When You Disagree About the Dog

Take a guess at the most common argument couples have about the dog. . Best dog photo/Shutterstock

If my dog doesn’t like you, it’s probably not going to work out.

I’ve seen this on many an online dating profile, and I’ll admit, it has lured me in.

I’m a proud dog owner, and I want to date someone who's also a pet lover. (Added bonus if he's a pet owner, too!) I wouldn’t date someone who didn’t like my precious four-legged best friend.

I tend to talk about my dog Scout a little bit to gauge a man’s reaction and see just how much of a dog lover he really is. Finally, I met a man who loves animals and also owns a dog.

For the last several years, it’s just been Scout and me. Two independent ladies living together in harmony. We have a strong bond and a comfortable daily rhythm together.

Scout is an unusual dog – doesn’t bark, doesn’t get too energetic and prefers to lay on soft pillows all day and sleep. She has her favorite side of the couch, and I get the other end. She sleeps on the left side of my bed, and I sleep on the right. We have the perfect relationship.

But when a new man came into my life, little did I know that was all about to change.

I’m sure there are many pet owners like me out there. You and your pet have grown to love each other over the years. You’ve trained and raised your dog a certain way — it works and you understandably think it's the best method.

But what happens if you start a relationship and your partner also has a pet? What if that pet has the complete opposite temperament of yours? What if your pet isn’t used to being around another four-legged creature?

That’s the case with me.

My dog Scout is a 10-year-old cocker spaniel/dalmatian mix (and the cutest dog in the world!). She is laid-back and enjoys her peace and quiet. My boyfriend’s dog, Leon, is a 1.5-year-old Jack Russell/Labrador mix. Imagine a dog the size of a lab with the energy of a Jack Russell. Leon is the Scooby to Scout’s Droopy.

dogs on sofa
Scout and Leon in a rare moment of sharing the couch peacefully. Jacqueline Gulledge

2 very different dogs

I trained Scout years ago to obey commands, not jump on people, not pull on the leash, etc. Leon hasn’t been trained yet. He constantly jumps on people, pulls on the leash and barks at everyone.

But what can I say? Leon isn't my dog. He's a smart dog; he just needs to be trained. But what are you supposed to say or do when it’s not your pet?

Obviously, I like my boyfriend. Can I learn to love his dog, even though he drives me crazy?

The good news is that my problem is a common one among couples.

According to an Associated Press/petside.com survey, 14 percent of people would choose their pet over their significant other. About 2 percent choose to give up a pet because their significant other didn’t like the animal.

Before anyone breaks up with their partner over their pet, there are some recommendations on how to achieve harmony in both your human and pet relationships.

Psychologist Guy Winch recommends that couples have a discussion on how to bring their pets together and how to train them before the animals are introduced.

"One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to come up with unilateral strategies for dealing with a partner’s pet without consulting them. Not only is this likely to annoy your partner, but unless they are participating and using a similar approach, you might end up confusing the animal instead of disciplining it."

Agreeing on how to train a dog isn’t the only argument couples tend to have. Couples even have arguments over what type of dog they would get together.

A 2012 British survey by esure Insurance Company showed that couples will have on average at least 2,000 arguments over the course of a dog’s life. That averages out to three arguments a week.

dog owner arguments graphic
According to this survey, 26 percent of dog owners have at some point considered getting rid of their beloved dog after an argument. Ben Bolton

Now that may seem like a lot to you, but if you really think about it, you and your significant other probably have at least three. (I'll speak for myself; we do.)

The study showed that 25 percent of couple argue regularly about whether or not a dog should be allowed on furniture. About 20 percent argue over who should clean up messes in the yard and 18 percent over messes on the floors.

When it comes to arguing about dog training, I’m not alone: About 15 percent argue over who should be responsible for training a dog.

But the number one reason why couples argue? What to do with the dog when you go out of town.

What are the best solutions?

Winch recommends learning more about your partner’s breed of dog. "Take the time to read up or consult experts so you can come in with the best plan for making the adjustment easier."

If you’re thinking about living together, Winch said make sure your partner understands that his/her pet may act differently towards you. Try to be empathetic to the pet as it learns your comfort level and your method of raising a pet.

"Being compassionate toward the pet's emotional distress will not only make life easier for the animal," said Winch. "It will also mitigate the annoyance you feel, and allow you to make better choices and decisions if and when the battle heats up again."

Couples should also clearly define responsibilities when it comes to taking care of the pets. Who will feed the pets? Who will let them outside?

"Don’t slide into habits that might not work in the long term. Discuss exactly who will do what and when. Make sure to cover all eventualities so you avoid arguments like, ‘You went to work and left the poop on the carpet? I won’t be home for another eight hours!"

As for my boyfriend and me, I have taken the reins of training Leon since I have experience training Scout. So far, Leon is doing a better job of listening to me and obeying my commands. Now if I can just train my boyfriend to train Leon the same way...

dogs napping on couch
Leon is slowly learning that Scout's favorite 'do-together' activity is taking a nap. Jacqueline Gulledge