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My friend always wants to bring her dog along – can I say no? Add to ...

The question: My friend treats her dog more like a child than a pet. When I invite her over, she’s always angling to bring the dog along. I don't always want it around, and she doesn’t stay behind to clean up the dog hair – how do I say no?

The answer: There are three distinct issues that you are raising: your friend’s attachment to her dog, the nature and quality of the time the two of you spend together, and the respect she demonstrates to your home when she does bring her dog.

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These issues need to be separated and addressed individually. It may be that your frustration is compounded because you are considering all of these issues as one.

The first relates to your friend’s relationship with her pet. You say that she treats the dog more like a child than a pet. Many pet owners feel extremely strong bonds with their pets, and people who don’t have pets, or those with less intense bonds, often have a hard time understanding this. Your friend may feel that her dog has been unconditionally there for her during difficult times, and provides her with unwavering affection and support. You may not agree or understand where your friend is coming from, but, frankly, the depth of her relationship with her pet is not your concern.

Second, you raise the issue of your friend always wanting to bring her dog when she visits. This is not dissimilar to a situation in which a friend is always wanting visits to include her partner or child. I would guess that your concern here relates much more to your desire to have one-to-one quality time with your friend, uninterrupted by attention that likely becomes somewhat divided when her dog is there. A general rule when wanting something to be different in a relationship is to express to others what you do want, rather than what you don’t want. So, rather than letting saying you don’t always want her dog around, let her know what you are missing. Be specific in your request. You could say to her something like: “I really miss our one-to-one time together … I know you love [dog’s name], but I sometimes feel like we can’t hang out the way we used to when [he/she] is around because, understandably, [he/she] needs your attention too. Would it be okay if we sometimes hung out without [him/her]?”

The final issue you raise relates to the respect that is demonstrated in your home when she does bring her dog. First, you must decide if you don't ever want her dog in your home. If so, suggest meeting at her place or at an outside, neutral location when visits include her dog. If you are okay with her bringing her dog some of the time, then you need to directly yet respectfully address this issue as soon as possible. The next time you plan a visit with your friend and she is coming over with her dog, say something like: “I’m really looking forward to seeing you on Saturday. I was just meaning to mention that the last time you were here I noticed that there was a bunch of dog hair everywhere after you left. I’m happy to have you both over but would love if you could just stay to clean up the hair after.” There is no need to apologize.

You will probably feel better after you directly address these issues with your friend. Be friendly and respectful in your language and tone, and remain open to the fact that she may not be aware of the impact that her behaviour has had. Then give her a chance to change her behaviour.

Send psychologist Joti Samra your questions at psychologist@globeandmail.com. She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or The Globe and Mail website. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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