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Dog Gone It

Dear Miss SmartyPants,

Boyfriend's dog is untrained, uncontrollable and incredibly clingy. By uncontrollable, I mean boyfriend doesn't want to hurt poochy's feelings or deal with crying, messes or any other inconvenience. As a result, bedtime either becomes a threesome with pooch snuggled comfortably inside the covers with the both of us OR a nightmare of whining, crying and barking because the dog wants to sleep on the bed, not the doggy bed or the crate. Boyfriend wants me to relax and be patient, but I'm not sure how I, not a dog hater but not a dog lover either, should put up with it reasonably and how I can avoid being pushy or preachy. Also, is it a petty reason to break up with someone?

Dog Gone It

Dear Dog Gone,

I think it's a fine reason, but not necessarily on its face. The underlying truth here is that your boyfriend is responsible for this dog, this living, sensitive creature, and yet has done nothing to educate himself on how to be a responsible dog owner. An untrained, uncontrollable, clingy dog is a miserable dog - even when allowed to sleep on the bed. It's about knowing its place - dogs want an ordered life as a beta to their master's alpha. As a cat owner, I can attest to the fact that cats need an ordered life, too. (Oh, as do children!*)

Hopefully BF is open to learning how to please both you and his dog. If not, I say, leave him to the dog. But if so, it will be a challenge at this point for him to change his ways. He needs to learn how to make sure his dog is happy. If that happens, I'm pretty sure the problems that make you unhappy will go away. A good suggestion to him would be to encourage him to learn to be the pack leader. One can learn a lot about it by watching Cesar Millan's TV shows. He encourages the owner to be the alpha leader - dogs historically ran in packs, and wanted a leader. That need still exists in them today.

Establishing himself as the pack leader entails a lot of steps, and I would recommend Millan's "Cesar's Way" to read about them. But in the meantime, to address your specific problem, if there doesn't appear to be a dependable leader in your pack (family), the dog will attempt to become the pack leader. When the dog assumes that he or she is the alpha, you and boyfriend will have a bunch of problems to deal with. If your boyfriend is the pack leader, your dog will live a much less stressful life. Less anxiety in a dog equates to improved health and behavior.

So the dog sleeps in your bed without being invited? If so, BF is not being a leader to the dog. If BF is not seen as the pack leader, he must restrict access to certain areas until the dog earns it. For now, he should not allow the dog to have access to any furniture, period. No beds, no couches, no chairs, just the floor. He can set up a comfortable dog bed where the dog may relax, but the furniture belongs to the humans. By showing the dog that he controls all access to all areas of his home, BF is asserting himself as a pack leader. Once his dog understands that BF owns the home, BF can start to allow the dog back on to furniture if he wants, but the dog must ask for permission.

* It takes maturity and guts to set reasonable limits and enforce them gently. These are the same skills necessary to be a good father, so you may want to take the boyfriend's ability to train a dog as a clue as to how he will be as a father. You probably don't want to have a permanent relationship with a guy who gives into children who will manipulate him to get what they want. That will lead to unhappy, insecure children, and an undisciplined, chaotic household. Please realize that pets and children need leaders who show consistency. By changing the rules and making exceptions at ambiguous times, people cause pets and children a great deal of confusion. To be a good leader requires loving, consistent behavior. Lots of love does not mean giving in, it means guiding with care. It's not as easy as giving in. But it is so much more rewarding for pet owners, parents, pets and children. And to my critics, no, I don't believe children are pets, but I believe many of their needs are similar.

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