, the other thinks that the dog needs more love to make up for their partners behaviour and so the couple get further apart.  One maybe complains that the dog causes the house to be untidy, leaving chews, hair and toys all over the place.  Is that really true or does he really mean you are a lazy housewife that does nothing all day but daren’t say so?

I know a couple with a Labrador.  They are nice enough people but horribly manipulative.  The wife has to avoid showing too much affection to the dog until the husband has gone to bed.  He says it’s because she spoils the dog and she is ruining his training.  She now doesn’t enjoy having the dog and the dog is becoming stressed.   Often when he approaches his Mum for a bit of attention she panics and has to send him away to appease her frowning husband.  Once her husband is in bed, she has the dog on the settee for a big cuddle. The poor dog has no consistency.  He has no way of getting attention when he needs it or of understanding his humans. It is obvious that the husband is jealous of his dog.

A common thing I hear is that a particular dog is stressed when the owner leaves.  The manipulative partner says that the dog is sulky; it won’t settle and sits by the door all night.  I have a client who on my advice sneaked home when she was told this was happening.  She discovered the dog asleep on the sofa next to her husband.  When she returned properly later, she was told the dog hadn’t settled all night and she really needed to reconsider whether her nights out were worth it!

There are very differing reasons why people have dogs.  For some it is a general love of animals, dogs perhaps in particular. Others only get one to satisfy a partner or a child. Some see their pet as something earning its keep by guarding the kids or home or keeping their partner safe whilst they work away.  Even worse, some want their money back and think breeding their dog as the way to do that.  Not everyone gets a dog because they simply want the enjoyment of a pet.

Another recent client owns a Mastiff cross.  She didn’t really want a dog that big – it was her husband’s choice.  Her husband is a control freak who constantly complains about the state of the house.  It is never clean enough for him or tidy enough so you wonder why he would get a large slobbering dog to live in it.

The answer is fairly obvious.  The dog gave him a whole new set of complaints and therefore control.  The dog isn’t walked, as his wife can’t handle it and he won’t walk it, so it has gradually become frustrated and bored and destructive.  When he is home, the dog is put in the kitchen as he says she messes up his clothes!

Maybe you are the guilty partner?  Do you tell your other half that the dog needs walking to delay them from leaving?  Do you tell them the dog misses them when they leave in the hope they will go out less?  Does your partner’s behaviour with your dog mimic how they treat the children?

It isn’t unusual for me to see couples at loggerheads over the attention given to the dog or the rules everyone has for the dog.  Each has devised their own set of boundaries and the poor dog is left not knowing how to behave.  Parents often tell me their partner is “just the same with the kids”.  Somehow it is easier to point out someone’s failings over their treatment of the dog than the children.

Getting a dog can be a moment of manipulation too.  Some recent clients had serious problems with their dog as it often showed aggression to the husband when he came home.  The wife had only been able to get a dog after negotiations with her husband.  He said she could have a dog only if it didn’t interfere with him having his dinner made and ready, going out to eat on a Saturday night and not messing up the house.  He would come home and have a quick look round first and as long as nothing was wrong he would pet the dog (and probably his wife too).  The dog was ignored if anything was out of place or dinner not ready.

I pointed out that the dog didn’t know these stupid rules and that its only defence was to act aggressively as he had no idea what this returning member was trying to do.  It was fear – plain and simple.  All the husband kept saying was “well, she knew the rules when she got the dog”.

Your dog is not the emotional stick to train your kids with either.  Don’t stop your children from playing with or feeding or grooming the dog as a punishment.  The dog has no idea why they are approaching their child and being told off or sent away and may come to fear being near the child.  Dogs cannot grasp human emotional issues and telling the dog “its ok, Johnny will play with you later” really doesn’t help.

Your dog isn’t a tool with which to control your partner or your children.  Family and relationship problems are not the responsibility of your pet and using them in any form of emotional manipulation is cruel and selfish.  If you have a problem with your partner’s behaviour, get therapy, not a dog.

By Debbie Connolly
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1 Comment »

  1. Makaila says:

    Hey, good to find someone who agrees with me. GMTA.

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