Welcome to the first instalment of Pet Detective, a new column where The Globe’s Amberly McAteer will find answers to the health and behaviour problems of our beloved four-legged pals. Send your questions to email@example.com (All questions will be published anonymously.)
The question: My dog – a four-year-old miniature pinscher – hates my new boyfriend. She gets along with everyone else: the mailman, pizza-delivery guys, all my friends. But the second my boyfriend enters my condo, she starts growling, showing her teeth, pacing. She’ll eventually hide in the bathroom but isn’t a happy dog when he’s there. Help!
The answer: So the sayings go: friends before men, sisters before misters and, always, dogs before dudes.
Since you’ve written into a pets column, I’ll assume you are a fellow dog nut – the type that sleeps with their canine, calls her about 17 different names and regards the little furry one as a member of the family. Accordingly, your relationship with your dog trumps most others you have with the human variety.
Men come and go, I say, but you are in a long-term, committed relationship with that pint-sized pooch. There is only one min-pin in the proverbial dog park, but there are plenty of fish in the sea. Sorry, new guy.
“Wait just right there. How old are you?” Alice Fisher, owner and director of DogSmart Training in Vancouver asks. I tell her I’m nearing 30, and she laughs for an awkwardly long time.
She takes a deep breath, pauses, then laughs some more.
“Well, sure, at that age, you are young and social and you can just move on to the next man in your world.” Untrue, and ouch. (I’d like to experience this magical man-land she speaks of, but that’s another column.) “But if this girl is 40 or 50, you cannot possibly suggest this woman end an otherwise happy relationship. … I don’t want her to give up her dog, but I don’t want people to end relationships that could work.”
Instead, Fisher recommends finding out more about the connection between man and dog: “Some people aren’t dog people, and that’s okay.”
I’m not sure I agree. I’ve introduced Ruby, my six-year-old boxer, to two boyfriends in the two years I’ve had her: Guy No. 1, after taking me out for dinner, ran with Ruby to the park and back, in the rain, in his suit. When the two of them arrived at my door, he with a loosened tie, she a slobbery grin, both soaking wet – I swooned for days.
Guy 2, a film buff I dated for months, was finished the first time he entered my apartment: Ruby – who loves most everyone, ever – darted, skirting his attempts to pet her. We watched Casablanca while Ruby pouted in the washroom, and I wanted to be on the bath mat instead of the couch.
“I have to ask whether there’s some niggling part in your brain, where you weren’t over the moon with this guy, and you looked to Ruby to validate that,” says Fisher who, in retrospect, has a point.
“He may not have been the kind that wanted boxer hairs and slobber on his clothes. Ruby sensed that, and you were all ‘love me, love my dog.’ ”
Triple snap, but true enough. I’d end it with any potential suitor who Ruby didn’t wiggle her intolerably cute bum for. It’s less about finding a father figure for her (although sharing poop-scooping responsibilities would be nice), but more about her canine “Spidey senses.” When my girl takes issue with a man, I get my hackles up, too: What is it she knows that I don’t?
Similarly, why does your pooch welcome the pizza man or the mail guy? “Those are all situations the dog has likely grown up with,” Fisher says. “She knows they bring good stuff, it’s a happy time – they come, they bring treats, they leave.”
Fisher says even her own pup, who’s usually “as neutral as Switzerland,” doesn’t always react well to new people. “Dogs can react suspiciously to something new. “This new boyfriend might have Rasta braids or a limp – it’s likely something the dog hasn’t been socialized to, and that will come with time and training.”
The behaviour won’t get better on its own, either. “Don’t think your pooch will just get used to him over time,” Fisher says. Min-pin won’t just grow to accept his presence, so “you have to take steps to make that happen.”
Like a good couples therapist, Fisher wants you to put in some effort before booting the boy. Miniature pinschers are natural hunters, she says, and very high energy. So a meeting in the park – “neutral ground” – will be really helpful.
Before you say goodbye to your Rastafarian with a limp, Fisher says the ultimate test for both man and dog is to ask your guy to enroll in play-based training with the little one.
On this, we agree. If your man will put in the time to make things right with min-pin, give it a whirl. But don’t forget who’s top dog in your heart.
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