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Me or the dog? Why not both?

Got a problem with your pet and your significant other? Call Victoria Stilwell.

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Got a problem with your pet and your significant other? Call Victoria Stilwell.

"It's me or the dog."

When dog trainer Victoria Stilwell began counseling families with problem pets, she overheard a woman give her husband this ultimatum.

Actually, a lot of couples are at odds over their pet. Who should scoop his poop? To feed table scraps or not to feed table scraps? And is it okay to let Sparky in bed?

Mediating these and other questions, Stilwell is in her fourth season of hosting — what else? — It's Me or the Dog, in which the Wimbledon, England native advises British couples on living with each other's pets. An American version of the show is in the works, said Stilwell, who is also the author of It's Me or the Dog: How to Have the Perfect Pet and Fat Dog Slim.

Stilwell chatted with tbt* from her Atlanta home.

What are some of the most common pet issues that affect couples?

We've had countless times when the husband has gone out and bought a dog for the wife, when the wife didn't even want a dog. But it was a "gift." So always one person in the relationship seems to want the animal more than the other.

Is it a bad idea to get a pet if only one partner is one board?

You bet. It has to be. You're thinking you're bringing a new life into your home. And that's going to change your life whether you want it or not. So before you get a dog, everybody in your household has to want that dog.

They say it's wrong to argue in front of your children. What can be the effect of arguing in front of your pet?

If you're arguing and you're shouting and your body is tense and your adrenaline's going, dogs will pick up on it. It'll make them very nervous. I've had instances of dogs that have vomited while their owners have been arguing — and peed themselves, because they've been made so anxious by the owners' arguments. These are all real cases. I've also had a dog that, during an argument, when a man went to go and slap his wife, the dog went for him — went and bit him.

That's probably good.

Oh my gosh, in this instance it was. But obviously the couple had to go to counseling because the issue was much bigger than something that I could deal with. I could deal with it from the dog's side, but really not from their relationship side.

Is it common that one partner wants the dog to sleep in bed with them, and the other one not so much?

The dog becomes a surrogate baby and therefore is allowed in the bed with them. It's a kind of comfort thing. In a lot of instances, a husband's coming to bed and not being allowed in the bed because the dog becomes aggressive and will bite them. And the wife's allowing this happen. I believe that it's a great method of contraception. (laughs)

Help for couples

Is Rover ruining your relationship? Stilwell offers these tips.

I do all the work. Like it or not, whoever's home more will end up going most of the feeding, walking and poop-scooping. If your partner works 60 hours a week but is off Saturdays and Sundays, then put him on weekend dog duty.

There's a dog in my bed. Ask yourself why you're deliberately sabotaging your sex life. While you ponder the answer, install a baby gate in the bedroom doorway or place a dog bed next to your bed so your pet can be near you without taking over.

My dog hates my new girlfriend. Have your lady love bring Sparky's favorite toy or treat whenever she enters the room.

Our pets don't get along. You had pets. Your partner had pets. Now you're one big hairy family. Introduce the animals gradually, perhaps through a baby gate at first.

Our baby takes priority now. Before you go adopting a dog as a "starter baby," picture your life down the road. It may be best to wait until you've had kids so you can choose a dog that fits the lifestyle of your fully formed family.

Me or the dog? Why not both? 04/10/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 10, 2008 4:49pm]
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